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Quintessential Montreal?

Coming from Manhattan if someone asked me where they MUST go for a great but inexpensive meal that reflects the pulse of the city I'd suggest Katz's Deli, Lombardi's Pizza, Grimaldi's Pizza (in Brooklyn) or one of Keith McNally's places (most likely Schillers b/c it's the least expensive option of all of his). Are there any places like that in Montreal that reflect the true spirit of the city without breaking the bank and are also pretty fun?

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  1. Definitely Schwartz's (www.schwartzsdeli.com) for smoked meat; it's inexpensive & it's the best place in the city for Montréal smoked meat sandwiches. There are usually line-ups out the door, but it moves quick, & if you're ok with sitting at the counter, you get a seat pretty fast.

    1 Reply
    1. re: oread

      Have a coffee or drink at a terrasse on St-Denis. Go there by bicycle (you can rent bicycles at several places on the Plateau).

    2. Ice cream and sorbet at Le Bilboquet (The original location) On Bernard on any warm summer nights.

      Pizza (ok, not the best one in town) eaten on the steps of Euro-Deli on St-Laurent.

      but beware, St-Laurent is all in repair, so it might not be the best time to walk the street between Sherbrooke and Pine.

      1. Things you must try specific in Montreal - that are not gourmet by any means and not exactly meals - but are a typical Montreal experience of more than just food...

        BAGELS: Montreal-style ones hand-made preservative-free baked in a wood oven with a dense moist texture and almost sweet flavour. These are not at all like doughy bread-like New York version sold in the rest of North America.

        My favourite is the traditional ones covered in sesame seeds straight out of the oven, some prefer those covered in poppy seeds. Buy them by the unit, half dozen or full dozen.

        Of course the great debate is whether bagels from St-Viateur or Fairmount bagelshops are better - you can try both and make your own mind, not far from one another. While waiting in line at the cash, it's impressive to see the skill required for each bagel being twisted, and baked.

        Un STIMÉ and a pepsi - hot dog - it's small steamed weiner served on flat-sided bun.
        Not sure who serves the best (can't digest hot dogs myself) but there's was a renowned place on lower St-Laurent Boulevard that had been there since the Great Depression - before it became the red light district. Atmosphere in there feels like it should have been on a Seinfeld episode.

        SMOKED MEAT SANDWICH: with mustard on light rye. Doesn't come with lettuce or tomato or any other sandwich topping, just 1/4lb of sliced meat served warm on slice of bread. Don't ask for cheese (not kosher to mix meat and dairy)

        POUTINE: Traditional style is out of styrofoam bowl/container, French fries sprinkled with white cheese curds (squeekier the better) under mound of hot steaming brown gravy. If you pour gravy all over your Thanksgiving plateof mashed potato, popover, turkey, etc) then you'll like this. I can't recommend a place - I've never had one myself, but people rave for either La Banquise, 994 Rachel Est, St Denis, open 24/7, or Ma'am Bolduc, at 4351 de Lorimier Avenue on the corner of Mont-Royal

        1 Reply
        1. re: yow yul

          Ma'am Bolduc for sure! Get a slab of sugar pie to wash down the artery-clogging poutine (soooo good)! Don't even bother to try finishing it though, the slice is HUGE! Split one with a friend.

        2. Le Commensal, multiple locations, one on McGill and one on St. Denise, this is a vegetarian Buffet unlike anything we have in New York. Also Eggspectations thrills New Yorkers, but is old hat for the locals, where else would you find a breakfast place with a full bar!,. I would avoid Schwartz's, it's a hole in the wall compared to Katz's near Delancey., but you must try the smoked meat (Reubens, kinda like Junior's, or Dunn's which is a cross between Nathan's and Katz's) ...... also any French restaurant or Bistro, they are light years past what we have here in the states and no were near as expensive (Duck Confit with salad 16.C at L"Express) enjoy!!!!!!!!

          11 Replies
          1. re: tombombadillo

            The weather is getting nice - other than a terrasse, you can also enjoy a picnic in a park. Lafontaine Park, in Plateau Mont-Royal, or atop the "mountain" - Mont-Royal, with a view over the city. Get your picnic supplies on St-Laurent - a chicken (we eat a lot of chicken) either a smoked one from Schwartz's or a wonderful Portuguese bbq chicken from Coco Rico, some vegetables, GOOD BREAD (there is a Pain doré on St-Laurent, or better, an organic boulangerie at the corner of Mont-Royal and St-Urbain, just at the foot of the mountain).

            Though no vegetarian, I'm too non-red-meat-centric and junk-food-averse for some of yow yul's suggestions. I don't drink pepsi or its ilk or eat that kind of bread. But to each his or her own!

            Another quintessential Montréal experience is visiting a byow restaurant - a way people who may have more passion than money manage to have celebrations. There are many threads on this board and others about the best byo or byow (apportez votre vin) restos.

            1. re: tombombadillo

              Commensal really isn't worthwhile for a visitor who cares about good food. Not even within spitting distance of quintessential. A godsend for vegetarians looking for a faux-meat fix, maybe...

              Reubens and Dunn's are second-rate at best. (I've been known to stop at both in a pinch, since downtown is such a noshing wasteland on the whole.) Schwartz's is very much not a personal favourite and I haven't set foot there in years -- I can't stand the attitude that so often comes with outsized popularity -- but it's really *the* place for visitors to have a smoked meat, hole-in-the-wall/tourist trap though it may be.

              Eggspectation: pass, pass, pass. I believe bar service is legal as of 11 a.m., so any licensed place that serves brunch will be able to serve booze from that time on. And there are many, many places fitting that description, all of which have the great virtue of not being Eggspectation.

              1. re: Mr F

                Pretty much every city has a deli and an artisan bakery, ice cream parlour etc.

                If you want to sum up the joie de vivre and excess (but in a good way) of Montreal look no further than Au Pied de Cochon.

              2. re: tombombadillo

                Woah --- For smoked meat lovers, Reubens or Dunns is just plain blasphemy. Dunns can be bought at CostCo in those plastic packs for your microwave - eat that? ... I THINK NOT. There is only 1 bona fide Montreal institution for smoked meat & it is Schwartzs. This "hole in the wall" (part of it's aura) is revered by many & it is a shrine to perhaps the best smoked meat on the planet. Smoked meat is not pastrami nor is it corned beef, it is quite unique & the way to appreciate it best is to order it medium-fat with double mustard, washed down with a Cott Cherry sode. During a recent smoked meat tasting, photos of which are available on another foodie site, Schwartzs won hands down, followed by Snowdon Deli, Abies, Georges & The Main. I would also give an honorable mention to Smoked Meat Pete but Ile Perot's a bit of a schlep.

                1. re: RhondaB

                  I don't like the kind of "attitude" one gets at Schwartz's either. Nor do I drink Cherry sweetstuff. I'm not fond enough of red-meat stuff to put up with the other factors to repeat the Schwartz experience. For me the joy of living here is lingering at cafés and terrasses, laughing, eating nice food, perhaps drinking a bit (though coffee could also be an ingredient).

                  1. re: lagatta

                    agreed. delis are nothing new to a new yorker- a smoked meat sandwich to go is plenty of a schwartz experience, IMO.

                    1. re: lagatta

                      I'm not sure what this schwartz's attitude is. everytime i go there, which is frequent enough, I have a very very pleasant experience. Dunn's is a yuppy fest and it's no better than any second rate deli like chenoys. Schwartz's is king in montreal and anyone suggesting otherwise has no business being there!

                      1. re: celfie

                        I agree about Schwartz's - I've never once encountered what I'd consider "attitude" there and I've been going since I was a kid. BTW, check out the doc "Chez Schwartz" for an amusing behind-the-scenes look at this Montreal institution: http://chezschwartzfilm.com or the book by Bill Brownstein ("Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story") for the full history.

                        1. re: kpzoo

                          i wouldn't describe schwartz's as a tourist trap. my dad, who grew up around the corner, has had a schwartz's smoked meat sandwich at least once a month since he was old enough to have any money of his own in the 1950s. he says it's just as good as ever. it's not a tourist trap if all the locals are still into it (I'm a vegetarian now, but i still like going for some pickles. reminds me of my childhood. wilensky's also has some great old-school atmo.

                          1. re: mtlgirl

                            Well yes, but entre toi et moi, the food at Wilensky's is utter shite. Sure it has a historical-cultural importance (and my background is in social and immigration history, but it is nulle from a foodie standpoint.

                            I wouldn't call Schwartz's a tourist trap, but it does resemble that sometimes just looking at the huge queue outside, few of whom are neighbourhood denizens.

                            You raise a good point. It certainly has a historical, cultural and perhaps retains a culinary importance if the smoked meat is as good as they say (I'm not veg, but almost never eat red meat, and only when invited to the house of friends). But I certainly wouldn't choose it as a dining experience - being rushed, very limited menu, nothing to drink but sweet horrors (if I don't drink vino it is mineral water or good tea ... I don't drink sweet things).

                            Your quintessential Montréal experience will depend on what foods you like to eat and how you like to enjoy yourself. There is a wide range and I don't think any single place is incontournable, as we say.

                    2. re: RhondaB

                      Since you work in the West Island(you mentioned it in another post), you must of tried Smoked Meat Pete at least a couple of times. How would you rate their smoked meat vs Schwartz's, Snowdon Deli, Abies and Georges? Have you been to Georges more than once?

                  2. My suggestions for quintessential Montreal are:
                    -bagels from St-Viateur Bagel
                    -a "medium" smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz's
                    -supper at Au Pied de Cochon (not really inexpensive at ~$50/person, but totally worth a visit)
                    -poutine at La Banquise
                    -lunch on the terasse at Santropol
                    -dessert at Juliette et Chocolat

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: eoj

                      These folks are right! I just mentioned a few spots that are nothing like anything in New York, to someone from Manhattan.
                      St. Laurent might look like Bedford Ave in Williamsburg, Cresent St. a tourist trap to definately avoid, but St. Denise has the charm of Greenwich Village in the 70s before the commercialization, many nice terrace cafes and BYOBs,
                      All in all any place you go in Montreal is beautiful upscale, hip and classy the way New York City was in the 70s and 60s.
                      Some residents may not agree with all of my comments regarding this but, when someone lives in a gold mine, small nuggets that us outsiders find unique, are just passe'
                      Enjoy one of the coolest cities in the world
                      Check the board for the best in Old Montreal so that you avoid the tourist traps there.