The Deli, Montreal’s forte (alongside other local staples like the poutine, cheesecake) as it is virtually impossible to elect the smoked meat by which you’ll judge the other smoked meats in town:
You need to try the major delis of Montreal, those most Montrealers usually consider as pertaining to their tier1 and tier2, which are the usual culprits: Schwartz‘s, Reuben’s, Smokemeat Pete’s, The Main, Jarry Smoked meat, Dunn’s, Snowdon Déli, Lesters, etc.
You have to try those since they can be really different from each other’s (the seasoning, the quality of the rye bread, some prefer rusticity, others opt for refinement ) and the differences will tell you how inaccurate it is to hastily elect one smoked meat as the ultimate One. As an example: isn’t that tempting to associate dry brisket with failure? Well, if you do so, you could be wrong because some have their dry brisket perfectly balanced by either seasoning or the perfect amount of mustard kick that would make the whole less exciting had that same brisket been moist. The preparation can be completely different from a place to another as some cover their brisket with spices, others do not, some have their meat easily breaking apart (considered as authentic to some), others do not (and that does not mean the brisket is less good..obviously),etc. And examples of that sort abound and remind us that you should not anticipate anything that sounds off-putting as necessarily bad when it comes to the smoked meat.
I went back to one of Montreal’s major delis, Reuben (the one on 1116 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest) after two years of no show. As soon as you enter the place, the attention to details jump to your eyes: this will be about refinement (for a deli in Montreal) all the way -> the art-deco inspired interior design is not overly flashy but this is clearly Montreal’s best looking deli as far as décor is concerned, the staff looks good and is dressed well (again, by Deli standards).
Sliders ($20) rank among the priciest sliders that I had in Montreal, but they were also the finest ones I ever had in town since a long time. Amazing textures and flavors, the bun beautifully leavened, the beef expressing flavors like few sliders in town do. Not one single flaw to be noticed: dry? NO, try ‘savourishly juicy’ instead! Tired looking bun? NO, more accurately of the ‘beautiful glossy golden’ color kind with soft fresh risen dough. I had my share of sliders since the beginning of the year (Le Hachoir, Bier Markt, Boccaccinos , etc), but those at Reuben’s fared far better to me. I have no clue if Reuben’s sliders are always as impressive on a regular basis but you’ll hardly get better sliders than those I was enjoying, even on gourmet tables, in town 9/10
French fries came with the sliders (you’ll be surprised by the laughable number of places that serve their sliders with nothing else), and their texture was great. They were not served enoughly hot, but that could have been intentional as to not burn your tongue ….I don’t know, I did not ask. Just guessing. Regardless, those were good French fries that would have been startling ones with extra heat and more expressive potato flavor. 7/10
I went on with their 10 oz ‘famous super sandwich” (that’s how it’s called on their menu) – Ordering the smoked meat been obviously the main reason I came here. On their web site, they state that ‘’ Each plate is expertly hand-carved to order and served steaming hot”””, which was not just a statement but also an evidence. The quality of the meat, fresh rye bread, and the genuine artisan skills at play are admirable here, but I found even more impressive the fact that they managed to deliver a gourmet-quality sandwich (great mastery in refining every aspect of the smoked meat: for eg, no bold seasoning at all, no aggressive mustard flavor, no overwhelming rich fatty brisket even with their fattier smoked meats..AND YET, the balanced and controlled flavors are very enticing, tasting fresh and delicious) without losing the soul of its rustic version. I am saying this because many fans of the smoked meat do sometimes associate genuine smoked meat with messy fatty brisket or with dry over-seasoned one (try all the major Délis in town and you’ll get what I mean…but again, as I wrote earlier on, what sounds off-putting is NOT necessarily a failure when it comes to smoked meats). Well, Reubens proves them wrong. Excellent 9/10
Last, I had their strawberry cheesecake (of the North American sort, of course), the strawberry not overripe nor undeveloped, served at timely ripeness, its taste consequently savourishly fruity, its appearance of the fabulous deep red kind, the cream cheese packed with a great kick of fresh lactic flavor, gorgeously sweet and tart sensations mingling together. This is a speciality of Montreal, so many places are doing a great one but Reuben’s is largely one of the finest strawberry cheesecakes you’ll get in town. A flawless cheesecake in terms of the technical conception as well as for the palatable enjoyment 9/10
Pros: The refinement of their smoked meat generates a mouthfeel effect that’s as enjoyable as those of any rich and flavorful rustic takes on the smoked meat. Another admirable feature is to observe that doing more than just smoked meat (steaks, burgers, etc …which WE Montrealers usually do not want from our Delis…we want our delis to just focus on the smoked meat) substracts nothing to the quality of those smoked meats. Furthermore, they don’t just do an excellent smoked meat but they also perform well when it comes to the non-déli items as demonstrated by sliders that had the edge over other versions found at places specializing in burgers. This is one of the few places in Montreal that seem to suffer from virtually no inconsistency (Bottega do share that feature with Reuben’s ).
Cons: The gentleman (40ish, relatively short, bald) serving us was polite, but I felt a bit rushed. Now, I live in Montreal since a long time so I know where such thing should be treated as perfectly expected/normal, which was the case here. The reason I do mention this is because some people, especially from outside Montreal, could have a different interpretation of this. So here we go: there’s nothing wrong to that and I could have just asked him to slow down a bit.
Verdict – 9/10 (Excellent) in its category (Deli). It’s being a long time that I live in North America, and delis I have visited and re-visited. There will always be plenty of contradictory opinions about what the perfect Deli should be, and mine is that Reuben’s is the perfect all-rounder deli : refined and yet enjoyable, great cooking skills, nice décor, etc. REUBEN’S DELI 1116 Sainte-Catherine W. Montreal, Qc 514.866.1029 http://reubensdeli.com/ – Visited on Wednesday March 19th 2014 18:00