Montreal-style smoked meats find home in Chicago

March 9, 2012 8:38:45 PM PST
Earlier this week, a group of investors, including Celine Dion's husband, bought a Montreal deli for $10 million, and it is no ordinary deli. In fact, its success has led to two imitators here in Chicago.

That success is all about something called "smoked meat," what we would call pastrami. A pair of Chicago businesses are trying to recreate that product here, mimicking the legendary Montreal temple, also known as Schwartz's.

Where there's smoke, there's usually beef. In this case, the aptly-named Fumare Meats, housed within the Chicago French market in the West Loop, where they specialize in Montreal-style smoked meat.

Whole briskets are brined in liquid for several days to keep them moist, then trimmed of excess fat and dusted with garlic salt.

"Then our spice rub which includes bay, you can see that," said Fumare owner Dick McCracken. "Mostly cumin, you will see a lot cumin a lot of pepper; juniper you'll see and other spices."

The briskets then get smoked for about an hour-and-a-half, and finally, they're cooked at 250 for at least 12 hours. Served on medium rye with Dijon or yellow mustard on the side, they're truly unique.

"Smoky, fatty, spicy, peppery with a nice bark kind of don't try eating this while standing up or operating heavy equipment," he said.

In Andersonville, the Hopleaf has also had a Montreal-style smoked meat sandwich on its menu for awhile.

"Montreal-style specifically refers to primarily the rub. The rub consists of roughly 14 or 15 different ingredients. We've got cumin, mustard seed, fennel seed," said Chef Ben Sheagren.

The rub stays on about three days, then gets topped with smoked bacon before it's placed into a smoker for about 8 hours. The result is a crisp bark and meaty interior, served on pumpernickel that's been slathered with grainy mustard.

In order to see the real deal, we had to go to Montreal. Here, on St. Laurent Blvd., you'll see the sign promising "charcuterie hebraique," or Jewish meats. The lines are as long as the history at Schwartz's, where, since 1928, they've been making smoked meat.

"The thing about Schwartz's, it hasn't changed," said general manager Frank Silva. "And people love the fact they came here 20, 30, 40 years ago and it's still exactly the same."

Well, sort of. True, they dry-rub briskets for over a week then hang them in a smoker, but Silva says they haven't used wood since the 60s; it's now just a low gas flame. So technically, not smoked.

"The brisket marinates for 10 days, upstairs; we smoke it for approximately eight hours, we steam it for approximately three hours and then we hand slice it," Silva said.

The hand-slicing is key, as is the steaming process, which keeps the meat moist. With a wall of rye bread looking on, the "lean," "medium" or "fatty" orders are placed between yellow mustard-kissed pieces of bread then served with the usuals of hand-cut fries, tart pickles with 'slaw and a black cherry soda.

Another big part of the experience: camaraderie.

"It's important not only for the food, but you sit at a table, you're sharing a table with outsiders, locals, millionaires, it's what Montreal is all about," said Silva.

The good news in Montreal is the new owners have pledged not to franchise Schwartz's. It will remain an orphan.

Fumare Meats at Chicago French Market
131 N. Clinton

5148 N. Clark St.
(773) 334-9851

3895 St-Laurent Blvd., Montreal