Thursday, August 8, 2013

Celine Dion, Can Schwartz's be Kosher Please? :)

A Random Visit to Montreal's Non-Kosher Landmark Hebrew Delicatessen

After a tour of Montreal's Chinatown, my kids were whining and begging to eat something (snacks are a must for kosher people touring certain parts of this city :?"#$% - lesson learned!). I instinctively headed towards The Plateau's Belz and Satmar chassidish end of town. Desperately looking for a kosher place on Saint Laurent Boulevard, the challenge was harder than I thought. My daughter randomly screamed out YEAH!!!! "What's happening???" I asked.... "Yeah mommy, yeah mommy, yeah mommy..." I'm thinking what is this girl on? Little did I realize she meant Yeh, the frozen yogurt & caf√© food chain I had just driven by. The nice single mom that I am ;), I quickly started looking for parking to treat the kids. Ironically, I found a spot beside Montreal's landmark Hebrew delicatessen, the world's famous Schwartz's.

Schwartz's non-kosher Hebrew deli.

Knowing that place is NOT kosher :(, I couldn't help but get a certain sense of comfort and fondness seeing a familiar Jewish name and 'HEBRAIQUE' (the word meaning Hebrew in French) blasted on a building and especially in that area. But even more, I was delighted to see how the 80 year old, Celine Dion part owned, top-of-the-line authentic Jewish style smoked meat restaurant (now coined Montreal-style, thank G-d not Gangnam style :) was jam packed, with a party of 13 waiting at the door.

A Little Bit of History
Schwartz's was established in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, a Romania Jewish immigrant and one of the hundreds who migrated to Montreal, Quebec, during a heavy wave of Eastern European Jewish immigration of the early to mid-1900s. Jewish settlement occurred first on the lower main, currently Montreal's Chinatown. (Source: Wikipedia)  You can learn more on the world renowned restaurant in the book Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen: The Story written in 2006 by The Montreal Gazette columnist, Bill Brownstein.

The history of the Jewish quarter is deep-rooted, nostalgic and beautiful. "By 1871, a Jewish enclave numbering just over 400 people had formed by the corner of Saint Laurent Boulevard and Dorchester Street, with the first Jewish educational institution, the Talmud Torah, located at the corner of Saint Urbain Street and De la Gaucheti√®re Street. Saint Laurent Boulevard was one of the Jewish quarter's main axes. By the 1920s and 30s, dozens of synagogues were in the area." (Source: Wikipedia)

The staff of Schwartz's credits the unique flavor of their non-kosher smoked meat to their mandatory 10 day meat curing time, the high turnover of their meat, and their brick smoke-house covered with over 80 years worth of buildup. (Source: Wikipedia)

Schwartz's is indeed a classic 1920's Montreal-style diner.
It looks kosher, it smells kosher.. (they even serve coleslaw on the side), but it's NOT kosher. But shelves did stack kosher jarred pickles, marinated peppers and French's mustard.

Schwartz's famous Wall of Fame.
Schwartz's famous Wall of fame exposing it's 'memory lane' advertorials,
autographed celebrity client photos and retro wall art

Now considered a historic Jewish and culinary landmark, Schwartz's is undoubtedly the city's most successful smoked meat place attracting masses of tourists and celebrities.

After my kids and I enjoyed our dose of Yeh frozen yogurt, we walked into Schwartz's. That penetrating meat aroma, the classic diner burgundy swivel stools and the hilarious celebrity wall of fame makes this Jewish style diner a definite teaser for someone who keeps kosher. Schwartz's is a perfect example of how Jewish cuisine is no longer synonymous with being kosher. In a good way, one things for sure, my spontaneous visit of the landmark and once-upon-a-time kosher restaurant was enlightening, warm at heart and worth it, thank heavens for Yeh... and little girls!  ;)