I recently went to Montreal for the first time as a tourist, and of course was told to see the best the city had to offer—historic Old Montreal, the grand Museum of Fine Arts, the shopping and dining along Rue Ste-Catherine. In the mix and repeated often was an insistence I visit a place called Schwartz’s.
Now for those of you who haven’t been, calling this restaurant a hole-in-the-wall is generous. It was built in 1928 and from its tiny size to the old Formica tabletops and stained linoleum floor, it doesn’t look like it’s changed much. But Schwartz’s has the reputation for the best Montreal smoked meat in the city—the kind where people line up out the door. So, I queued up, and half an hour later, sitting shoulder to shoulder (literally) with my fellow patrons, I ordered the standard-issue smoked-meat sandwich with mustard, can of coke and gigantic sour pickle. Total cost, $8. Fine dining this was not.
But the meal was simply as delicious as advertised. Combined with the charming banter of the staff (who looked like they’d all been born right there in the restaurant, complete with carving knives and aprons), the sense of history and the uniqueness of setting, Schwartz’s immediately became for me a distinctly Montreal experience—one that I will cherish. Call it ‘local charm’, if you will. For many of us, its why we travel: to discover what makes a city interesting and different. Which got me to thinking—what are those unique, slightly kitschy places that help define Calgary? Well, two spots come to mind:
There’s Chicken on the Way (283-5545) on 14 Street NW. You can see the garish yellow sign from about a mile away—I don’t know if the sign’s been there since 1958, but that’s how long the Dunn family has been running this food joint. They make classic fried chicken, along with luscious golden corn fritters, and they still hand wrap their boxes in brown paper (presumably so you don’t get a nice grease stain on your car upholstery). The décor? Well, think of that basement rumpus room project with wood panel walls your dad never quite finished, and you get the idea. Another place a lot of people will also tell you about is Peters’ Drive-in. Started in 1964 by Dutch immigrant Gus Pieters, this burger stop boasts the city’s best milkshakes, satisfying burgers and large portions that’ll make you cry from being too full. Gus finally sold it a year ago, but it’s still a first-rate Calgary classic in the hearts of many.—Andrew Mah