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Montreal vs. New York: Round 2

Posted by Olivier / July 22, 2008

Midnight Poutiner Olivier is spending his summer in New York, and can’t help but compare the Greatest City in the World ™ to his beloved Montreal. This week: food and food-like alternatives.

New York pastrami versus Montreal smoked meat has been a red herring battle between the two cities for years. They are, in the first place, not even the same thing. Next to Schwartz’s smoked meat, Katz’s Deli’s pastrami seems like processed lunch meat, a thinner, less juicy cut that makes one feel sorry for New Yorkers who pride themselves on this as their flagship deli food. But there is much more going on in the food department than this battle between vaguely-Jewish delis.

For starters, New York has a million-strong army of the most important vendors: street meat. Their carts are like Red Cross wagons for those wounded in the battle against hunger, laziness, and time constraints. The hot dogs vary widely in quality: some are juicy and grilled monuments to Americana; others are wet, thin sticks that make you wonder what exactly you’re doing with your life. The price rarely tops $2.00, although, at the first sign of a “I heart NY” shirt, the quoted cost of a hot dog will fluctuate like they were listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

As a side note, the lack of street meat has always been a serious deficiency in Montreal’s ability to service its legions of pavement-pounding nihilists in search of depraved food alternatives. Does any one know why Montreal seems to have banished street vendors? It’s not as if the city exactly turns it’s nose up at the steamie.

Beyond that, New York wins in almost every other category. There are an ungodly number of restaurants, serving fare from every ethnicity imaginable, and some probably made up too. Unlike with nightlife, the FOMO with food is almost non-existent, because a restaurant that was good last Saturday will likely be just as good next Saturday. And you don’t necessarily have to have money to enjoy it; just skip the $175 gold burger (someone’s going to hell for that one) and go for any one of a number of reasonably priced places in the East Village, Lower East Side, Brooklyn, and other neighbourhoods. The restaurant PUKK, next to my place in the East Village, has $8 vegetarian Thai dishes in a sexy setting- and you know it's good when you name your restaurant puke and people still eat there.

Though New York takes the nod in the food category, Montrealers can still hold on to some pride. Beyond the incomparable smoked meat, Montreal bagels put the New York version to shame, and I have yet to find anything to compete with Romados’ Portugese chicken.

And, though objectively-speaking New York deserves to win the crown in the food category, I have to say I wouldn’t trade anything in this city for the wonder that is poutine, even if describing it to Americans usually elicits a disgusted face. An attempt at a Canada Day bar party here in NYC to make poutine resulted in a mess of fries and gravy that made me more homesick than I’ve ever been. So-called “poutine” has popped up in trendy spots throughout the city, but there’s only one place in the world for poutine, and it ain’t New York City.

Image from Catherine Karnow/Corbis



josh / July 22, 2008 at 08:48 pm
The story I always heard was that Jean Drapeau thought the carts cluttered up the sidewalks, so he banned them. Same reason you only see newspaper boxes in Westmount and on private property.
khalid / July 23, 2008 at 05:30 am
these entries are awesome! keep em comin'
G / July 23, 2008 at 06:00 pm
Is that one place Trois-Rivieres? I heard they make a mean poutine there.

What of Gray's Papaya and awesome village pizza (i.e. Ben's).

For 2 bucks you can get a huge slice that has a full plate of rigatoni pasta installed on top. That's pretty damn impressive.
O / July 24, 2008 at 12:22 pm
Thanks Khalid for the props, and Josh for the history lesson.

G, I'm obviously not referring to Trois-Rivieres, but rather the New York Fries outlet at Pacific Center Mall in Vancouver.

I hear good things about Grey's Papaya, and in general I should have mentioned that New York pizza is way better than the fake 99 cent slices in Montreal (they're never actually 99 cents, unelss you don't get cheese, sauce, and meat)
feygele / July 27, 2008 at 03:26 pm
One thing that NYC lacks is poutine. Oh, poutine, how I miss you so. Dive Bar <a href="http://feygele.wordpress.com/2008/07/14/pickles-and-poutine/";>claims to make the real deal</a>, but it's all lies.
CUguy / July 29, 2008 at 04:15 pm
In Montreal there needs to be running water where food is served or prepared.. on those carts there is no running water.

my question to NYC stands how do they stay clean ? while handling money, people, and things.
S. / July 29, 2008 at 04:25 pm
apparently, toronto is now expanding beyond street meat and allowing all sorts of food to be served out of carts.

wait, who brought up toronto in a post about new york and montreal?
O / August 1, 2008 at 10:29 am
CUguy, they use a towel that hangs from their apron.

Stefan, I specifically ommitted mention of Toronto's excellent hot dog availability for obvious reasons. Keep it on http://blogto.com/
Philippe / August 1, 2008 at 11:54 pm
This is going to sound very random but is there a Midnight Poutine counterpart/equivalent blog for NYC?

I'm moving to Manhattan in a month (gulp) and really LOVE MP (it tuned me to great tunes and food across the city) so it would be great to have an equivalent guiding light for the big apple.

(if you know one, you can post here...I'll definitely read it heh)
iWoo / August 8, 2008 at 04:44 pm
Huh... go figure, thanks for the insight Josh. I moved here recently and wondered why I didn't see any hot dog stands. They'd make a killing during festivals, and from the tourists. Actually, I was wondering if "street poutine" existed.

In Calgary, hot dog vendors started to show up downtown. Most notably is the cart on the corner of City Hall, creatively named "Sausage Party".

Check out ep 3, season 2 of the foodie show No Reservations. (It's on <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RT-2e3P4lPY"; target="new">YouTube</a> in five parts.) Anthony Bourdain--the New Yorker host--visits Quebec. He said that St-Viateur's bagels were terrific, but he wouldn't say they were better than NYC's. He did enjoy La Banquise... the best quote was "that is some sinister looking shit!"
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