At Schwartz's Deli in Montréal, there is an established protocol for ordering. You can get your smoked meat sandwich—piles of spice-rubbed brisket on rye with a swatch of mustard—one of three ways: lean, medium, or fatty.
Sitting at the counter, I placed my order the only way I knew how—by pointing at what the guy next to me was having. The animated counterman responded with a single word: "medium." I couldn't tell what punctuation was attached to his sentence, so I just nodded.
As it turns out, there's a fourth category—the medium-fatty, AKA "old-fashioned," which seems to be the most popular. And there lies the rub: one must choose their meat wisely.
Ordering it lean would, to my mind, be an act of heresy. So let's not even discuss that. Fatty, meanwhile, is like burnt ends without the bark. That lovely black crust characteristic of a nice, long smoke is softened up here when the meat is steamed. Don't get me wrong, a fatty sandwich is still a delicious, unapologetically rich one that calls for a hundred napkins. But the texture, bordering on sticky, can be overwhelming.
Medium has been my move so far, and I'm happy with that. As I get older and my metabolism slows down, I'll probably become more of a medium-fatty guy. But one thing is certain: I'll always order my viande fumée as an assiette (plate) rather than just a sandwich. That gets you a mound of meat, a tall stack of rye bread, and your very own squeeze bottle of mustard. Sandwich construction becomes your responsibility. And that's one responsibility I'm happy to deal with.
Schwartz's Hebrew Delicatessen
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