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Sep 11, 2006 12:13 AM

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 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!