Delicious Delis of Montreal

Schwartz’s, The Main, Smoke Meat Pete’s, Snowdon Deli, Lester’s, Dunn’s, Nickel’s, plus Ben’s, Dusty’s, Delly Boys and Caplan’s of bygone times… our Montreal Delis have always been  unique and each has had its own legions of fans.

Schwartz's smoked meat
Scrumptious Schwartz’s smoked meat… in a class by itself!
Photo (cc) by Bryce Edwards

Schwartz’s claim to fame is its smoked meat – and I do mean fame; the lines tend to swell with tourists and grow very long for this quintessential deli, but the wait is so worth it. Beyond compare, you just have to trust me and try it. For those who whine that it’s too dry, I say do not order it lean! Order it medium! Look, I know it’s not the healthiest, but let’s face it, if you’re heading out for smoked meat, you’re not looking for a chick-pea sandwich on wholewheat. No, you only live once, get some FAT in there. That’s what gives it awesome flavour and texture.

Okay, I admit I’m a SchwartzEvangelist. But yes, The Main is good. And its advantage is that for true fressers, it also has oodles of side dishes. That might be the only failing of Schwartz’s – it’s really for purists, in that it doesn’t have a ton of sides… although the fries are delish and the cole slaw and pickles are – oh, sorry, I was talking about The Main. Well, yes. There you can get wonderful chicken soup, as well as knishes and kasha and kugel, all those yummy things that start with “k,” stuff that your Bubby (grandma) used to make, especially if your Bubby came from Romania. 🙂

Smoke [sic] Meat Pete is worth a visit although you’ll need a car; it’s just off Montreal island on Île Perrot. I can’t do this place justice – you should really take a look at their website. You’ll see they have all the favourites, plus excellent cakes for dessert. I find their smoked meat and fries are a tad less scrumptious than they used to be, but maybe it was an off day when I went. Come to think of it, it happened twice. So you might want to take a pass, or else check it out for yourself, and enjoy the live blues as you nibble ‘n’ nosh. Great rustic ambience.

Now: Snowdon Deli, Lester’s, Dunn’s and Nickel’s are, to me, pale imitations of the restos above. I just don’t find their smoked meat to be as sublime as, well, Schwartz’s (also known as the Hebrew Delicatessen of Montreal. Except now the title is in French. Argh.) But I’m so biased, so don’t listen to me. Explore the others if you so desire. (Traitors! 😀 )

(By the way, here’s a bit of trivia most of you are probably aware of, but just in case you’re not: Celine Dion and her late husband René Angélil, were the first owners of Nickel’s, and the most recent owners of Schwartz’s. Happily, Schwartz’s is still a classic because it retained most of its staff, the guys who actually prepare the food. As for Nickel’s, well, have you been to Denny’s in the states? Enough said.)

Ben's Deli
The iconic Ben’s Delicatessen, no longer with us
Photo (cc) by Peg

The late, lamented Ben’s (1908-2006) was quite a downtown calling card back in the day, its clientele teeming with late-night performers out for their post-show snack, its walls plastered with glossy 8×10’s of many of their glamourous show-biz patrons.

Dusty’s, Caplan’s, Delly Boys, all gone now too. Done in, I imagine, by the health-food craze, growing ever relentless in recent years. Sigh. A moment of silence might be in order.

Okay, that’s enough.

For any Americans reading this, I will close by just taking a second to compare our smoked meat vs. your pastrami or corned beef. I will only say this: there is no comparison. Try it, you’ll love it.

Thanks for joining me on my tour of delectable delis!

29 thoughts on “Delicious Delis of Montreal

  1. Schwartz’s smoked meat really does look delicious. Did you say the Celine Dion now owns Schwartz’s? That’s very cool. With such a famous backer, they may be around for a while yet despite the health food craze.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While visiting your son in Brooklyn, have you tried the Mile End Deli? Owned by a couple of ex-Montrealers they serve smoked meat, not pastrami. I have not been but I hear it’s good.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Schwartz’: definitely worth the wait. It was my 2nd home growing up!!

    Avoid Snowden Deli at all cost(s?). Ate a hot dog with a cockroach in it in the mid 80s and still haven’t quite recovered…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s exactly how I was feeling. Fortunately, I found a great place that delivers here in Toronto. It’s definitely not the same, but it’s as close as I could get for now. I see a road trip to Montreal this spring!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yikes…Schwartz’s is for tourists…not purists! Those of us who work in the food business in Montréal never ho there…but it’s fun for tourists.

    Go to Wilensky’s if you want to see an old original deli. Very good deli sandwiches

    Lester’s is still very, very, very good albeit a bit expensive. Great fries, too!

    Order your Smoked Meat only one way: “Medium/Medium Fat” If you want to taste Montréal at any deli!!!

    Smoked Meat Pete’s is excellent as is Delibees in old Pointe Claire.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess you may have missed the part where I wrote that smoked meat *must* be eaten medium, i.e. with fat. Also, I was focusing on smoked meat, which is why I didn’t mention Wilensky’s. But you’re right, it’s definitely an authentic deli with yummy sandwiches on its very limited menu. Last time I went to Lester’s I was able to swim in the grease. But that was many years ago; maybe it’s better now… Smoke Meat Pete’s – have you been lately? I find it’s gone downhill. I don’t know “Delibees.” Thanks for your comment!


  6. When last in Montreal, my cousins took me to a place in Brossard. Sorry I cannot recall the name. It was terrific and should I get back there again I fully intend to have another…! Like many Ben’s was always my first choice…Sadly, it’s gone. I live in Vernon, B.C. and not much chance of anyone opening here!!

    Liked by 1 person

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