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Schwartz's vs. Dunn's

In town for my older daughter's soccer tournament, my wife and I tried out both
Schwartz's and Dunn's for smoked meat. (I used to be a Ben's fanatic, but it's
gone, of course.)

After a long day in the hot sun, the wife and I fell asleep in our room while dear
daughter went out for dinner with her team. We awoke at 10:30 pm, and decided
to try Schwartz's, which we had heard of many times (I am an ex-Montrealer, living
in Toronto for many years) but never tried.

My wife was taken aback when she saw the interior but it didn't bother me; in
Toronto, I've been known to eat at the Vesta Lunch and the late Canary, so I
don't need fancy seating or pretty paint to mask the food.

That said, I was not at all impressed with the sandwich. The slaw was fine, the
dill pickle was good, but the smoked meat, while it had an intense flavour, was
dry and stringy. My wife said that Katz's in Toronto was better (and I've always
thought Katz's was mediocre compared to Ben's).

Today (Sunday), we headed to Dunn's at Metcalfe and St. Catherine for lunch.
For the sake of comparison, my wife has the smoked meat sandwich; I go for
a Reuben. We both agree Dunn's is the best we've had; much juicier and tastier,
with a texture that lets you know you're eating meat, but not beef jerky. Slaw and
dills were fine; nothing to choose between Schwarzt's and Dunn's there.

Yes, Dunn's has more on the menu, but I don't think it's fair to compare dishes
that one offers that the other doesn't (and I'm basing my smoked meat comparison
on part of my Reuben where I took off the kraut and cheese, and just ate the
meat on its own). We'll definitely go back to Dunn's; Schwartz's, not so much...

KevinB

PS To be scrupulously honest, my wife ordered the Dunn's cheesecake for dessert,
and wasn't too impressed with it. With the kids, we shared a basic poutine, which
tasted like the entire salt shaker had been mixed in with it.

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  1. "the smoked meat, while it had an intense flavour, was dry and stringy"

    Did you ask for medium or medium fat when you ordered?

    Of course, if Ben's is your benchmark, Dunn's might well come off better than Schwartz's.

    3 Replies
    1. re: carswell

      To be fair, we didn't ask for medium fat, but the waiter didn't offer the choice, either. At Dunn's, the first thing the waitress asked when my wife ordered the smoked meat was "Lean or medium?".

      And to tell the truth, Ben's was my fave because it was my dad's fave, and he took me there many times as a kid, so there's a certain nostalgia thing going on there...

      1. re: KevinB

        this is like go to chili's for fajitas when you're in san antonio

        1. re: celfie

          Lol. My thoughts exactly - or like preferring 50 over a St Ambroise pale ale because that's what your old man liked. Glad I read the comments before the OP, saved me alot of time.

    2. When did you last eat smoked meat at Ben's? In its heyday, their smoked meat might of been very good. I have never eaten good smoked meat at Ben's(based on two or three visits & I only go back to the mid-80's there(last time maybe 6-7 years ago)). It might of been the worst smoked meat I've eaten of the major Montreal smoked meat delis.

      I've had very good smoked meat in Dunn's Famous on Metcalfe most times(occasionally they have been sub-par). Not often, but I've had dry & stringy smoked meat from Schwartz's(I always order mine medium-fat).

      1. Montrealers lets rank the smoked meat

        Schwarts
        Abies
        Georges
        The Main
        Smoked meat Peats
        Duns
        Smokeys
        Bens (how it was)

        I noticed sandwiches vary at all of the above it seems you never know what your going to get...

        The most consistent sandwich and plate has been at Smokeys..
        After asking the manager the difference in the recipe between Smokeys and Schwartz it is the dry cure time.

        So give it a try Smokeys Marche Central you will find it a bit better...

        They are all good
        But
        Bens was chewy pastrami
        Abies does not have enough Pepper
        The Main Has tones of Pepper if thats what you would like..

        PS: The main has the Best Smoked Chicken.
        If you can get it before it is put in the fridge get at least two!!

        3 Replies
        1. re: Lornek

          You're missing Le Roi Du Smoked Meat, Lesters, Snowdon Deli, Delibee's, Quebec Smoked Meat, Chenoys, Felix Mish, Zytynsky's, Jarry Smoked Meat, Brisket's, Charcuterie Lina, Charcuterie Monk and Charcuterie de Tours.

          Also Smokey's is now a Dunn's.

          1. re: EaterBob

            OK
            Dunn's
            DeliBoys
            Deli Bees
            Lesters
            Snowdon Deli
            Schwartz
            Quebec Smoked Meat
            Chenoys
            Felix Mish
            Jarry Smoked Meat
            Zytynsky;s
            Briskets
            Charcuterie Lina
            Charcuterie Monk
            Charcuterie de Tours
            Nickels
            Abes
            George
            Smoked Meat Petes
            Shwartz
            The Main
            Sloveinia
            Please add There is a great one on st-catherine too..

            I like them all except the coorshe meat yach it is like paint
            Nickels uses it I think Chenoys too..

          2. OK
            Dunn's
            DeliBoys
            Deli Bees
            Lesters
            Snowdon Deli
            Schwartz
            Quebec Smoked Meat
            Chenoys
            Felix Mish
            Jarry Smoked Meat
            Zytynsky;s
            Briskets
            Charcuterie Lina
            Charcuterie Monk
            Charcuterie de Tours
            Nickels
            Abes
            George
            Smoked Meat Petes
            Shwartz
            The Main
            Sloveinia
            Rubens
            Bell Province

            The best way to compare is to buy a pound hot with hlf a loaf of bread; Sanwiches vary in size and quality so much..

            My Peave is Coorshe Its Pastramy with some sor of paint thinner in it; It is nasty!! I think Nickels uses that stuff..

            Any corrections additions or coments are cool!!

            1. Sorry everybody I took out a lb of Smoked meat at Smokeys Marche Central This weekend... It was not the same recipe as before.. it is now a chewy wet pastrami. I think the owners have changed the meat turned a 360 on me not good any more..

              1. To be honest (and blunt), Schwartz's is over-rated. Not terrible, but simply not the Mecca of Smoked Meat most of the so-called foodie crowd (i.e. those who put on airs) would have everyone believe. Back in the day, The Main deli across the street had a rep as being the the better choice. Who knows. Maybe it was simply Schwartz-hater-central. I've had SM from the West Island Dunn's and wasn't crazy about it. Last summer, however, I went with family from out of town to the downtown Dunns and was blown away by their smoked meat. It was the best I've ever had.

                24 Replies
                1. re: Haggisboy

                  Hi Haggis
                  The Smokeys I keep boasting about Marche Central was a dunns the previous owner cut it just right... Now I don't know?
                  Last time was a watery chemicaly meat. ? big change?

                  The Duns owner told me its the same recipe as Schwartz but the Dry Spice cure time is 2 days less which keeps the meat from getting too dry.. (is the prob some times at Schwartz..

                  Yes Duns can blow you away will take out a lb of meat there Dorn Town next time.. I do like the Main it varies but I have taken out hot by the Lb there and have had amazing meat..
                  The Main has the best smoked chicken but I rarely see it.

                  That's about it!!

                  1. re: Haggisboy

                    Schwartz's is not over-rated. that is just silly.

                    1. re: catroast

                      100% agree. You can have a bad sandwich anywhere, I suppose. But Schwartz remains a classic.

                      Now if you like a more processed product (and that's OK), you would obviously prefer some of the other alternatives.

                      No comparison for me though.

                      Best.

                      Matt

                    2. re: Haggisboy

                      it's always hit and miss with smoked meat. Main can be great and then it's totally rubbery, Same for Schwartz. Took friends visiting town and it seems that we went on a good day at schwartz, it was actually moist and tasty. Also took them to main for a steak and smoked meat and again it was just awesome. The old issue that I had with schwartz was that it was to salty. That also seemed to have changed since.

                      Continuous hit and miss. And like they say never order a smoke meat sandwich dry always medium or fat. But I hate it when they just put slices of fat in between. A real cutter knows how to manage his piece of meat.

                      I also like DeliBees in DDO and Pete's in IP

                      The most disgusting piece of smoked meat I had in the past year didn't even look like smoke meat or taste like it. It looked grey and tasted like balone. And that what sealed the faith of Jarry Smoked Meat with me since.

                      1. re: maj54us

                        Schwartz, Delibees, Pete's, tops for me, no contest and Abie's. I haven't been to The Main in ages but I suppose just as good since they are operated by the same family of Pete's/Delibees. OP is from Toronto (they state ex Montrealer, so clearly they lost some taste buds when they headed west).

                        Then again I know a lot of Montrealers who puke at Schwartz but have Lester's Deli on a pedestal. I don't get it but hey you can't control someones tastebuds.

                        1. re: JerkPork

                          That is interesting about the families related to Main but they are each different from the other.

                          I had Abies on St-Jean Boulevard when they had their special a few years back and it was dry and uneventful. Never went back. Do they master their smoked meat now ?

                          1. re: maj54us

                            Abe's is ok but no pepper.. pepper is a must for me.
                            The varying sandwich issue is best resolved by taking out hot by the pound..

                      2. re: Haggisboy

                        No comparison, Schwartz's is still the benchmark for smoked meat. And yes Haggisboy, it is the mecca for smoked meat in MTL. I don't put on airs, I just know what I like. Been going there for as long as I can remember (say 48 years) and yes, I've had lousy sandwiches there (just about 3 months ago I sent back a med-fat sandwich twice that they were happy to exchange) & the 3rd sandwich was awesome, but I've also had lousy steaks at well reputed steak houses & have had lousy food at a number of restaurants that are highly touted on these boards. IMO, no other smoked meat has the flavor & texture that Schwartz's has. Not rubbery like I've had at the Main or Dunns (sorry Elliot!) and Abie's went downhill quickly. One's opinion on"the best" smoked meat can be subjective since we tend to stick by what we remember from our 1st experiences & mine happen to be of Schwartz's with Brown Derby coming in a distant second. If one grew up on Coorsh, then I can see how one would prefer some of the other establishments named in posts below.

                        I & several other CHers did a smoked meat crawl several years ago & we rated as 1) Schwartzs, 2) Snowdon Deli; 3) Georges; 4) The Main. I've been to Smoked Meat Pete & thought it was not a good sandwich & a rip off for what they charged & what I got. My backup when I don't feel like shlepping to the Plateau is Snowdon and their old fashioned is on par with Dunns. Schwartz's does not inject brine into their smoked meat that others do & that affects the texture & color.

                        1. re: RhondaB

                          Schwartz is definitely the one that all smoked meat needs to be compared to. Yes, Abie's is on the drier side, every now and then you'll get a decent one. The best one I had was during a lunch rush, I would suspect turnover has something to do with it, drier ones during down times (probably in the steamer too long). Either way, if you are in that part of the city Abie's definitely beats wet chemical enhanced smoked meat one finds at hot dog joints.

                          1. re: RhondaB

                            Funny how we've been able to resurrect a 6 year old thread like it was yesterday (well, except for the Bens part).

                            Only to dip my toe into the discussion, I'd say Deli Bees is the dark horse. OK, its got a dumb name, its outta the way (but not more so than Petes), and a bit hard to find. I think they have some of the best smoked meat around but not many people (want to) make the trek.
                            Are they perfect everytime? As RhondaB points to, no, everyone is not perfect all the time, big deal.

                            1. re: porker

                              deli bee is not that good and it's insane that you have gone out of your way to go there. you're confusing not terrible with good.

                              1. re: catroast

                                I respect your opinion...even though it borders on...
                                ahhh, nevermind...

                                1. re: porker

                                  I'll say it, it borders on complete hogwash. Delibees is right up there, in a big way. Catroast, why do you not care for Delibee's sandwich?

                                  1. re: JerkPork

                                    Actually I don't care if someone likes something or not - its their opinion and we all have our likes and dislikes...telling someone they're insane because of their opinion, well, that seems just a wee bit on the crude side.

                                    1. re: porker

                                      I didn't mean to offend anyone, my apologies. I didn't call them personally insane though (I actually didn't use that word at all). It's just my opinion that their comment about Delibees is unfair as I believe they serve a really good product. Of course everyone has a right to their opinion and taste.

                                      1. re: JerkPork

                                        I wasn't speaking about you Jerk- hehe.

                                        I guess I should be more clear:
                                        catroast wrote "it's insane that you have gone out of your way to go there"
                                        OK, I can appreciate hyperbole, but my personal tastes run a little more subdued when addressing someone's opinions. Perhaps I might've said "IMO, it ain't worth a special trip" or "Me? I wouldn't go out of my way", something like that.
                                        But thats me.

                                        1. re: porker

                                          Ah, silly me. Stupid reply buttons, I thought it was directed to me due to the "RE; JerkPork". That's why I kind of did a double take when I read your comment, "what the heck did I say to pee off Porker, I wasn't that harsh" lol. I agree, a quick reason as to why one thinks something is not good would be nice, this is not the first time I've noticed this from said user.

                                        2. re: JerkPork

                                          @jerkpork: correct me if I'm wrong but i think "porker" was answering "catroast"

                                          And I'm actually insane for myself because when I'm recommended a place I get out of my way to go and try it. Sometimes it's good often it's not. When it's unacceptable I mention it. As mentioned before you can't discuss taste buds.

                                  2. re: catroast

                                    strongly disagree with your assessment. It's a very good smoke meat sandwich and among the top ones in Montreal.

                                  3. re: porker

                                    Gotta agree with Porker here. The owner of Deli Bee's is the brother of Pete Varvaro who owns Smoke Meat Pete. Both are the sons of one of the fellows who used to own or work at The Main. In fact, the Deli Bees location used to be a Smoke Meat Pete's, but something mysterious went down in the family a number of years ago - a falling out I think - and now the two are separate entities.

                                    Deli Bees also has a terrific take out special. Something like a pound or so of sliced SM, a loaf of rye, pickles and slaw for something like $12-$13. I've had it and it was terrific. The only hitch (and it's a small one) is that they pre-slice the SM on a deli-slicer. Not by hand.

                                      1. re: Haggisboy

                                        Both are the sons of "Owner" of Main, Mister Peter Varvaro and sadly the last news I got about him 6 months ago is that he wasn't doing well health wise. Staff member told me that his daughter is running things.

                                        I remember that you could buy a documentary made about Main. Haven't noticed if still on display at the counter.

                                        I found this on the net. don't now if it's the same documentary sold at the restaurant.
                                        http://vision.rcinet.ca/video/7NX8475...

                                        Peter, an Italian, explains how he got into mastering a Jewish specialty

                                        Smoked meat is unique to Montreal even if it is said that it came from Europe. You can't find smoked meat in Europe. Actually in Paris one copy cat opened a place called schwartz and it light years away from resembling a smoked meat sandwich.

                                        1. re: maj54us

                                          link to article on Main and Schwartz

                                          interesting trivia in there.
                                          http://thechronicleherald.ca/artslife...

                                          1. re: maj54us

                                            a little bit more on Main from tv show You Gotta Eat Here

                                            http://www.foodnetwork.ca/you+gotta+e...

                                  4. Too many Schwartz threads going on so I'll go with one of the more recent discussions from a few months ago, plus it doesn't have 100+ replies like some of the others.

                                    I’ve always praised Schwartz through the years and while not a regular I try to get there a couple of times a year but less so since the discovery of Delibees (thanks to this board) which is close to my work.

                                    My yearly stroll down the Main during their street fest always includes a stop at Schwartz and this past weekend was no different. I asked them if I could have a med-fat from the end piece to which they obliged, the moment I opened up the sandwich I knew it would not be up to standards. The texture of it was off, it didn’t have that separation to it, you know what I mean when you look at a slice and all the collagen and connective tissue has separated the meat within a slice (like in this photo…. http://montreal.about.com/od/foodwine...), the slice was completely uniform. None of the good stuff like in that photo was to be had.

                                    I think this was my first sandwich since the new ownership and as others have mentioned they probably can’t keep up with demand and have to cut corners, less smoking time? Hopefully this is not the norm and I caught them on an off night.
                                    Delibees on the other hand, wonderful stuff, just like in that photo in that Schwartz link above.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: JerkPork

                                      I was hoping my visit a couple of months ago was an outlier and gave them the benefit of the doubt that because they were so swamped with the street fair they couldn't keep up. Well, I was there earlier this week and their sandwich was terrible, dry and stiff as can be.

                                      What is going on? I looked at every single sandwich going out and they all had the same horrible texture. What a shame that this once wonder of a sandwich is extinct, most likely due to new ownership.

                                    2. I think this is a matter of perspective. I was raised on Schwartz's & have I had bad sandwiches there, yes. But I've also had bad steaks at Moishes. But compared to the many smoked meat restaurants that I've tried (have not tried Delibees, Smokeys, Quebec Smoked Meat or other relatively obscure establishments that specialize in smoked meat), nothing can beat a hot medium-fat Schwartz's hand sliced sandwich. I feel that Lesters is chemically injected, Dunns is just ok but lacking in that old fashioned taste (chemicals too?). As was mentioned, the OP's tastes are based on the now defunct Bens, a far different beast than Schwartz's that never ranked on my top 5 list. Schwartz's smoked meat has always been on the dry side. The fattier it is, the more flavour you get; it has never been "juicy" or wet like brine injected smoked meat you find at the Main, Lesters or Snowdon.
                                      I'll soon try Delibees that so many rave about & will report back with an honest opinion.

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: BigHabsFan

                                        I was raised on Schwartz too and kick and scream when I'm invited to go for Lesters for a quick work lunch. I agree, Schwartz has always been on the drier side (and I have always been ok with it), but it has always had that fall apart texture to it with the fat melting in your mouth, this is no more. Some slices were like cardboard last night, not acceptable. I have always praised Schwartz (read the entire thread) but clearly something is off since the recent change of ownership. HabsFan, when was the last time you were there?

                                        1. re: JerkPork

                                          I had Schwart smoked meat today and it's not what it used to be. Change of ownership to blame?

                                          1. re: JerkPork

                                            I last had Schwartz's about a year ago, and it was wet 'n' juicy but not in that slimy, industrial way; more like over-steamed. Either way, it was not up to past standards.

                                            More recently had a sandwich at the Main. It was OK, not terrible, not great, not slimy but not really showing that old-fashioned character either. Definitely not the same as when they were still making it in-house. Then again, the Main has had trouble putting out a consistent product for at least 15 years.

                                            1. re: Mr F

                                              After trying Smoke Meat Pete this past weekend (for the first time), I don't think I will be returning to Schwartz's anytime soon...it tasted much like Schwartz's used to, once upon a time.

                                            2. re: JerkPork

                                              About 6-7 months ago was last visit. One bite into 1st sandwich & WTF it was dry, hard to chew, rubbery texture. Waiter gladly replaced it & 2nd was as good as days goneby, so go figure. They appear to be wildly inconsistent, but still, that second sandwich! :-)