Sunday, March 06, 2005

Franklin Judd Miller Memorial Dinner, pt. 1

Thursday night, Michelle, Thea, Claudine, and I descended upon Schwartz's Charcuterie Hebraique de Montréal (3895 St.-Laurent Blvd.) in honor of Zoe's father, Franklin Judd Miller. Montreal smoked meat was one of Mr. Miller's favorite meals, and something that wasn't exactly easy to find in Brisbane, Australia. Zoe suggested a trip to one of Montreal's famous smoked meat houses, a round of smoked meat sandwiches, and some pickles might make a fitting tribute.

Thea had had a number of take-out sandwiches from Schwartz's before, but, strangely, she'd never actually sat down to eat on premises in all her years in Montreal. Claudine grew up on the island of Montreal, but, she, too, had never been there--but then she's been a vegetarian since the age of 16. Montreal is not without its dissenting voices, but most fans of smoked meat consider Schwartz's to be the best in town. Say what you will, but theirs is the real thing: huge slabs of beef brisket that are cured (not pickled), then liberally spiced with their legendary spice mix, and then smoked. True Montreal smoked meat is something akin to pastrami, and comes from similar Romanian/Balkan-Jewish origins. Both dishes appear to be related to ancient dry-cured and wind-dried beef dishes that were found across Asia Minor and the Holy Land. Most pastrami starts off with brined or pickled beef brisket these days--so does most second-rate smoked meat. At Schwartz's the end result of their cured-meat process is a smoked meat that is downright luscious--tender, juicy, and spicy. There's a reason it leaves such an impression.

Schwartz's is also renowned for its classic interior and its Old World, no-nonsense (and, frankly, sometimes brusque) service. Not so long ago, Montreal still had plenty of these kinds of operations--places that would fit neatly into the world of Ben Katchor's Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, places that time seemed to have forgotten.


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