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Jan 12, 2007 05:03 AM

Montreal Jewish Food [Split from Toronto]

[[ This thread was split from the Ontario board at: -- The Chowhound Team ]


DDD, I'm a former Montrealer, too, and I'd like to clarify/update a couple of your points:

Ben's is no longer;
Wilenski's, while a nostalgic and interesting experience, is not a deli - it is a small lunch counter with a soda fountain, made famous in the movie, "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz", and best known for its "Wilensky's Specials", a grilled cold cut sandwich, and for its old-fashioned soda fountain drinks;
You can't talk about Montreal Jewish delis without mentioning Snowdon Deli (parent of Centre St. in Thornhill); I think it's the only one of the delis you mentioned that has chicken soup with matzo balls on the menu.
Moishe's could be considered a Jewish steak house - they have choppped liver on the menu and serve pickles and cole slaw, along with rye and pumpernickel bread.
Gibby's is not, and never was, considered a Jewish steak house, although the owner is Jewish.
For great Israeli food, there is a new place at Dufferin and Rutherford called Sofra Grill. Their falafel is amazing - crispy, light, and wonderfully seasoned, and their Israeli dips and chicken shawarma are wonderful.

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  1. Hi,
    I agree about Snowdon, although their chicken soup is not great (I don't think it's from scratch), and I guess you can add Famous Deli Boys to the list as well. I thought Wilensky's was worth a mention. When did Ben's close?

    23 Replies
    1. re: DDD

      -Ben's closed a few weeks ago. Bah. Humbug. No edible food there for decades.

      -Wilenski's might be interesting for ambiance (assuming it hasn't changed). Ditto for Beauty's. But I wouldn't call either one a "Jewish restaurant".

      -Famous Deli Boys wasn't very good in 1967, so I'd be very surprised if it is really good today (though, to be fair, Snowdon is much better now than it was then).

      - Schwartz still makes the best smoked meat (I know you disagree, FlavoursGal, but Lester's old fashioned, made by an industrial process, waters the experience down -- both literally and figuratively)

      - Moishes had a fancy place in First Canadian Place in the late nineties. The food was very good, but they blew it. Unlike the somewhat raffish Montreal ambiance, it was a very posh space for a Bay St clientele. The chopped liver, pickles, cole slaw, and pickled herring didn't fit in and they died quickly, though they were better and cheaper than Hy's (also owned by Jews) across the street. The space is now occupied by Reds.

      - Come to think of it, the Brown Derby made the same mistake at Yonge & St Clair in the early eighties.

      I don't think the ownership and "Jewishness" of a restaurant correlate all that closely. Schwartz hasn't been owned by Jews for many years and one partner in Centre St is Greek. During my time in Montreal, two Chinese places seemed positively Jewish: Ruby Foos (which was, I think, owned by Jews) and Bill Wongs (owned by Jan Wong's father). The deli in the Cote St Luc Shopping Centre was owned by Antonia Zerbisias' family. The Steeles Deli in Thornhill is owned by Chinese. Shopsy's may have been wrecked by Lever Brothers, but it didn't get better when they put Izzy Shopsowitz in charge. Shopsys is again owned by Jews, but it isn't a very Jewish restaurant in my opinion. Nor is Druxys or the Pickle Barrel, both delis owned by Jews.

      1. re: embee

        It's not that I dislike Schwartz's, embee, it's just that, although born and raised in Montreal, I was brought up on Delly Boys' smoked meat (never made in-house). It's my guess that I just wasn't exposed to Schwartz's smoked meat much. When we went to St. Lawrence St. for smoked meat, we usually went to Deli City. Believe it or not, when we went to Schwartz's, we ordered the rib steak, not smoked meat. Their rib came with an small appetizer of grilled hot dog and baby beef liver, and the steak was coated with steak spices and fresh garlic.

        1. re: FlavoursGal

          Good stuff, that rib steak. I remember it coming with the liver, a stick of karnatzel, a pile of smoked meat, and a pile of rye bread.

          1. re: FlavoursGal

            Ah, Delly Boys. A yearly Christmas tradition for me and a couple of buddies of mine from our shared childhood in Montreal when we're in town. Convenient because one's mother lives around the corner and we all have family near by. Great food? Not. Comforting? Yes. And I must confess a liking for their lead-weight knishes and latkes; though my sit down meal with the boys is an old-fashioned, medium-fat.

          2. re: embee

            While Ben's deli has closed, their commercial food division is still in operation(where they produce Ben's smoked meat & other products). Ruby Foo's was owned by Jews(during their heyday, they were the most profitable & biggest Chinese restaurant in Canada). Bill Wong's just closed for good after the holidays(their last day was January 7th).

            1. re: embee

              The deli in the Cote St. Luc was Ben Ash, owned by my family. Antonia Zerbisias' father owned the deli in the strip plaza just west of there ( I have long since forgotten the name.

              1. re: Ben Ash

                Before CSL, I seem to recall Ben Ash in the CDN plaza? Am I mistaken?

                1. re: RhondaB

                  Ben Ash was indeed located in the CDN plaza in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

                  1. re: eat2much

                    Was there one in Chomedey as well, or am I having false memory syndrome?

                2. re: Ben Ash

                  Hi Ben Ash,

                  I use to go to your Dad's place after my daily dip in the Hot Tub at Vic Tanny's. It was a hoot working out then having a Smoke Meat after

              2. re: DDD

                Growing up in Cote St. Luc, Delly Boys was our local deli. Never owned by Jews (I believe Sonny and Chico, older and gray now, are Italian), we had our share of smoked meat there, but my favourites were the hot chicken sandwich, the Michigan burger (like a Michigan hot dog), the pizza burger (a hamburger between 2 slices of pizza, topped with meat sauce - still on the menu!), and the liver knishes.

                While visiting my mother-in-law a few weeks ago (she lives in Cote St. Luc), I went out to Delly Boys to pick up an assortment of things for take-out. Ehh!

                1. re: FlavoursGal

                  Gotta put in a word for St. Laurent. Growing up there in the 70's we didn't have anything like Cavendish Mall so we hung out at the St. Louis Shopping Centre. I remember great smoke meat, knishes, latkes, varenykys(sp?), matzo ball soup etc. at the St. Laurent Deli. I'm not sure who owned it, but if I remember correctly most of the people who worked there were Greek. A couple of them eventually opened Stan's in the same shopping centre -- great steak sandwich.

                  1. re: Richard_S

                    Richard, my husband also grew up in St. Laurent (or "Veal St. Laurent", as his mother says it) and he, too, reminisces about St. Laurent Deli. I just phoned him after reading your post and he (Steven O.) verified that the deli was, in fact, Jewish-owned - a family by the name of Roth.

                    A fond memory of his is going into the deli for a piece of dry karnatzel before going skating in the park across the street (Houde???), and returning after his skate for a hot chocolate.

                    You probably went to the same school, too (Sir Winston?).

                    1. re: FlavoursGal

                      Ah yes. Dry karnatzel with mustard on a piece of rye bread for ten cents. Those were the days.

                      You're right about everything else... the park across the street was Houde (the other hang-out park being Chamberlan across from Talmud Torah) and I did go to Sir Winnie for high school.

                      1. re: FlavoursGal

                        No, I did not go to that school but the MCHS Volleyball team I was on beat them at volleyball when they first got going in the early sixties...made me proud...but I did not think about it until you mentioned the school....let me think, alzheimers and all, that was 45 years ago, I think...I must be getting ripe as in...well...ripe old age?

                        1. re: FlavoursGal

                          This is over a year later, but I just came across this thread. The St. Laurent Deli was run for many years by Leo Rock, a survivor. He bought it from the original (Jewish) owners, whose names I forget. Leo passed away in late 83, but I do not know who took over after.

                        2. re: Richard_S

                          I too remember Boras and the deliin the St.Louis Shopping centre.I lived on Laurentian Blvd in the late 60's and early 70,s I also remeber Chicken Haven and Oh Curly Q's best smoked meat around myn brother would go there and have it delivered by taxi to my moms house .We would also listen to Rosie talk about everything,she had wonderful comments.Also we were the ones who put the soap suds and pink dye in the fountain if any one heard of that.

                          1. re: Allan S

                            Does anyone know if Boras is still in business, Going back to montreal for a visit, grew up in St laurent and used to go there wanted to go back since Ben's is closed.

                            1. re: eagle

                              Bora's is no longer there, sorry.

                          2. re: Richard_S

                            I hate to change the subject but talking about St. Laurent, does anyone remember the name of the restaurant just across from Woolworths in the main part of the old city next to Steinberg's in the 50 and 60s?

                            I also knew the St. Louis Shopping Centre but not as well as the Norgate Shopping Centre (I am sure that is what it was called). I grew up on Mr. Donut delights across the street from the was my home away from home from the age of 14 whenever somone was driving that way for a treat on a Friday night. We used to drive almost 5 miles to get there when it was first opened in the 50s. Funny, I also spent my youth from the age of five or six at the Northmount YMCA but the only place to eat in the plaza I can remember was the other St. Laurent Woolworths. By 1972 I was an old married guy living in Toronto....ohhhhh...but the Brown Derby....yummie.

                            1. re: A Guy from Saraguay

                              Jewish food in Montreal hit the canvas for the last time with the closing of the Brown Derby. I feel as if I've been wearing a black armband all these years. There isn't a single place in town that makes kishke that could even be mentioned in the same breath as theirs.

                              Like a pain in my heart that just won't fade....

                              1. re: bomobob

                                That pain in the heart should be checked. It's the result of arteries clogged up by years of eating kishke, smoked meat, stuffed chicken, chopped liver, and much of the other unbelievably delicious "low cholesterol" deli we all knew way back when. (When we didn't know how to spell cholesterol!)

                          3. re: FlavoursGal

                            You are right, Sunny and Chico. I use to work nights doing the close up with Sunny and had a blast of a time, he would have us laughing all night. I use to live on Wolseley Ave.

                        3. Right on! A chicken shawarma with a taste like no other! Can't wait to try the sit-down dinners at Sofra.

                          1. I remember Ville St. Laurent deli on St. Loius I beleive.
                            There was a waitress "Burt" that gave her two cents of advice with every order.

                            I also remember Bora's on Decarie and the best smoked meat in St Laurent "Curly Q" in the Norgate shopping center.

                            Half the population of Ville St. Laurent went into a depression when "Curly Q" closed.

                            1. Does anyone remember Fine Bakery in the Caldwell Shopping Centre in Cote St. Luc? They had the best cakes and pastries: incredible swiss chocolate cake, eclairs, milles-feuilles, and the best German chocolate cake EVER. My mother would buy this cake for our birthdays.

                              I have never found a German chocolate cake that came close to Fine Bakery's. I've even tried googling the recipe, to no avail.

                              2 Replies
                              1. Agree that Snowdon Deli probably has the best smoked meat (outside of Schwartz's) but not being a smoked meat person, they also have great soup (bean and barley, matzoh ball) and deli take out. Best felafel in Montreal and kosher pizza is Pizza Pita on Decarie between Plamondon and Vezina - they have a drive through, awesome for Montreal winters. Montreal has a very large Sephardic community - Adar bakery on Westminster south of Cote-St-Luc road has wonderful baked goods (almond croissants to die for) and turkish salad, baba ghanouj, etc that you can buy to take out. Fressers on Decarie north of Cote-St-Catherine is Ashkenazi style take out - brisket, chicken, soups, knishes, cheese bagels...all the good stuff. Moishe's is by far the best jewish-style steak house (try the varenikas) and Gibby's is SO NOT!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: mikjomom1

                                  >>Best felafel in Montreal ... is Pizza Pita on Decarie between Plamondon and Vezina - they have a drive through, awesome for Montreal winters.<<

                                  Better than Chez Benny on Queen Mary and Jerusalem in the Cavendish Mall? If so, so they have sit-down for those of us who don't do cars? (Please don't tell me I have to hire a taxi...)

                                  1. re: mikjomom1

                                    I have one fond memory of the Snowdon Deli - their great cheesecakes! WOW!
                                    Also nearby, I saw the Ten Commandments in the Snowdon Theatre when it first came out in 1956. What a picture! ..certainly a classic. Charlton Heston ... Moses,
                                    Yul Brynner ... Rameses, Anne Baxter ... Nefretiri, Edward G. Robinson ... Dathan, Yvonne De Carlo ... Sephora, Vincent Price... Baka, John Carradine ... Aaron. Certainly a suitable film to be shown in the Jewish Community of Snowdon and it sure fit well with the Smoke Meat we ate earlier. For a 12-year old at the time, it was not a film to forget...the smoke meat and cheese cake were great as well.