A Last Look Inside

A Last Look Inside

I remember my first visit to Ben’s. It was December 1993 and my first of many trips to Montréal. My future in-laws were brainstorming on uniquely Montréal places for my then girlfriend to introduce us to. Of course Montéal smoked meat was one of the items and the family said that Ben’s was the only place to go.

So while we were downtown on a bitterly cold day, we made our way over to Ben’s at Maissonneuve and Metcalfe. Walking in was a blast from the past. Every element in the store looked as though it was there when the place was built 30 or 40 years ago. Even the wait staff with the way they dressed and conducted themselves reflected a bygone era. Not necessarily pleasant, actually they came across a slightly rude with their directness, but efficient. I did sense that he was a bit annoyed, though I couldn’t determine whether it was because he wished he were doing something else or if he felt we were taking too long giving our order. But I was still checking out the interior, so I wasn’t too put off by it. I figured it was part of the place.

Then our food arrived. We all order the smoked meat which came with a pickle, some coleslaw (I think), and four or five fries. Now I suppose I have very stereotypical American tastes. I love tons of cream, mayo, and garlic. Sandwiches should have an adequate if not more than adequate amount of condiments to offset the dryness of the bread. And when it comes to fries, I prefer the limp kind that are brown on the outside. A smoked meat sandwich is an almost round portion of sliced smoked meat in between two slices of dark rye bread along with some yellow mustard. The sandwich is cut in half exposing the numerous layers of sliced meat. But due to it’s geometry, the sandwich is quite difficult to eat unless you are Mick Jaggar or Carol Channing. Seemed like a basic flaw in sandwich design. As far as the taste, the meat was quite tasty. But the tarte mustard and dry bread really left me wanting access to a large jar of mayo. My water disappeared quickly and the waiter seemed to feel he was done with us. As for the fries, they were actually the kind that I like the least. Big thick cut fries with crispy outsides and pasty insides. Just like the ones you get out of a supermarket freezer. So I can’t say that the food lived up to expectations created by the enthusiasum of the in-laws.

We returned two or three other times when my family came to visit. But I can’t say that the experience was much different. The interior was the item of interest whereas the food and service left something to be desired.

Although Ben’s has now been closed for a while, the signs and the interior are still intact. I don’t know when or if demolition is slated for construction. But if the proposed remplacement building falls through, it would be great to revive the place. Though I’d either improve the menu or bring up the quality of the existing items and make sure that the wait staff is happy and enthusiastic.

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~ by Frank on September 20, 2007.

7 Responses to “A Last Look Inside”

  1. Total aggreement there.
    But the latkes were INCREDIBLE!

  2. God, that place had the worst food in Montreal. I remember the only time I went there, I ordered a BBQ hamburger and it came with a disgusting red gravy poured all over it. Not the inside, but over the bun. I couldn’t even eat it. I don’t know how it stayed open as long as it did.

  3. I hear from locals that Ben’s was actually merely a shadow of its former self for quite a while before its anticlimactic death — you probably missed its golden days. As for me, I find that the Snowdon Deli offers an equally (if not more) authentic Montreal experience as far as atmosphere goes, with a wide variety of delicious items to choose from.
    Of course, the building itself will be sorely missed — not too many streamline still standing in Montreal I believe.

  4. You made me smile when you talked about your american “side”. It is so typical of americans to dip food or drown it in condiments of all sorts. 😉

  5. vanou: I’m wishing I had ordered those instead.

    monica & Bruno: Yes, I had heard it had really declined and wasn’t like it had been. I’ll have to check out that deli someday.

    Sofy: As much I don’t want to admit it, it’s what I like.

  6. I got the evil eye from a Ben’s waiter in 1994 for ordering a side of mayo, so I know how you feel. I’ve learn my lesson. I was at Snowdon’s and Schwartz’s (now Montreal’s most famous delicatessen) in October, and although both are great for the meat, you can’t beat Rideau Bakery rye bread served in many Ottawa deli’s!

  7. Actually my preferred place now is Reubens which has a reuben made with smoked meat. But I still haven’t tried Dunn’s.

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