I’ve had plenty of delectable sandwiches in my time. Hell, I lived in Germany, the land of delicatessens, bakeries and belegtes brot! But there is one sandwich in this world that I pine for. One sandwich that I would drive 9 hours north through the Adirondacks, over the Catskill Mountains and across the Canadian border just to eat it again. The sandwich I long for is the smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal, Canada.
Schwartz’s Deli wasn’t even on my travel radar. The only reason I heard about their infamous smoked meat sandwich was through asking locals on what my travel partner, Shawn, and I should do while in Montreal. It was all the same “You have to go to Schwartz’s – you need to order the smoked meat sandwich” – it was a hypnotizing mantra that repeated itself throughout the trip.
So after hearing about this freaking deli, Shawn and I decided to grab some smoked meat sandwiches on day two before heading up to Mount Royal. We arrived at 11:30 am and were greeted with a line out the door of people waiting to be seated. We didn’t wait long to be seated at the back of the narrow restaurant that seated a max of maybe 40 people. Everything was a tight squeeze, but the staff was able to waltz through the crowd balancing sodas and sandwiches with precision and ease. Even though they were used to feeding the masses, I still appreciated the artistry and finesse.
Schwartz’s was filled to capacity and you’d expect there would be a lot of commotion, but it was eerily silent – all of those people in a trance quietly enjoying their sandwiches, getting lost in the flavor.
And, my lord, when our sandwiches arrived it was bliss. The beef was smoked until perfectly tender, the tangy mustard and sour pickles complimented the smoky flavor of the meat and it was housed between two glorious slices of rye bread. Hallelujah! It was perfectly balanced – it was zen – it was perfection at its core. I now understand why Montreal has a musical all about Schwartz’s Deli and the sandwich that summons hungry patrons from far away lands. Hours later, burping up the sandwich was even a joy.
I sometimes feel guilty for leaving that sandwich behind and often dream about surprise visiting Schwartz’s – you know, just kind of stopping by to say “hey”. I’ve tried to fill the hole that Schwartz has left in my life with other sandwiches like roast beef sandwiches, Reubens, cheesesteaks, but nothing will ever fill the void.
As my friend Nicole said when describing her favorite sandwich, “I wish I could cat call it. Maybe this is how men feel when they holler at a woman. Some hope that she’ll walk over, just like I have some hope that this sandwich will enter my life and into my mouth.”
And that is how I feel about Schwartz’s Deli’s smoked meat sandwich – it is a sandwich that you can holler at.