CLOSED IN DECEMBER 2016
There’s a second-wave Jewish deli thing going on in Montreal these days.
The original wave dates from the first half of the twentieth century. With the mass migration of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, Yiddish became Montreal’s third language This period gave us two iconic Montreal dishes. First, the local take on the bagel: sweeter, chewier, eggier, and tastier than the New York version available in most of North America. The second dish is smoked meat brisket, a local take on pastrami, but less sweet, with more pepper, also better. Some institutions survive from that period, namely Fairmount Bagel; Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen; Wilensky’s; and a slew of others. Some have disappeared, like the iconic Bens, which, even if I miss it more than any other restaurant in this city, had lots more going in terms of atmosphere than quality of food. Many Jews left the city in the second half of the twentieth century, and Toronto became Canada’s Jewish capital.
The deli seemed on the way out, but has since experienced a nostalgic revival of sorts with the rise of hipster-foodie culture. The opening of New York’s Mile End deli in 2010 put Montreal Jewish cuisine in the international spotlight. Since then, a new generation of Montreal Jews has been redefining the old classics at great places like Hof Kelsten bakery, Fletchers’ Café, and the annoyingly popular Arthurs Nosh Bar with its New-York-City-style line-ups (to which I say “Fuck this, I’m going elsewhere”).
The Burgundy Lion is a British-style gastropub in the up-and-coming Little Burgundy district of Montreal. The atmosphere is pleasant, though lacking the heritage character of the Dominion Square Tavern, my favourite gastropub in town. The menu has lots of British classics (Bangers & Mash, Fish & Chips, Chicken Tikka Masala), all served with a slight local twist.
They also have something called an “English poutine.” Unlike the “Irish Poutine” at McKibbins, which does not offer much in the way of Irish ingredients, this poutine is more coherent in its attempt at fusion cuisine. They use a classic British onion gravy typically reserved for bangers & mash, add a bit of Stilton if you wish, and throw in some traditional roast beef. The chips, however, aren’t exactly your standard thick-cut British version.
Incidentally, I always thought “Yorkshire Poutine” would make a good fusion food – those empty eggy popovers (AKA Yorkshire pudding) are just crying for some fries, cheese, and gravy to liven them up. But I digress…
The Green Spot (AKA Greenspot) is a Saint Henri institution, a legendary greasy spoon with leatherette booths and green shingled roof. It takes me back to my undergrad years in Montreal. Saint Henri in the mid-1990s offered little more than seedy bars, 50-cent hot-dogs, tanning salons, and the highest proportion of welfare recipients per capita in the country. It also had furnished 2 bedroom apartments at $450/month, which was ideal for cheap students. The Green Spot was the most charming restaurant on an otherwise grim strip. The neighbourhood has since gentrified and become more ethnically diverse, though some old institutions and seedy characters remain. Continue reading