Episode 14: In which Mim eats a sandwich bigger than her head
Eating at Schwartz’s, a Montreal landmark since 1928, is a right of passage for all Montreal tourists. Well, all meat-eating tourists (thankfully my vegan phase has long passed). So, I wonder: considering that I’ve lived here for over six months, why hadn’t I visited this classic, much-loved institution sooner? I was even more surprised when my two native Montrealer friends admitted that they, too, had never tried the renowned Schwartz’s smoked meat sandwich.
The restaurant’s exterior is often characterized by a lengthy queue, which blocks the entrance to the sadly forgotten fried chicken store next door. When I take the bus down St. Laurent boulevard and glimpse at all those people it reminds me of La Banquise or café L’Avenue. From near and far, people flock to these eateries and wait almost an hour (sometimes in wind and snow) to get a table. Seriously, I’m starting to think that queuing is an actual pass-time (“Hey, I’ve heard this new cafe does really nice queues, wanna go check it out?”).
Luckily for us, we went on an evening where we had our preference of tables. Waltzing straight in, I admit that I almost choked because the air was thick with the smell of meat. It took my lungs a good five minutes to re-calibrate to the new breathing conditions (a disproportionate ratio of oxygen to eau-de-beef with a hint of mustard).
We walked to an empty table (situated right beside the giant poster of “Schwartz’s, the Musical”), passing all kinds of clientele. A suited businesswoman, elegantly cross-legged at the counter, devoured a sandwich whilst happily talking to a waiter. An elderly couple—who looked like loyal regulars—quietly chatted to one another over a bowl of fries, while a louder family behind them ravenously ate their meals.
We were a first-timer table, minus the one Schwartz’s regular who was also my friend’s boyfriend. How had he not yet taken her to Schwartz’s in the five years they’ve been together?
As usual, I sneakily tried to order a healthier alternative—is there even such a thing at Schwartz’s?—but soon after committed to the traditional smoked meat sandwich after my friends, genuinely outraged, reminded me that a Schwartz’s inauguration could not be completed any other way.
The “small” sandwich ended up being the size of my head. Layered high with such tender, crumbling meat, it was virtually impossible to eat without falling everywhere including the floor. Though, with literally 20 slices of beef, there was plenty to spare. We all enjoyed the famous sandwich so profoundly that none of us spoke for the first few minutes. No surprise, I finished the whole thing.
I’d never experienced anything like a Schwartz’s sandwich in my life. Sure, I’ve tried almost everything under the sun when it comes to barbecuing (side fact: Australia is the only country that eats its national emblem, the kangaroo. Mind you, it’s one of the most ethical meats out there), but never had I eaten smoked meat. Once again, Montreal, you have impressed me with your culinary delights.