Schwartz's Jewish Deli

Food Rating: 4 stars/4 Value Rating: 4 stars/4
Schwartz's Deli 3895 St-Laurent Blvd. Tel: +1-514-842-4813
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 9am-12:30am, Friday 9am-1:30am, Saturday 9am-2:30am

[Schwartz's Logo]The number one restaurant in Montreal, as far as I'm concerned, is Schwartz's Jewish Deli on Boul St-Laurent! 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.

Schwartz's Smoked Meat
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.]

Here's a album with pictures of Schwartz's Deli and their menu

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.
[2009] Meat import selectively lifted. See Meat, Cheese and US Border Crossings comment below. 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!]
[2013]: So many years have gone by, but still a thrill to visit Montreal and eat this sandwich.


U.S. visitors are permitted

U.S. visitors are permitted to take home entire vacu-packed briskets of smoked meat as packaged by Schwartz's provided the packaging has not been opened.

Meat, Cheese and US Border Crossings

The "what can you carry" story constantly changes, but as of 2009, it does seem it is now ok to bring in smoked meat. No need to vacuum pack it - sandwiches, or cold sliced meat is ok. Of course, this is based on a reading of the current regulations - no guarantee that every US border crossing will follow this interpretation.

When meat is banned, it does not matter if it is vacuum packed - banned, means banned.

The best practice when crossing the border is to answer all the questions asked by the customs officials, and never lie about the things being carried. The customs department has immense power at the border, and you could lose all the stuff you are carrying in addition to having to pay hefty fines. US Customs has a Know before you go page with lots of information.

There does seem to be some misunderstanding regarding cheeses and meats. Even on the US Customs pages, searching for "raw milk cheese" does not return any search results.

US Customs help page at What food can I bring into the U.S. (fruit, cheese, meat, etc) contains all that one needs to know. Hard cured cheese such as parmesan or cheddar are generally admissible, soft cheeses such as brie and soft curd cheese and cheese in water(ricotta, feta, etc.) are not. This is somewhat bad news - brie cannot be brought in! So stick to firm and semi-firm cheeses.

No raw milk cheese aged for less than sixty days may be imported into the US, nor sold in the US by local cheesemakers. But all the (legal) raw milk cheese in Canada also follows this rule - therefore, it is ok to bring in Canadian raw milk cheeses into the US - as far as I can tell! There are rumblings from the US FDA at this time to ban all raw milk cheeses - that would be such a disaster - and so pointless. Just label the food with whatever warning necessary, and let consumers decide. Too much pressure from farm and food producers lobby to curtail free trade here in the US.

On meat from Canada, the above link has this paragraph:The Department of Agriculture has recently relaxed rules for travelers arriving from Canada with food products involving some meat products. Beef and game products are now allowed entry. This includes frozen, cooked, canned or otherwise processed beef, veal, venison, elk, bison, etc. This is good news - this means Schwartz's smoked meat can now be carried from Montreal into the US!

Temporary bans can be put in place at any time - so none of the rules can actually be completely depended upon. This USDA APHIS Animal Product Import page will note special situations for specific countries.

Raw milk cheese external articles:
Cheesy does it - Salon article
Don't cut the cheese - findarticles/national interest
It's Not The Cheese - North Coast Journal