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Smoked meat salvation

Schwartz’s is the holy grail of Montreal’s sandwich circuit

My Bubbie recalls a special perk of growing up on Rue St. Dominique in the 1930s: sharing a ten-cent smoked meat sandwich with her sister. My father still finds it fascinating to sit at the counter with a Cott’s Black Cherry in hand, watching them slice meat and trying to figure out where the fries come from. When I asked my Uncle Mark to share a few thoughts on Schwartz’s, he replied: “Schwartz’s and meat? That’s like an article on the Holy Grail and religion…. When do you need this by?” Needless to say, Schwartz’s deli is deeply rooted in my family history.

To cover the entire history of Schwartz’s in this space would be impossible – there is a feature film, Chez Schwartz, and a book, Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story, for that kind of information. However, my investigation led me to some exciting findings. I sat down with Schwartz’s manager Frank Silva, who began working there as a busboy 27 years ago.

Silva told me that they marinade the meat themselves for ten days and smoke it for eight hours, and that the french fries are made three times a day. He tastes the meat every morning to make sure it’s just right, and they begin serving hot meat every morning at 10 a.m.

In Silva’s nearly three decades at Schwartz’s, he’s had a few celebrity encounters – Jean Chretien sat at the counter just last week, Halle Berry waited in line like the rest of us, Angelina sat at the middle table, and Celine Dion calls to make reservations in advance. But Silva won’t shut down the place for any celeb. “What happens when tourists come to wait in line and I have to tell them they can’t come in?” To accommodate special requests, Schwartz’s caters events. Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, and yes, even funerals – for those who make a point to say that their funeral would only be complete if their family and friends ate smoked meat upon the reception.

So there is, after all, a religious aspect to the place. As my uncle explained in the essay he wrote for me on the topic, “For members of the Great Montreal Diaspora, Schwartz’s is a station of the cross. In fact it’s become more and more like the other stations of the cross in Rome or Jerusalem, so full of tourists you can hardly get in.”

For Silva, on the other hand, the most rewarding aspect of his job is seeing regulars return, married and with children. That works for me, the offspring of these true believers.

Kyle Valade / The McGill Daily