Touring Montreal, Schwartz's Deli

I slept not as long as the previous night, but enough to feel suitably rested. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t sleep too long — this was my last full day with Therese and Stuart, and I didn’t want to waste it.

We had originally planned to do the breakfast thing, perhaps find a nice Dim Sum in Chinatown, or make use of one of the French cafes. But after a bit of discussion, we realized that it wasn’t breakfast that we were particularly interested in, it was lunch. And not any ordinary lunch, we needed one of Montreal’s legendary delis.

I skipped breakfast, not feeling particularly hungry. So I probably fed some urgency at finding a deli — and not just some bagel place. Stuart knows Montreal well enough to find the Jewish quarter (traditionally, the area known as The Plateau), and it wasn’t long before the streets were lined with bagel shops. I could feel my mouth beginning to water at the mere thought (I love Montreal-style bagels, they’re far better than their poor cousin, the New York-style). But I wasn’t alone in the desire to find an actual deli.

This brought us to the King of all Montreal delis — Schwartz’s. This establishment has been feeding Montreal since the early 1930s (even has what appears to be original equipment — a coal-fired stove for cooking beef and liver steaks). It has legendary smoked meat. Gerry even had one of his relatives bring some to his wedding. We decided that it was something to try (and they had alternatives for Therese).

The first thing that truly surprised me about Schwartz’s was the size. Despite being a legend in the biz, the place is tiny. There are about 10 “rows” of tables, jutting out from the north wall. The south wall is the take-out counter and the coal-fired stove. The west side is the entrance, and the east side is the kitchen. This place is so tiny that you don’t wait for a table — you wait for a seat. You don’t care who sits next to you.

Language here has no meaning. French, English, Yiddish, Spanish — the staff seems to speak it all without blinking an eye. The menu is in French and English, but assumedly, you know what you want when you come to Schwartz’s. It took only moments for me to figure out what I wanted. If you go into a Montreal deli, unless you don’t eat beef, you order a smoked meat sandwich.

I was given three options. And they’re not “small”, “medium”, and “large”. The options are “lean”, “medium”, and “fatty”. I have to admit a brief hesitation as I mentally drooled at the thought of the fatty, but opted for the medium instead. Stuart and I went the same, but Therese went for the turkey (though we thought that it might be the stuffed chicken; she didn’t seem to care, it was still good).

The sandwiches are so large that it usually falls apart, the top slice of rye falls to one side. A side of coleslaw is optional, but you really do need to eat something than just a sandwich (Therese had a salad, Stuart and I endulged our cabbage desire). The sandwich was massive, messy, and magnificient. I was tempted to even go so far as to say it made the trip to Montreal all the more worth it. But let’s be honest — IT’S A SANDWICH. Okay, yes, it’s as close to sex on a slice of bread that you can get, but it’s still just a sandwich.

After our brief lunch (you don’t laze around Schwartz’s after you’re done eating — there’s usually a large number of people waiting to take your seats), we stopped into a nearby drugstore to pick up a couple of things, and then headed on our way.

Not that we really had a way we were going in. We had no specific plans of any kind, and driving around more or less aimlessly became something to do. We went through the Latin Quarter, past the National Theatre School (where our friend Kathryn went to hone her stage management skills), down through the Gay Village, down to the river and through Vieux Port, before finally ending up at Central Station.

I had to pick up my train ticket for tomorrow. Mostly because I couldn’t remember what time the train was at.

We drove around blindly for a while longer before a supreme need to use a toilet (one of Kicker’s favourite games is to play “Bladder Bounce”, much to Therese’s discomfort) took precedence. The nearest thing at the time that seemed to offer us some respite was none other than the Montreal Forum.

But this ain’t your father’s Forum. If you’ve been living under a rock (or rough equivalent thereof), you probably haven’t heard that the forum is no longer the home of the Montreal Canadiens — they now play at the Bell Centre. The Forum, their former home, was completely gutted and rebuilt into an entertainment complex. The inside is now dominated by AMC movie theatres, a three-story sports bar, a two-storey Future Shop, and a couple of restaurants.

Centre ice, or what is supposedly centre ice, still exists, though it is paint on concrete. Still, it is the main item that harkens to the Forum’s glory days at the Mecca of Montreal hockey.

After making use of the facilities, we went to the AMC theatres to see if there was anything we wanted to see that was playing at the time. Sadly, not much, though we thought if stuck around a while, something might strike our fancy. So to help pass the time, we raised a nearby dessert shop.

Did I mention that this trip is going to be abject murder on my diet?

A trip through Future Shop proved one thing: doesn’t matter what province you live in, the store is still a bit of a pain in the ass. You always have those dorky customers who insist on cranking the volume on the ghettoblasters to see how loudly they can play hip hop without it distorting. Like you’re going to use them for a house party…

The Forum was loosing appeal. Being across the road from (yet another) mall, we decided to pop over to see what we could find. Specifically, the still-illusive white cap for Kicker’s take home outfit. A visit to three stores, including the Zeller’s, proved unsuccessful. So back to the Forum.

Nothing had changed insofar as the movies were concerned. By that point, we’d just decided not to bother, and instead, headed off in search of something for dinner.

We ended up at the Loblaws store I’d seen from the AMT train on my way in on Friday. While Therese rested in the car, Stuart and I picked up two salmon filets, a cod filet, half a dozen scallops, a clump of asparagus, a carton of rice, some waxed paper, and a couple of other things we needed. Tonight, I was cooking dinner.

The coolest part was when we went to the checkout. This store is one of the newer kind that has the self-checkout system. It’s pretty neat, really. You pass your items under the scanner, and it automatically punches it in as a purchased item. I couldn’t get the scan to work for the life of me, so it was up to Stuart to ring it all in. If gave me a chance to figure out how they prevent theft using this system — there’s a scale on the bags to see if the item you just scanned is put inside, or if something else goes in that wasn’t scanned. Kinda sneaky, if you ask me.

Food in hand, we returned home. Now if you’re wondering what I was making, the recipe is pretty simple: seafood pinwheels. I got this from watching “Good Eats” on the Food Network. Take the filets (deboned and deskinned, if not already done), and lay them out on a long piece of waxed paper, salmon side-by-side but overlapping, with the cod at the bottom. Then lay the scallops (skewered together) at the head of the salmon. Spice with pepper, salt, and dill (or other spices of choice). Using the waxed paper to help, roll into a very right roll, making sure the waxed paper doesn’t get rolled inside.

Okay, so it’s not that simple. But it’s not that hard.

It wasn’t my best attempt, I must admit. But since it was my first try, I can’t be totally faulted for not doing a perfect job on it. I’m not a chef, after all.

The rest of dinner was quite simple: a multigrain rice and a wonderful blanched asparagus that Stuart whipped together (out of one of the Best of Bridge cookbooks). Therese was relegated to “poor person’s mimosa” (gingerale and orange juice), while Stuart and I enduged in a little red wine. Over all, a very tasty meal, even if the fish was a tad messy.

Following our repast, we watched the weekly episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, which I had missed earlier in the week. This was the kind of show that the three of us had watched together since we were in high school. It if wasn’t Star Trek, it was the X-Files. Over 15 years, it was one of many things that had brought us all together.

Therese went to bed shortly afterwards. Stuart and I continued chatting and watching movie trailers until after midnight. At that point, the both of us had to go to bed. Stuart has to work tomorrow.

And I have a train to catch.