Media: Chez Schwartz

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There are delis, and then there are delis. Without question, Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal ranks up with the greatest Jewish Delis in the world — its Smoke Meat (what we call Pastrami in the US) is legendary, and patrons wait in lines down the block in order to get a seat in this small, tight but beloved delicatessen which has been raising the bar for “Hebrew Charcuterie” for 75 years.

Chez Schwartz, a new documentary by Garry Beitel, takes us inside the deli and chronicles a year in the life of its operation, as seen by everyone who’s lives it touches — the employees, the customers — even the homeless people who beg outside for money and leftovers. The visuals in this movie are incredible, and my screen shots here hardly do it justice. It is, by all standards, THE definitive delicatessen movie. We get to see close-up shots of smoked meat being sliced and served in ways that could only be described as hardcore pornography, and then watching Schwartz’s patrons lovingly eat and wax rhapsodic about it. We get to learn about the lives of the busboys, the waiters and the veteran countermen, who work very long hours (and decades) in order for the deli to achieve its greatness.

The only aspect of this movie I didn’t particularly care for was that a lot of time seemed to be devoted to the homeless people who beg outside, some of which have been doing it as long as a decade or more. I would have been perfectly happy to see five minutes of this material over the course of an hour and twenty-three minutes that this movie runs, but it seems like a good quarter or more of this movie is taken up with the antics of these people — I really would have liked to have seen more customer interaction and more detail on Schwartz’s staff than 15 or 20 minutes of watching street people compete for prime begging spots and time slots. The reason for this is explained by the director in bonus material — he wanted to show how Schwartz touched the lives of everyone that surrounded it, including the homeless. One of the homeless guys it focuses on is Ryan Larkin, who was once a famous Canadian cartoonist in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Given the fact that there was already a significant movie released about him, it might have been a bit too much.

My gripes with it aside, I heartily recommend this DVD, particularly if you are into deli culture.

The Schwartz’s Deli storefront in Montreal.

This shot really emphasizes just how tight the deli really is. Compared to Katz’s in New York, its a tiny fraction of the size.

There are tons of great pastrami slicing shots. We find out that many of these slicing guys wear their arms in a sling because they have carpal tunnel and sports injuries due to repetitively slicing the Smoke Meat for years and years on end.

I’m fairly sure you can get put in prison for showing these kinds of photos on the Internet.

We also get to see how the Smoke Meat is actually made — its rubbed with a secret spice mix and allowed to marinate in its own juices for 10 days, then smoked for 8 hours, and then finally steamed for 3 hours before it is sliced for sandwiches.

One Response to Media: Chez Schwartz

  1. Jon says:

    For some reason I keep hearing Mel Brooks in my head. “May the Schwartz Be Vit You!”

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