Where: 3864 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Type of Food: Hebrew Delicatessen
Usual suspects: Before dark, old Jewish couples. After dark, weary partygoers.
Why I love it: When I’m drunk, I’d sell my own mother into slavery for a medium fat.
Why you’ll love it: No pretense, no problems. Just smoked meat and cheerful staff.
Who to take: Anyone you can convince to leave the bar for a munchies run.
I ordered: Medium fat, french fries, two pickles and a cherry soda.
Everybody knows Schwartz’s.
If you’ve ever walked the Main on that classic stretch between des Pins and Mont-Royal, you’ve seen the bright white and orange sign, “Charcuterie Hebraïque” and the endless line-ups outside the steamed-up windows. It’s as much a tourist attraction as it is a restaurant, a remnant of a bygone age in Montreal’s history, when men were men, and men ate meat.
But everybody always seems to overlook the Main.
“The Main Steak House St. Lawrence” has been matching Schwartz’s ounce for ounce in smoked meat for the past 70 years. The sign is less catchy—“The Main” etched in vaguely Hebraic lettering. It’s not a restaurant that pushes itself on you, but instead waits to be discovered by those who deserve it. It’s almost as if the Main is trying to hide from the unwashed masses that clamor to be fed at Reuben Schwartz’s old doorstep.
The Main prefers the ragged few. The hungry and tired, seeking solace in a well-salted sandwich.
Why is it that the Main is so unpopulated? Why is it that when I march down St. Laurent with out-of-towners, they all clamor for Schwartz’s with the passion of a deprived heroin addict? Born and raised on smoked meat on rye, I’ve sampled the best our city has to offer, but there’s just something about the Main that keeps me coming back.
We shuffled in at around 2 am, each and all with 8 hours of drinking under ours belts. Sprawled across two tables in the back of the restaurant, I realized that the Main is never crowded— in fact it’s always almost exactly half full, like they’re expecting somebody who could arrive at any moment. It was myself, Dan with the camera, Jeremy and two of his friends from Boston, Americans eager for their first taste of Montreal cuisine. We cracked open a bottle of Jameson to fulfill the St. Patrick’s day spirit, eager to get back to business.
If you’re not familiar with the “nectar of Judea”: most newbies go for lean smoked meat, the healthiest option. I don’t cut corners, and I find lean a little dry, so I always recommend to friends that they give medium fat a chance. The meat is much juicier, right from the middle of the cut of brisket. Healthiest or not, lean still isn’t a fucking bean salad. You came here for meat on bread, that’s what you get.
Of course, there are plenty of side-dishes besides the obvious French fries, mostly pulled from the same Eastern European influence as the signature dish. Potato latkes (fried potato pancakes), chopped liver with onions, and gefilte fish. I get enough of that crap at home, so I usually stick to the fatty foods and the fries, though latkes are a sure bet, even for a guy with no experience in Jewish cuisine.
So I can give you a personal guarantee; even if you don’t particularly care for heavy, meaty sandwiches, you will walk away from the Main satisfied and filled. If you aren’t, take your complaints (and your sandwich) up to the counter and yell “Tiganu’ draculu!” at the middle-aged Romanian waiter.
See what happens.
Photos by Daniel Freder