Grillade Farhat – Sandwiches are the best choice, available with brochette of merguez (spicy sausage), chicken, kafta (spiced ground beef on skewers), brochette de boeuf (beef pieces), foie d’agneau (lamb liver).
Order the sandwiches tout-garni – all-dressed. They are fantastic with the harrisa (chilli paste), aioli (garlic mayonnaise) and tomatoes, onions, etc. The key to the taste here is that all the meat skewers are grilled after an order is placed which does mean a 15-20 minute wait. For repeat visits, power tip: call ahead with your order so it is ready by the time you arrive.
For a final touch, they will also grill the whole baguette sandwich after it has been stuffed giving the bread a nice crispy texture.
All the grilling is done over charcoal (grillades au charbon). The baguette sandwiches are around 9 inches, easy to eat one, two if one is hungry. This place has a few tables, but don’t look for decor here. The merguez, chicken, kafta sandwiches are best, the grilled beef meat is avoidable – tough and too much gristle.
Sandwiches are an incredible price – CAD$6 or so . Plates can also be ordered – with one, two or more brochettes, for around CAD$4 per brochette. Plates come with sides of harissa, aioli, hummus, along with a salad and pita. But the grilled sandwiches are much better, the grilled bread makes all the difference.
[2016 Note: They recently relocated, the old address was 5595B Côte-des-Neiges, 514-738-4999, (three blocks west of Côte-des-Neiges metro). All the web information, include Google results, have the wrong address. Use the new address above!]
Is this one of the best foods in the world, or what!
Schwartz’s Jewish Deli on Boul St-Laurent and its smoked meat!
As I write this paragraph sitting in Boston, I am reminded of the taste of those excellent smoked meat sandwiches — tender, succulent meat that falls apart easily with the touch of a fork, the exquisite mild pepper spices… accompanied by a black cherry soda or hot tea, it is truly an unique experience! Take a seat at the bar-stool at the deli counter, and enjoy the food amidst the hustle and bustle. The interior of Schwartz’s is kind-of run-down, but that, with the extremely busy waiters, and the tables where you will find yourself doubled up with strangers because space is so tight, is what creates the unique atmosphere of enjoying smoked meat at Schwartz’s.
The protocol: order a medium (sandwich is understood), black cherry, pickle, and french fries. My exact order is a medium, hot water + tea bag, and a pickle (no fries).
The medium is a medium-fat sandwich. Lean is available, but what is the point? Fatty is available, but if you eat here 3-4 times a week, that would be foolhardy. They also have plates, with bread served on the side, but the sandwich is better with the meat warming up the bread, which tastes nicer.
Most people drink the Black Cherry Soda with it. But black tea without sugar or milk is definitely healthier (not that anyone comes here to eat healthy food!).
And easier to ask for hot-water and a tea-bag, since asking for just tea seems to cause the staff to be somewhat surprised.
Some guidebooks will mention that the waitstaff is curt, even rude. Not true in general, but there are some who do fit this description. One guy in particular, has been working here for decades, always refuses to serve hot, black tea, his response is – what is this, a hospital? ☺ Black hot tea actually goes very well with smoked meat, especially on cold winter nights. I continue to ask the guy for hot tea, and for years now, he has always refused to serve this item that is on their menu! [2008: I believe his name was Peter, and seems like he is now retired.]
In the sandwich picture, the slices that look whole will taste very tender, given the fat with it.
The broken-down crumbs are the lean variety, and there is an abundant amount of black pepper spices seen on the meat. So each bite can be medium, lean, spicy, just as you like it. And wash it down with the Black Cherry Soda, or black tea works well too.
It is this combination of hand-sliced meat, meat that fall apart easily, and the small slivers of lean meat, and the special spices that make the Schwartz’s experience so different from other smoked meat places which seem to have a more orderly, sameness in consistency all across, and spices not as good – Schwartz’s beats them all in taste and experience. The color is the first indicator – smoked meat that is pink or light red – and not dark red – never tastes as good as the dark red smoked meat.
Those with a larger appetite can order the small plate, which is equal to 2-3 sandwiches. There is also a large plate, but that is probably best when shared with multiple diners.
There is a marked difference between the smoked meat at Schwartz’s and other places in Montreal. Ben’s is the other place that is mentioned a lot, but it closed down in 2007. Lester’s at 1057 Bernard West, Snowdon at 5265 Decarie, The Main at 3864 St-Laurent, Reuben’s at 1116 Ste-Catherine, and Dunn’s at 1249 Metcalfe are other contenders. They have good smoked meat, but Schwartz’s is just much tastier. The difference is that Schwartz’s is spicier, and it has more interesting taste and texture. The marbling, the fat, is visible in Schwartz’s sandwiches, and they are a dark red color. Other places have meat that is more of a pink color, and the consistency of meat is too uniform. Of course, some people may like it, but if you like spicy meat, and looking for fantastic texture in the meat, stick to Schwartz’s. In a pinch, if cannot get to Schwartz’s, I will go to Dunn’s which has a very convenient downtown location just off Ste-Catherine, and their smoked meat is pretty decent, nice red color but it has a very uniform texture, lacking the character of the Schwartz’s variety, but sometimes and for some people certainly, that may be a good thing.
[2004-2008] I used to pack up a pound of the smoked meat for taking back to Boston, but since 2004 US customs no longer allows even cooked meat to be transported back into the USofA, sad state of affairs we find ourselves in.
 Meat import selectively lifted. Visit the US Customs Know Before You Go page for current information. Note: the customs officers at the roadway entry areas and the US pre-clearance at Montreal airport may apply different rules than the customs officers in US proper. So be warned that this whole thing is quite a mess…
As for Cott’s Black Cherry Soda (probably an off-brand, generic brand soda), I initially could not find it in any grocery store in Montreal, it but finally discovered that most Dollarama stores sell Cott’s Black Cherry Soda – 3 cans for $1 in 2004. [Same price in 2009 too!]
: So many years have gone by, but still a thrill to visit Montreal and eat this sandwich.
: Dollarama is no longer offering Cott’s. Dollarama seems to be moving upscale with $2 and $4 items now, so maybe they decided they could not use up space with 3 for $1 items. ☹
Sampling of the price of the sandwich in CA$ – an inflation indicator!
September 2006: $4.55
November 2007: $4.95
February 2012: $6.15
July 2013: $6.65
July 2014: $7.75
November 2014: $8.70
February 2015: $9.35, so more than doubled in 8.5 years. 9% annual rate of increase, higher than inflation which was 0.5% to 3% over this same period.
May 2016: $9.60
This Turkish restaurant has a unique window display of the cooks making lavash – basically huge chappatis/tortillas.
The appetizers – Mezze platters – are good enough for a meal, many choices to pick from, and come with a freshly made lavash bread. The appetizers include Baba Ghannouj – charbroiled eggplant puree with pomegranate paste and roasted vegetables, Hummus – chickpeas puree with tahini, lemon, garlic, olive oil, Muhammara d’Alep – pomegranate paste with mixture of walnuts, pine nuts, pepper.
The borek – Turkish feuillette – is excellent. These are flaky phyllo dough pastries filled with feta and spinach or beef and potatoes along with a splash of hot spice – really good. The spinach and feta borek is a great accompaniment to main dishes like Manti, or to a sampling of the mezzes. With a main dish, you can request an half-order of borek so you have chance of finishing it all. 2015 update: They heard me! Now the borek is half-size – a single large square instead of two, so it is now the perfect accompaniment to Manti. 2015 Manti and Borek picture.
Manti is listed in the specials section – small meat filled dumplings in a thin yogurt sauce with mint, and melted pepper butter paste on the top. Looks nice, and tastes great. It does take 20-30 minutes to prepare this but the wait is all worth it. 2015 update: Looks like they redid the whole menu, and also tweaked the recipes a bit. They are better prepared to make Manti and now takes just 10 minutes or so. And it is no longer a mix of hot dumplings and cold yogurt – the yogurt now seems to be room temperature. Still the best Manti around. Even NYC does not have this good a version.
Gozleme – two lavash breads with feta and spinach sounded good – but this was a bit too dry and lean – not enough feta or spinach in it. This would work well when taken along with the appetizers. The borek is much better in that it is more balanced in having sufficient quantity of fillings and is not dry like the gozleme.
The main dishes are listed as Sach Kavurma – sauted meat with vegetables, and Tava Kavurma – sauted meat with onions and eggs. These are served with pilau – bulghur wheat. And to top this all, they also serve sandwiches, and have items for breakfast also.
 Prices range from $8 to $15 for the major dishes, Manti for example is $9. Entrées are just under $4 for one, and get two or more in a platter, and get a borek thrown in for free. In fact, the mezze platters can be a full meal- select 3-4 varieties, and add the excellent feta and spinach borek. The mezze platters also come with the lavash bread.
 Add around $2-$4 to the prices above. Manti is $13 for example, and it still is a great dish.
 Manti is around $16, Borek is $3.
From its museums, to its parks, to its bustling tourist areas like Ste Catherine, St Laurent, and St Denis, there is never a dull moment in Montreal. Even after visiting so many times, I always end up discovering something new on each visit. It does help me a lot that English is spoken everywhere here, since it takes all the fun out of traveling if one can’t communicate with the locals.
(Of course, like France, Quebec is not very fond of English. Once in a while, out in the suburbs, you’ll bump into someone who will rail at you for not speaking French. But the majority seems comfortable speaking English.)
In addition to being a major cosmopolitan city with many different communities living together, and having a collection of awesome ethnic restaurants, the people of Montreal are very friendly, and Montreal is also a very safe city — there are no regions I am afraid of being in at any time of the day or night — as long as there are other people around, I feel totally safe. Drunks are the only problems you may encounter.
Food in Montreal is always what gets me back there. I’ve eaten in numerous places; even when I’m on my own exploring restaurants, when such a policy is bound to end in tragic results in other cities, it is hard to escape bad food! Amazingly, even with just randomly choosing a restaurant, I have usually encountered excellent cuisine in Montreal.
The top food on my list, for nearly two decades now are: Schwartz’s Smoked Meat Sandwich, the Ciche Kebab Terbialy at Le Petit Alep, and the Manti at Avesta.
Cravings for these is usually the trigger for me to pack up and drive the six hours to Montreal or take the Greyhound bus (now with sometimes-may-work Wi-Fi). Of course, it only helps when there also happens to be an Asterix Exhibition on at the Museum, or when it is summer and the outdoor music festivals have begun, or when it is winter and the city is even more inviting because there are no crowds of tourists anywhere, or … etc., etc. Montreal has a unending supply of delights for any tourist at any time of the year. It is my number one destination for any vacation or any 4-day weekend visit.
I first visited this city in 1988, and through the 2000s and 2010s I have been making two to three trips each year. And each time, still exciting enough and discovering new things to make me want to come back again.