Updated December 2006-CLOSED! Workers went on strike over wages and the owners closed the deli
The guidebooks all recommend two places for smoked meat and we happened on Ben's first after deciding that $24CA was a bit too expensive for a bowl of mussels at nearby L'Actuel. Walking into Ben's is like walking into a time capsule of a 1950s era diner with specials written on signs hanging from the ceiling and grumpy waiters that have probably worked there for 30 years shuffling around. Ben's was much larger than Schwartz's, at 1:30 pm on a weekday there were surprisingly few people inside Ben's.
Favorite Dish: We mistakenly thought we could split a Big Ben sandwich thinking it would be like the monstrosities served at Carnegie Deli in New York or Perry's in Chicago but when it came, it wasn't any bigger than a regular sandwich. So I ordered a regular smoked meat sandwich to supplement which was actually quite small. The damage for the Big Ben and fries, a regular sandwich and 2 cherry cokes-$22CAD OUCH!
I'm actually not really sure what smoked meat is after eating at Schwartz's Deli and at Ben's, the two meats were entirely different. Ben's consistency reminded me of the ham you get at the local grocery deli and Schwartz's, which I MUCH preferred, reminded me more of corned beef, juicy, coated in spices and with the requisite fat that makes it so darn yummy. If you have time for just one smoked meat sandwich, go to Schwartz's!!!!
Note - Ben's Deli has finally bit the dust. It's no longer open. I'll still keep this review.
Like other city's around the world known for a certain kind of food, Montreal is known for its smoked meat. This isn't any ordinary smoked meat, but a local recipe of smoked corned beef which is then sliced into sandwiches served on rye bread with mustard and kosher pickles. This is the Montreal tradition.
For Christmas my boyfriend got me a book called Montreal: The Unknown City, which is full of Montreal secret trivia that even the locals don't always know about. The book mentioned Ben's, saying that it was Montreal's first-ever smoked meat restaurant. We had just visited the McCord Museum which was a few blocks away, so off to Ben's we went.
Ben's, upon first view, looks like something from a 1950's movie set. It's this large bright yellow diner with Life Saver candy-coloured chairs: red, orange, yellow and green. It was mostly empty when we were there, despite there being enough tables to seat several hundred. There was only one waiter too, dressed from head to toe in white, from his apron to his hat. Above the main door was a sign: "Through these doors pass the nicest people on Earth: our customers! " There were black and white photos of Ben's clients through the years near the ceiling. You truly do feel like you're stepping back in time. It's like a timewarp.
Favorite Dish: We had the Ben's special... for about $12 you get a smoked meat sandwich (light rye bread with an inch and a half of thinly-sliced smoked meat), a kosher pickle, half a plate of french fries, and a cherry coke. We paid extra for melted Swiss cheese on the sandwich but the bottle of mustard was (surprise), free. While the smoked meat is tasty, it is far from fancy, yet quite filling. I wasn't hungry for hours later.
There are two places that stick to mind in Montreal one was a place called Dundee's and the other was Ben's Famous Montreal Smoke Meat Place, both are definitely worth the visit!
The original owners of Ben's were the Kravitz family who emigrated from Lithuania in 1908 and brought with them this special sandwich. It seems everyone in Montreal knows about Ben's Delicatessen or as it is commonly called "Bens." In fact, when you enter the restaurant you will notice several pictures of movie celebrities who have eaten Ben's smoked meat sandwiches. I am even informed that some of the top U.S. Hollywood actors have even asked to have the sandwich flown to them into the USA.
When you are in there it is classic diner style like something you would see out of a 1950's movie. That atmosphere alone made it fun but the food of course was the best!!!!
You have to try Smoked Meat while you are there, it's like going to Philadelphia and not have a Philly Steak Sandwich?!?
Favorite Dish: Montreal Smoked Meat!
I like Bens for the atmosphere that hasn't changed there in ages. You might find some regulars sleeping on "their" table, waiters chatting about the "meaning of life" with "their" customers. It's quite an experience. Just walk around to see all the people that have sit in the restaurant...you're now part of the legend.
Something also good at Ben's is their cherry coke. They have offered it for ages well before Coke commercialized their drink.
Update: Ben closed in 2006 after a strike. It will be missed
Favorite Dish: Smoked Meat with Cherry Coke
I'm not sure about Ben's. It is a very famous restaurant in Montreal, well-known for its "smoked meat." Notice they say "meat", not beef or pork. Even the owners might not know what kind of meat this really is. It reminded me of a Spam-wich. No matter what it was made of, it certainly was not very tasty nor was it any good.
The interior of the restaurant looked like a big school cafeteria from the 1950s, and the busy wait staff treated us like school kids... Pastel blues and greens certainly aren't my favorite colors.
At least it is inexpensive.
I certainly can not recommend this restaurant to my friends. But, if you are an enemy of mine, please dine at Ben's...maybe you will like it. If you don't like it, blame it on someone other than me. Please. I warned you.
If you are in need of a late night snack, stop at Ben's for the Blintzes and even a smoked meat sandwich. Service is fast and friendly.
The setting reminds you of the 1950's and the walls are riddled with framed photographs of actors, actresses and other performers. Of course, they are all autographed to Ben....
Favorite Dish: Try the sour cream or apple sauce blintzes.
Want a great deli sandwich at a great price? Go to New York!! Just kidding. Ben's Deli in downtown is a perfect choice. Freshly sliced meats and good bread make a great sandwich!
Smoked meat is a tradition in Montreal. Montreal has the better smoked meat in the earth so dont miss it.
Favorite Dish: Smoked meat, smoked meat and smoked meat