When I went to Schwartz’s this summer with my mom and grandpa (he of the misplaced balls), we had the option of dining inside or outside. We just happened to be there during a giant sidewalk sale and street party taking place on St. Laurent from Sherbrooke all the way up to Mont Royal, so all the restaurants and cafes along that stretch had outdoor dining all set up. Schwartz’s not only had tables and chairs outside under a huge awning, they also had a meat-steaming and slicing table, so for the first time I was able to see how my favourite sandwich is assembled.
In the end, however, we opted to eat inside like we always do. Part of the Schwartz’s experience, after all, is waiting outside the door until the waiter lets you in; then, eating your sandwich crowded in at their narrow tables with complete strangers asking you to pass the salt and ketchup, everyone trying to pretend we’re not all listening to each other’s conversations.
Schwartz’s recently celebrated its 80th year in business. It’s become so much a part of the fabric of Montreal life that it’s inspired a book and now, a musical. I can’t remember how my family discovered it, but I do remember that my mom first lined up outside it, ankle-deep in snow, the winter my sister got married. At that time I refused to go. Little did I know what I was missing.
You can purchase entire Schwartz’s smoked briskets – their front window is literally stacked with them – and many’s the time I’ve flown back to Vancouver with a brisket safely stowed in my suitcase. But I’ve come to realize that the best way to enjoy this delectable meat is right in the restaurant, freshly sliced and nestled between slices of rye bread spread with yellow mustard. Pass the pickles, please.