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CHOW Tour: North America: Follow along with Chowhound cofounder Jim Leff as he crisscrosses North America on a monumental road trip in search of hyperdeliciousness. You never know where he might turn up...

Follow along with Chowhound cofounder Jim Leff as he crisscrosses North America on a monumental road trip in search of hyperdeliciousness. You never know where he might turn up...

North America Dispatch #60: Refreshed Troops Wallow in French Fries

Outremont, L’Île-Perrot, and Montreal

This was a day of transition, as one group of overfed, exhausted, cranky chowhound friends headed home and was replaced by fresh, zippy, happy eaters.

The final nail was driven into Barry and Joel’s dietary coffin, I think, when we grabbed deli sandwiches for breakfast. I’ll recount that (and the rest of the day’s chowconnaissance) via photos. Everything’s as good as it looks, unless otherwise stated.

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Lester’s Deli (1057 Bernard Avenue West, Outremont, Quebec; 514-213-1313) is slightly out of town, in Outremont.

Montreal “smoked meat” is often described as somewhere between corned beef and pastrami, and the landmark venues stake out their position at one or the other end of that spectrum. Lester’s is more pickly corned beefy, less peppery/spicy pastramiesque.

Warm, wacky welcome.

Deli stalactites.

The smoked-meat sandwich.

The smoked-meat sandwich illuminated by God.

A “smokeburger” of grilled smoked meat.

Brisket sandwich.

Some insane sausage thing Joel ordered.

Barry (about the savviest chowhound I know) displays his winning form:

Fantastic poutine, steeped in tradition and gravy.

Excellent dry fries, too.

Spice along at home!

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I welcomed Jennifer, Jacquilynne, and Lucy in my customary manner—with horse-fat-fried french fries at Frite Alors (3497 Boulevard St. Laurent, Montreal; 514-840-9000), previously described in report 58. There were some items I still needed to try on their menu …

... like, for instance, lots more pommes frites.

Again, this place is all about the sauces.

Merguez sandwich (with fries!) on startlingly good bread.

Lucy makes fry scarfing look stylish …

... but attention rivets after her impressive first bite.

Only in Montreal could cheesecake in a french fry chain be delicious.

I love Frite Alors. Charming ambiance … kind service … great food … stylish everything. I keep describing just about every Montreal place in those terms, but that’s the beauty of Montreal!

Oh, one thing. The “Aie! Aie! Aie! Burger Piquant” would seem to yelp spiciness and verve, but it was a strangely compacted and funky-tasting affair. I later found out these guys are famous for their disturbingly weak hamburgers. Insiders know not to order them.

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Rotisserie Serrano (161 St-Viateur West, Montreal; 514-271-3728) is Peruvian, but the chicken has more of a Jewish aesthetic (indeed, it’s a Jewish nabe), which even comes through in the photo. Good potatoes, not too greasy.

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Across street from Serrano is Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois (162 St-Viateur West, Montreal; 514-394-1000), which sells fancy chocolates in flavors like balsamic and fleur de sel. Good if you like that sort of thing. Me? For some reason, I’m left cold by the fanciest high-end coffee and chocolate.

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Bilboquet (1311 Bernard Avenue West, Outremont; 514-276-0414) is a world-class landmark for one particular thing: their grotesque, preposterous, irresistible “coupe à la tire dérable,” an enormous, sprawling maple concoction that’s a dessert buffet unto itself, with maple ice cream, maple-y cotton candy, a delicate crisp buttery cookie, and maple “snow.”

It amounts to no less than the Ultraman Triathlon of sugar, and I was somewhat relieved to learn it’s not offered til springtime. Fortunately, everything else is terrific, from ice cream to baked goods. Fun place, great for kids. Have a look:

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Another branch of Première Moisson (1271 Bernard Avenue West, Outremont; 514-270-2559), down the block from Bilboquet, gave me an opportunity to sample the few items I didn’t try yesterday.

You’ve got to love the Halloween hobgoblins!

At center are the exquisite napoleons you’ll be hearing more about below.

These Sablé Breton butter cookies were incredible.

Very serious meringue.

I’m a sucker for any crunchy cheesy products.

The napoleon in broad daylight.

Alternative napoleon view.

That napoleon was surprisingly unsweet except for the slight sugary topping, which releases its flavor, with Grucci fireworks precision, at exactly the right stage. This pastry was devastatingly great. In fact, a single bite took out one of our group. Check out this short but quintessential movie: Movie file.

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Whereas most delis are super-ethnic affairs (see Lester’s, at the top of this report), Pete’s Meats (283 First Avenue, L’Île-Perrot, Quebec; 514-425-6068) goes the opposite extreme. It’s a rollicking suburban roadhouse with live blues bands.

Good, soulful smoked meat, albeit oddly cut. Potato pancakes were a mistake on my part.

Perfunctory poutine.

This is not your father’s deli crowd …

The band.


I'm not sure if remembering those days is making me hungry or ill.

I'll vouch for the chocolates, even if Jim won't.

yum...yum...glad you are taking good care of yourselves and eating well-I want to join the tour

The poutine food porn shots are really killing me. Thanks Jim...


So what's with the bread in those emporiums of smoked meat. I have long heard tell of "Montreal Smoked Beef" on the boards touted as the "produit à base de viande supérieur semblant du deli des Canadiens au corned beef et à la pastrami qui j'ai grandi dessus, vers le bas ici, sud de la frontière." And I have to say, those stacks of meat in your photos look pretty good, but that bread, what is it?!?! If you are going to build a truly monumental sandwich, you have got to have bread that is equal to the task, and that stuff just looks like dreck. How was the bread on those sandwiches, was it equal to the task?

Another question, how lean was the meat, looks to me like it might have benefited from just a tad of fat.

Wayne, yeah, it's leaner than American deli. But it works.

And, yes, it's an enigma that Montreal's such a great bread town and yet the smoked meat places serve on vestigial bread. But I look at it like barbecue, where they're loathe (and rightly so) to mess with tradition - including, come to think of it, the use of really bad bread!

Well, but there is a reason for Wonder Bread being the standard 'Q accompaniement, works better than paper napkins.

Note To Self: If ever traveling to Montreal, bring some good Jewish corn rye with me across the border.

ChinoWayne--From my experience at Schwartz's (one of the chowtour stops, discussed in Jim's report #58), I agree that the bread could be upgraded to something more substantial, but, I think it's just intended to be a delivery vehicle for the meat and and expected to not upstage the meat.

As far as the meat itself, it is remarkable how flavorful and tender it is even though it seems very lean. I don't know if that's a function of tenderizing or just patience, but the result is fantastic, nevertheless. I wish we had something like it here.

And, marlie, I agree! It would be so fun to join the chowtour! Then again, I suppose there's no reason we each can't go on chowtours of our own, now that Jim and crew have inspired us.


(Wayne: there are some awesome Jewish bakery in Montreal's Mile End. You may not need to travel with your own...)

Bread served with smoked meat does tend to be uninspiring. But it's not necessarily flavourless. Like panini bread, you wouldn't eat it by itself, but it complements (and compliments) the meal.
A large plate (medium fat, of course) at Schwartz's is served with the bread on the side and you can enjoy the meat by itself. The mustard and black cherry cola are partly there for tradition's sake but they can enhance the experience of smoked meat for smoked meat's sake.

As for a fun chocolate experience, Juliette & Chocolat on Saint-Denis makes hot chocolate like no other place I've been. Much better than the fancier chocolate places, IMHO.

Enkerli, sorry, what's the deal with the black cherry cola at Schwartz's? Is it unusually chowish in some way? We missed seeing the black cherry cola on our recent visit--apparently, this is another reason to go back.

We were admiring the meal of nearby diners who seemed to have a giant pile of meat and were assembling their own sandwiches. We speculated they had ordered the large plate. It is only the large plate that allows you to assemble your own sandwiches or is that available with the medium and small plates, too? (I don't have full recall of the menu, I'm afraid.)


Cott's black cherry soda is one of the best things to have with smoked meat. My standard order at Schwartz's: A medium fat sandwich, fries, a Mrs White's half sour pickle, and a Cotts' black cherry.


Give me Dr. Brown's or give me death!

Went to Schwartz's yesterday afternoon. First time in a while. As good as usual. The meat tasted more like meat than like the spice mix, which is what people like at The Main (on the other side of the street) so my large plate would have pleased a few of the anti-Schwartz's out there.
For the first time, I tried the bread by itself. You know what? It's quite tasty! As awkward as it may sound, think of something between a pumpernickel (bread for Napoleon's horse named "Nickel") and a French crusty bread. This bread really can stand on its own. The prepared mustard still isn't what it could be and I even thought it was worse than usual. But it still works well with the meat when the spices are coming through.
The Cotts' black cherry cola is a must. Schwartz's is pretty much the only pace where I would drink any kind of soft drink. Again, you need the smoked meat spices to burst through for the experience to be complete. Otherwise, the black cherry just becomes an overly sweet fizzy drink.

BTW, not sure if it's been mentioned already. A lot of French-speakers' favourite poutine is at La Banquise, on Rachel. Can't remember what the best-rated one is for English-speakers but it's a different place.

La Banquise is definitely one of the great poutine places in Montreal. They just expanded and beautified a bit, but it's still great.

Guys, please leave tips and reports not here but on the Montreal message board, where more chowhounds can benefit from and chime in to the discussion!

They are never called Napoleons in Montreal (even by the angloest anglo) - only "mille feuilles" (meaning "thousand leaves" for the many layers of puff pastry).

When I first moved to Toronto from Montreal, it took me far too long to realize that a Napoleon was not some new-fangled off-shoot of a mille feuille, but rather the exact same thing.

The half-custard, half-cream version that you had, is my favourite as well. You can also get those with just custard and just cream.

At Schwartz's you can order your meat lean, medium or fat. The default does seem to vary though. The Cott's cherry soda as best I can recall is not cherry COLA, it's black cherry soda.

"They are never called Napoleons in Montreal (even by the angloest anglo)"

I'll have to add to my business card "Angloer than the Angloest Anglo".

I don't think I'd enjoy Cott's black cherry soda in any context other than with a Montreal smoked meat sandwich. I seem to recall a Texan on this board who said she felt the same way about Dr. Pepper and brisket.

1. The bread at schwartz works quite well as I recall. Firm, moist and delivers the meat.
2. Now I have to share this about mille feuille. Some years ago in Braintree Ma. they opened an outpost of Le Biftec. I was there with my mother who grewup in egypt educated in french schools. Most of her family lives in Montreal so we've visted sevearl times anuuualy I worked for the Hotel Meridien.We know pastry in my family. At the end of the meal the waiter asked if we wanted 'mil foy".We figured we knew better and declined. Again he insisted, as Le biftec had invented 'mil foy' and began to descibe it as vanilla pudding on a graham cracker crust with icing and insisted we try it. fter it arrived we laughed so hard the manager came over, we explained our amusement and the 'mil foy' was comped.