Looking for some unusual meat? In a city already renowned for its cretons, oreilles de Christ, ostrich burgers, steer burgers, square burgers, cheese dogs and poutines, there are still more original meat creations. They can be found in Montreal’s joints.
A joint (you know, a joint) is an old-time dining establishment—decor usually unchanged since it first opened for business—with a unique meat-based concoction, not available anywhere else in the world, on the menu for under five dollars.
Alongside this flesh-fuelled flight of fancy, a number of other critical criteria must be met in order for a standard casse-croûte to be classified as a legitimate, pure laine joint. Joints are tiny and cramped, seating no more than fifteen. They are located in forgotten neighbourhoods and have inconvenient opening hours. A pervasive unhealthiness lingers in the air; eating is done trough-style at discoloured Formica counters in full sight of the kitchen. The staff is as yet unencumbered by the tropes and comportment of “Service With A Smile.” The owner usually serves and/or cooks the food, and if they aren’t around, regular patrons will gladly make obtuse proclamations in their stead.
With these strict guidelines in mind, here is a list of Montreal’s best joints ...
Wilensky’s Light Lunch
ORIGINAL MEAT CREATION: The Special
DESCRIPTION: Pressed “bologna” sandwich. This bologna also goes by the designation “a combination of salamis.”
SLOGAN: “We always put mustard on it.” Caveat: it is impossible to order a mustardless Special. (In the old days, you could ask them to hold the yellow stuff, but it cost an extra nickel.)
COST: $2.75 (originally 12¢)
COMMENTS: We like it with extra mustard.
MAXIMUM CAPACITY: 9
CLAIM TO FAME: The setting of both the book and the film adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.
TYPICAL PATRON: The late Mordecai Richler.
PROPRIETOR/CHEF: Ruth Wilensky and her son Asher Wilensky
DECOR: Homemade pro-mustard posters and bilingual mustard-centric poems; plaques commemorating donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Quebec; a sizable paperback library featuring books like Heart on Trial by Tricia Graves, For the Love of Dying by George Sidney and Dangerous Delight by Christine Hella Cott.
HOURS: 9 am – 4 pm Monday to Friday
LOCATION: 34 Fairmount Street West (at Clark)
REPARTEE: Customer: What’s the difference between a Special and a Top?
Waiter: One’s a hot dog.
ORIGINAL MEAT CREATION: The L’Hambourghini
DESCRIPTION: Very flat spaghetti-sauce burger, topped with “our special hot sauce” and pepperoni, served on paper-thin mini-pancake buns.
SLOGAN: “The 200 mph (300 km/h) hamburger that leaves the competition … far behind.”
COST: $1.90 (tax included)
COMMENTS: 100% accurate sales pitch. The L’Hambourghini really does race through one’s gastrointestinal network at breakneck speed.
MAXIMUM CAPACITY: 15
CLAIM TO FAME: In 1987, Dic Ann’s set a world record (not recognized by Guinness) for serving 1,306 cheeseburgers, each with custom condiments, in one hour.
TYPICAL PATRON: A bona fide Colonel Sanders impersonator who gets dolled up in his finest KFC honcho regalia to munch down at Dic Ann’s. Perplexing.
PROPRIETOR/CHEF: Domenic “the fastest hamburger guy in the world” Potenza. Or as he puts it: “Potenza—like the tire.”
DECOR: Bare neon tubes; a blend of brown and mustard-yellow linoleum and tiles; assorted memorabilia; photos of erstwhile Customers of the Year.
HOURS: 11 am – 8 pm Monday, Saturday and Sunday, 11 am – 10 pm Thursday and Friday
LOCATION: 10910 Pie IX Boulevard (five blocks south of Henri Bourassa)
REPARTEE: Dialogue between a cop and a hot babe chomping down on a hot dog in Dic Ann’s parking lot in the film Les Boys:
Cop: I’d like to be that hot dog.
Babe: I don’t like cocktail wieners.
Emile Bertrand Restaurant
ORIGINAL MEAT CREATION: Homemade spruce beer
DESCRIPTION: While not necessarily meat, this stuff is just as dangerous. If not kept chilled, the spruce beer bottles explode, sending shards of glass and spruce sediment flying through the air.
SLOGAN: “It cures colds, bronchitis, sore throats and lungs.”
COST: $1.60 for 14 oz (tax included)
COMMENTS: Tastes like paint thinner.
MAXIMUM CAPACITY: 9
CLAIM TO FAME: Sheer longevity. Also, the psychedelic pre-colonial façade.
TYPICAL PATRON: Judging by all the articles on the wall, journalists.
PROPRIETOR/CHEF: Barbara Strudensky
DECOR: Spruce … erm, sparse, rustic, log-cabin style; lunchboxes sawed in half covering electrical circuitry; self-serve refrigerator.
HOURS: 11 am – 7 pm Monday to Friday, 11 am – 6 pm Saturday
LOCATION: 1308 Notre Dame Street West (at Mountain)
REPARTEE: This is from the spruce beer’s 250-year-old recipe, still used today: Boil seven pounds of good spruce until bark peels off. Add three gallons of molasses. Scum it while it boils. When milkwarm, add yeast and put it in a barrel for two to three days. When it’s done, bung it with a tent peg now and again. Vent. YUM!
La Binerie Mont Royal
ORIGINAL MEAT CREATION: Graisse De Rôti (jelly of pork roastings)
DESCRIPTION: This is basically a dark layer of coagulated jellied pork drippings topped with a frosty layer of congealed pork lard. Fat on fat.
SLOGAN: “It’s hard on the liver.”
COMMENTS: It looks like a cupcake and tastes like galoshes.
MAXIMUM CAPACITY: 21
CLAIM TO FAME: The setting of both the book and the film adaptation of Yves Beauchemin’s Le Matou.
TYPICAL PATRON: Lumberjacks, Asian tourists, former mayor Jean Drapeau.
PROPRIETOR/CHEF: Suzanne Touchette and Bernard Deschamps
DECOR: Autographed posters; looming archaic air conditioning ventilation system coming out of the ground; depression-era coffee machine; Catholic crucifix hanging ominously over the ladles.
HOURS: 6 am – 8 pm Monday to Friday, 7:30 am – 3 pm Saturday and Sunday
LOCATION: 367 Mount Royal Avenue East (at St. Denis)
REPARTEE: Customer: How is the salted lard?
Waiter: You will not like it. I very strongly don’t recommend it.
ORIGINAL MEAT CREATION: The Creation Sandwich
DESCRIPTION: Fried egg, bacon, bright scarlet mystery meat and a slab of Velveeta on your choice of toast.
SLOGAN: “Cosmos’ famous breakfast.”
COMMENTS: Really tasty, but what is that so-called salami and why is it so alarmingly vermilion?
MAXIMUM CAPACITY: 11
CLAIM TO FAME: Much lauded documentary, Man Of Grease, about “chef Tony Koulakis, 64, his legendary Montreal greasy-spoon, and his momentous homecoming to Greece after thirty years behind the same hot grill without a vacation.” Sequel The Holy Grill is in the works.
TYPICAL PATRON: A pleasant rotund chap who calls himself “Mr. Humble.” Why? “Because I’m smart, handsome, rich and very humble.”
PROPRIETOR/CHEF: Tony “The God of the Potatoes” Koulakis
DECOR: Money from around the world; imitation wood paneling; pleather stools; hatch-battened-down nuclear bunker style: giant family-size HP Sauce containers next to hundreds of cans of tuna next to Band-Aids.
HOURS: 7 am – 5 pm Tuesday to Sunday
LOCATION: 5843 Sherbrooke Street West in NDG (at Cote St. Antoine)
REPARTEE: Tony’s daughter: It’s hot as a shoe in here. What do you do when you’re in a shoe?
Tony: You can take a walk.