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2006 01 16
Montreal Smoked Meat [Abe Burmeister]

by Abe Burmeister

[September 08, 2004]

Summer slips away quick, it never quite showed its hot face this year anyway. Today we started a full phase change, and Montreal, we scramble to capture in words before the memories slip away.

The first time I visited I left blindsided. A New Yorker's natural superiority complex was blown away, here was a city in America (sort of) with more history, deeper culture, closer to Europe. I did not know this existed, although now it's clear these cities are multitude, anywhere the Catholics conquestadored they left an etched history that leaves the Protestant work ethic in deep doubt.

That first trip was a whirlwind, conference, wander the streets, post conference party, good bye. I had to return, and after much delay I arrived in the good hands of tobias c. van Veen. A week is never enough to learn a city, but this time at least I could take a taste away, not just an impression.

And yes what wonderful tastes. Raw milk cheeses, layered microbrews, French pasteries, old school bagels, poutine and smoked meat. Don't tell the Montealers but their 'smoked meat' is not similar to pastrami, it is pastrami. But damn it's good, subtler then New York's bold versions, and quite honestly if you factor in the plague of tourist prices and overstuffed sandwiches that infests NY's remaining pastrami masters, then Montreal's Schwartz's is actually a better all round experience.

The true Québecois culinary experience though is the poutine, a dish with close to no peer in the heart attack department (except perhaps frito pie). French fries topped in cheese curds and gravy. Far better then it sounds. I sort of ruined it all by starting with the haute cuisine version, poutine with foie gras (warning, awful website, great food). All comfortably housed in restaurant on the cusp on the next stage of 80's revival, Tibor Kalman/M&Co. yuppie humor...

tobias is of the opinion that Montreal never quite dug itself out of the 80's in the first place, but I'm not quite convinced. There is an other energy to the city, one perhaps akin to pre dot com San Francisco. If SF had a breed of French refinement and vicious colonial streak... This is a city the French populated by fur trappers, mercenaries and branded whores. There is a channel to European culture that gives Montreal its glamour, and then a brutal reminder of the deep violence that underseats that culture.

What's new (and perhaps fleeing) Montreal is the creative charge. Like San Francisco the city is open to new ideas, quality control optional. Unlike San Francisco though the city is cheap. Dirt cheap lofts sit a 15 minute walk from the prime central streets. Apparently at -40 below this hood is way too far from public transit. But then again the whole city apparently hibernates for 5 months. I don't anticipate a winter visit. Come next summer though...

[[ Abe Burmeister ]] is a designer, artist, writer and new yorker. He can be reached by email at abe @ abeburmeister . com .

editor & photo: tobias c. van Veen

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