It's not pastrami. It's not corned beef. It's Montreal smoked meat. And though some claim the local fast food delicacy is basically an overrated, under-spiced pastrami wannabe, others salivate faster than Pavlov's dogs at the very mention of a smokey, sweet-meets-salty sandwich stacked with a dozen plus slices prepared in that distinctively Montreal way put on the map by the city's Jewish community.
What's so special about it? Some say smoked meat is sweeter than pastrami, less spicy and more smokey. Others say the opposite, but for your humble expert, the major difference is in the cut. And texture. Think lighter, less dense marbled brisket, muscle fibers barely held together by a web of evenly distributed fat injecting flavor into every bite. No mouthfuls of blubber lest you order the fattiest slices, no dry moments—unless you get a lean cut, which is possibly the best way to screw up your sandwich—just a mass of tender, crumbly, messy meat between two slices of rye.
Gawd it's good.
But where does one go for an authentic Montreal smoked meat experience? I propose to you four juicy sure bets.
Wherever you order a Montreal smoked meat sandwich, get a medium cut. Lean might be good for the waistline but it will do nothing for your taste buds. Another thing. If a given smoked meat joint or deli offers the choice of "regular" smoked meat or "old-fashioned" smoked meat, always, repeat, ALWAYS pick "old-fashioned" for a better taste of what Montreal smoked meat is supposed to be. Better yet, walk out the door. It's already a sketchy sign if a choice between either is offered at all. The best of Montreal's best-smoked meat joints sell smoked meat. Period. If you asked you the folks at Schwartz's for one or the other, they might look at you like you're weird. We can almost hear them saying, "regular, old-fashioned... what do you want me from me?! It's smoked meat."
Where does one go for an authentic Montreal smoked meat experience? The first choice was an easy one to make.
We'll make this simple for you. New York has Katz? Montreal has Schwartz.
Where does one go for an authentic Montreal smoked meat experience? The first choice was a no-brainer, but the second choice was a little tricky to make, one admittedly bolstered in rank on the principle of location, location, location.
Conveniently located in the middle of downtown Montreal, Reuben's makes a fine smoked meat sandwich though perhaps the one consistent complaint about Reuben's is it can feel too touristy at times, which can annoy travelers looking for a slice of local life. But the good news is, it's not a tourist trap.
Where does one go for an authentic Montreal smoked meat experience? The first choice was a no-brainer, the second choice sort of won its spot by default, and choice #3?
Snowdon Deli's got heart and Snowdon Deli's got soul, but it doesn't benefit from the choice, central locations Reuben's and Schwartz's have, which may explain why it doesn't get as much buzz. So, you'll have to trust us on this.
Snowdon Deli is one of the best joints in the city for Montreal smoked meat minus the lineups, heavy crowds, and gruff service. And the slices are thicker too. This is the kind of place you want to bring the whole family, be treated really well by staff and not feel rushed.
Smoke Meat Pete
Where does one go for an authentic Montreal smoked meat experience? Our fourth recommendation is glowing with customer praise, but it's not even on the island of Montreal, let alone in a central location.
The problem with Ile Perrot's Smoke Meat Pete is it's way out of the way unless you're a West Island resident. But from what I've heard, this is one deli well worth the detour. Some have even dared to claim it's better than Schwartz's. Can you believe it?!