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Calgary Smoked Meat Review

Even though they produced Celine Dion, I can always forgive Quebec, since they also gave the world Montreal Smoked Meat sandwiches. With that in mind (and a craving to satisfy), I stopped for lunch on Friday and today at two different MSM shops.

Friday's lunch was at Smokee Lee's, formerly known as Big D's Smokehouse (the same lady seems to be running the kitchen, so I don't know what's up with the name change), also known as The MSM Shack In The Parking Lot. It's located at the corner of 6th Ave and 4th St SW, is open 10-4 on weekdays, and is literally a shack (maybe 6'x10') in a parking lot, right by the courthouses.

It's a small wooden shack, with a lineup outside for the entire lunch hour. You walk up to the window and order; your meal will soon appear in a plastic bag, which you can eat at the (1) picnic table if you don't mind eating in a parking lot next to a busy intersection.

In sharp contrast, Sunday's lunch was at Palace Of Eats, one of the most reputable MSM places in Calgary; located on 11th St between 14 and 15th Ave SW and open 10-4 seven days a week. It's total class; the inside is all old-school wooden panelling, taken from a lunch counter operating fron 1918-1964 by the downtown Bay.

At the Palace of Eats, you can get your meal in a basket to take to the park across the street; there was a farmer's market going on, so I chose this option.

To compare, I ordered the 7 oz. at Smokee Lee's, which was $8 (plus $1 for a can of Diet Coke). At Palace of Eats, I got the Regular 8 oz., which totaled $10.60 with GST (a can of soda is $1.50). First, let me deal with the side dishes.

Smokee Lee's comes with a Mrs. Whyte's Kosher half pickle and a small serving of plain ripple potato chips; Palace of Eats also includes a half pickle, along with a similar-sized serving of barbecue ripple chips and a small container of coleslaw. I prefered the pickle at Palace of Eats (crisper and fresher tasting), but I prefer plain chips with my sandwich, rather than BBQ. Palace wins the dubious victory of providing coleslaw; I suppose it's better than no coleslaw, but it's still just coleslaw.

As far as the sandwiches go, they're similar in form; two regular slices of rye bread liberally slathered with your choice of mustard (Smokee Lee's offers 3, Palace of Eats about 6), piled high with Montreal Smoked Meat and then cut in half. I preferred the bread at Smokee Lee's; it was a light Winnipeg rye and seemed much moister and fresher. In fairness to the bread at Palace of Eats (which was a slightly darker rye), I did visit it later in the day.

And now the meat. I personally far preferred Smokee Lee's; it was moist, more thickly cut (although still a good thickness) and had more flavour. The meat from Palace of Eats was very juicy and really finely shaved; to some, I suppose it would be "tender", although to me, it was just plain mushy.

So in conclusion, while I admit that Palace of Eats wins on class and decor (and on being open on the weekends), Smokee Lee's is still my choice for a really good sandwich at a decent price.

I'd welcome any comments, particularly from people who have tried the other well-known MSM joints; Cafe Metro down on Macleod, and Alberta King of Subs in my old Northeast stomping grounds.

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  1. Thanks! Note that Palace of Eats does have seating indoors too.

    1. Cafe Metro cooks their meat too much. Having said that, it's pretty good. The meat is thickly sliced (but not too much). No choices of mustard when I was there (or if there was, it was probably American vs. Dijon).

      1. The comments about choices in mustard interests me.

        Although my local "smoked meat hangout" in Edmonton offers an almost heart attack inducing brand of extra-hot English-styled mustard from Australia [complements of a regular who travels to Oz frequently and brough a bunch back from his latest trip]I usually use regular yellow mustard.

        I do not recollect options of mustard at Schwartz', Ben's, Dunn's, Snowden or Chenoy's when growing up in Montreal but maybe it was just that I was habituated to the regular mustard with my smoked meat.

        Don't get me wrong, I love mustard. I must have 8 to 10 different types in the fridge or larder right now. Just don't associate dijon or something else with my medium, juicy smoked meat and rye.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Bob Mac

          Where in Edmonton do you eat Smoked Meat Bob?

          As for mustard choices, my memory of Ben's and Schwartz' (im a Ben's man myself) was yellow and yellow.

          As for the OP, I've tried them all, and i find a lot of it has to do with the day, and the cut you get. I have also noticed that Palace of Eats on occasion does end up cutting the meat too finely - my favorite meat though would probably be Alberta King of Subs. They all produce a serviceable sandwich though. I would happily eat at all of them.

          1. re: Bob Mac

            The smoked meat establishments in Montreal that you list here(or any other smoked meat places in MTL) don't offer mustard options, beyond the standard yellow mustard.

          2. Yen:

            I get my occasional smoked meat fix at Nikita's on Rice Howard Way beside the Bistro Praha.

            It is not bad. It was better when they bought it from the fellow who operated Wolfie's out at the corner of 170th Street and 100 Avenue before they went out of business. The big mustachioed fellow who operated it was from Pointe Claire.

            I too was introduced to smoked meat...leaving aside the boil in the bag variety from Coorsh, Hygrade and the like....by my father at Ben's.

            Gravitated to Dunn's during my mispent youth. Why I needed smoked meat and a piece of cheesecake at those ungodly hours after all that beer is beyond me.

            Then during university days and since..during increasingly infrequent visits "back home"... it has been Schwartz'.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Bob Mac

              Bob, what do you think of Botanica's smoked meat? (It was the Dunn's Edmonton branch before, and they still serve it more or less the same way.)

              1. re: anonymoose


                Is Botanica the restaurant off the lobby of one of the Calgary Trail hotels? If so, it has been quite a long time since I have been there but I do recollect it being quite good and "authentic". The smoked meat Dunn's serves is different from Schwartz' to the extent that it is an uniform light pink colour and usually is thicker sliced.

                There is supposed to be another place on 75th Street or so. One of the main streets going into Millwoods that serves Quebecois fare...poutine, smoked meat and East Indian food. Cannot remember its name but it received a decent review.

                Better get off the Edmonton tangent before John finishes his "Trini" delicacies and complains between bites...[smile]...just kidding John

                1. re: Bob Mac

                  Bob - yes Botanica is the restaurant in the Delta on the Gateway Bvld side. I actually prefer Schwartz's to the other kinds, but I figure I won't be picky being in Alberta! I'll have to give Nikita a try as it's easier for me to go there than the south side. Okay, no more thread hijacking. At least, for today. ;)

            2. The best smoked meat in town, by a mile as long as mile end, is at Alberta King of Subs. 7196 Temple Dr NE ... I know it's a long way from downtown, but it's fantastic. The owner is from Montreal, and it's invariably full of Quebecers .... and the poutine is unbelievable.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Miles

                I agree - the MSM Poutine is great!

              2. All these MSM places in Calgary(& Edmonton), do any of them offer the old-fashioned MSM? Otherwise it's the regular MSM. Regular smoked meat is pink, while the old-fashioned is darker heavier spiced. Do all these places hand-cut their smoked meat(to my knowledge it can't be machine sliced if it's hot as it will just crumble, unlike pastrami)?

                2 Replies
                1. re: BLM


                  Speaking only of the one or two spots in Edmonton I am pretty sure that if you use your "definition", they all serve "regular" v. "old-fashioned".

                  I look at as the "Dunn's pink" v. the "Schwartz' old-fashioned" especially if you get a corner with the latter and have that crust, spice mixture.

                  I am not sure that I have ever seen anyone hand slice smoked meat out here. I am assuming most of it has come from a slicer. Not sure about the texture issue you mentioned. Isn't the hand slicing almost a lost "art"?

                  Thanks for the confirmation about the mustard issue, that was my recollection as well although I do see a lot of places serve s small bottle of English hot mustard as a side...Coleman's, etc..The sandwich itself likely came with regular "yellow" mustard.

                  1. re: Bob Mac

                    this thread compelled me to trek up to Alberta King of Subs last week for a smoked meat sandwich, and the meat was most definitely hand sliced, in lovely, large mis-shapen quarter inch slices. Very tender. And in my mind, about enough meat for three sandwiches, but that's the way MSM sandwiches always seem to be to me.

                    The platter came with a small serving of coleslaw, two large and very vinagary pickles, and a mountain of fries for about $11. I did have the choice between regular and dijon mustard, but opted for regular. I remember having spruce beer as a kid, so thought try it out again. I remember it tasting like a pine tree in a can. The stuff they had had a weird synthetic after taste to it however, and only reminded me of carbonated pine-sol. i dunno, maybe that's the point.

                    AKoS definitely has a nice, authentic feel (i like dive-y places) and the meat is excellent so i'll be making the trek to the NE spot again, but dang, i wish it was closer.. Especially with Palace of Eats being so central...

                2. I remember talking to the smoked meat cutter at Schwartz's in Montreal, who he told me hot smoked meat just can't be sliced by machine when it comes out of their steamer(besides hand cutting it is always much better). I'll just fall apart. Other MSM establishments in Montreal have told me the same thing. However when someone orders smoked meat that's cold for take-out at Schwartz's(& the other MSM places in Montreal) it's machine sliced. In Montreal, we can get our smoked meat medium or lean; medium-fat or extra lean. Unfortunately too too many customers in Montreal order their smoked meat extra lean.

                  Any idea, who are the suppliers of smoked meat for the Alberta MSM establisments? I've heard, that Dunn's smoked meat is available at Price Cosco across Canada. Lester's smoked meat packets might also be available across Canada. BTW, Lester's Deli in Montreal & Lester's the commerical smoked meat supplier(also based in Montreal) are two different entities(they're not related).

                  1. Palace of Eats gets its smoked meat from "Quebec Smoked Meats" according to their website, www.palaceofeats.ca

                    1. Quebec Smoked Meats is probably the best of the commercial Montreal smoked meat suppliers(they also have their own storefront in Montreal, & they make several other meat products). So Palace of Eats is carrying very good smoked meat, but that's only part of producing a very good final product. Proper steaming & slicing are also important.

                      1. I just finished off a Palace of Eats MSM sandwich. It was pretty good, a hell of a lot better than Cafe Metro's.

                        The meat wasn't thinly sliced, but wasn't too thick either. The meat itself was very moist but still had good bite. It wasn't salty either, a big problem I find with cheaper quality MSM.

                        I'll have to try Alberta King of Subs one day. Too bad it's so far away for me.

                        1. Wow, i just got back from a lunch trip to Alberta King of Subs with a couple friends from QC. I had the poutine and the MSM and both were amazing, and completely justified the drive. I would have happily traveled twice as far.

                          1. DO NOT order the Keen's mustard on a Palace of Eats MSM sandwich. I normally like the jarred Keen's but they mix it themselves. My sinuses almost exploded. Way hotter than wasabi.

                            1. Having checked out the other sites in town (Dunn's which is now defunt, PoE and the Metro), I would definitely recommend Alberta King of Subs. It's been around since CP moved their HQ to Calgary although the original owner has since passed. The new owners have carried on the tradition and serve a very moist MSM. Their Kings platter (MSM + fries + coleslaw + soft drink) for 11 is a reasonable deal as the sandwich is generous enough to feed two (or one if you're hungry). I always feel like taking a nap once I leave. They used to offer a choice of lean or regular but the last few times, the staff hasn't asked. And yes, it's hand cut.

                              1. Sorry folks, there is not one place mentionned here that comes close to the stuff in Montreal. By the way, if you do get back to Montreal, the best place, by far, for the past 3-4 years is Smoked Meat Pete's in the western suburb of Ile Perrot.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: cocosti

                                  The smoked crap COMES from Montreal.

                                2. LOL....I "resemble" that remark

                                  1. My vote is for Alberta King of Subs. 7196 Temple Dr NE. You can even get poutine loaded with MSM. How Canadian can you get?

                                    1. I second Alberta King of Subs!

                                      1. I put up some photos of the smoked meat from Palace of Eats and Alberta King of Subs. AKoS was awesome. Thanks for the recommendation.


                                        1. As a Montrealer who spent a good amount of time in Calgary these past few months, I thought I should chime in about my lunch at Palace of Eats a few weeks back.

                                          As there was a big sign outside advertising "Montreal Smoked Meat," I have to admit that I was immediately surprised at having an option for mustards. Though I'll side with regular mustard as being the best compliment to a good smoked meat sandwich, I guess I can't fault more options? Though it did seem a little sacrilegious! Similarly, I was surprised to be served a small portion of BBQ chips instead of a large portion of fries. I found that the artificially flavoured chips generally took away from the main attraction (the sandwich)...

                                          Which sadly, just wasn't all that good. First off, I'll agree that the meat itself was moist, almost to the point of being mushy. It is a completely different (and truthfully, kind of unpleasant) texture and look than Montreal smoked meat that you'd find at the legendary locations. The flavouring was pretty far off too -- the meat itself was far from knee shakingly tasty, and the spices weren't up to snuff, compared to regular smoked meats, but especially compared to old-fashioned smoked meats! I suppose as a sandwich it wasn't awful, but compared to a great smoked meat sandwich, it just left a lot to be desired...and at a pretty inflated price!

                                          I'm very much looking forward to trying some of the other suggestions in this thread, though!