Smoked Meat: Montreal vs. NYC

In the span of a week, we had the good fortune to experience two smoked meat delis in two very different cities: Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, and Katz's Delicatessen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

On the face of it, similar enterprises: both serve pastrami sandwiches; both have long lines; and both cut their meat to order for you. (While the version at Schwartz's is technically called a "smoked meat" sandwich, one could argue that it is effectively pastrami, since it's from the brisket and prepared in similar fashion.)

But is one better than the other? I am not the first to tackle this question: Robert Sietsema considered it himself in Gourmet earlier this year (he favors Scwhartz's; his wife prefers Katz's).

Well, for us, there was a clear winner: Schwartz's in Montreal.

Eh? Am I claiming that francophile Montreal makes a better pastrami sandwich than New York? Indeed. Here's why:

For one, Katz's had too much mustard on their pastrami sandwich, which overpowered the pastrami. Schwartz's took a more delicate approach, and also had the advantage because its pastrami has a more robust flavor: smokier, bolder, more peppery. Schwartz's also took Katz's in the texture department, as you can probably guess from the photos below.

Pastrami Sandwich at Katz's Delicatessen
Pastrami Sandwich at Katz's Delicatessen in Manhattan

Katz's pastrami was denser and chewier than its rival in Montreal, a thicker slice that didn't break down as easily as the smoked meat at Schwartz's. Katz's was also leaner, which might be an advantage if you're looking at eating these on a weekly basis, but if you're limited to one visit every once in a while, why not enjoy the fuller flavor?

Schwartz's Deli, Montreal
Smoked Meat Sandwich at Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen

Katz's also got under my skin a little bit with its "House Lemonade," which looked appealing in the fridge behind the counter, but once it got to our table and I read the label, all desire was lost. The ingredients read: "High Fructose Corn Syrup, Lemonade Flavoring," and so on. In other words, repackaged Country Time, labeled to fool unsuspecting tourists like myself.

"Lemonade" at Katz's
"Lemonade" at Katz's Delicatessen

And on top of all that, there is the price: a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's will set you back but five dollars; at Katz's in New York, the sandwich is $15, and only slightly larger than its counterpart in Montreal. One is a great value, while the other is terribly overpriced.

I'm curious to hear our readers thoughts. Reader Heavy D remarked in the first Montreal post that Katz's is superior, while reader playscape says the opposite. So which do you think is better? Weigh in in the poll, and sound off in the comments below.

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Terrence Henry

Terrence Henry is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. More

Terrence Henry is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas. In January 2009, he and his wife embarked on a food tour of Argentina, Spain, Italy, England, Canada, and the United States. Some 13 months later he settled in Austin, where he is now learning the art of Texas barbecue and writing about food and film.

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