“This is my favourite place in the world.” - David Chang
How could you not be curious to try it after that? You have “bad boy” chef-owner David Chang of the Momofuku empire, the chef-owners Frederic Morin and David McMillan of the famous Joe Beef in Montreal, and comedian Aziz Ansari from NBC show Parks and Recreation; and finally Anthony Bourdain, better known simply as “Bourdain”, narrating the whole clip… instant fame for any restaurant.
I actually walked by Wilensky’s Light Lunch in Follow Me Foodie to Montreal last year on my way to Fairmount Bagels which is just a few stores down. It was pointed out to me by a local who said it was an institution known for their hot dogs, but when I took a peek inside it didn’t look too exciting and only a handful of people were sitting at the counter. So I passed.
A year later and Follow Me Foodie to Montreal Round 2 happens again. I had my restaurant itinerary mapped out and Wilensky’s was not on the list, that is until loyal FMF reader and commenter Linda tweeted me the video above.
The new show The Mind of a Chef hasn’t even aired yet, but the preview clip has already been circulating on the internet. Perhaps not as exciting as blackmail photos of an A-list celebrity, but for a foodie it was enticing.
I was still somewhat sceptical and not dying to try it because the sandwich didn’t even look that good on TV, so I questioned if it was worth visiting. Part of me knows not to trust anything that’s “best in the world” or “best in the city”, or highly raved about that’s shown on TV, but then the other part of me always has to see for myself.
Restaurant: Wilensky’s Light Lunch
Cuisine: Fast Food/Sandwiches/Deli/Hot Dogs
Last visited: July 21, 2012
Location: Montreal, QC (Plateau Mont-Royal)
Address: 34 Avenue Fairmount Ouest
Transit: Saint-Laurent / Fairmount
Where I stayed: Le Place d’Armes Hôtel & Suites
Price Range: $10 or less
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: didn’t try enough
Ambiance: 3 (for what it was)
- Since 1932
- Montreal institution
- Family owned and operated
- Traditional “rules”
- Local favourite
- Line ups
- Limited/basic menu
- All beef items
- Some vegetarian options
- House made sodas
- Hole in the wall
- Quick bite
- Budget friendly/cheap eats
- Eat in/Take out
- No tipping “policy”
- Sun Closed
- Mon-Fri 9am-4pm
- Sat 10am-4pm
**Recommendations: Wilensky’s Special, pickles, home made fountain sodas (cherry soda, cola, or pineapple soda etc.), hot dogs
I was surprised there wasn’t a line up at the door and I expected the inside to be packed like Schwart’z Montreal Smoked Meat. It looked pretty much the exact same as when I passed by it last year, but maybe with a few more seats filled. The truth about Wilensky’s is that nothing has changed since 1932.
And bang! 1932. Wilensky’s has been open for 80 years and going and it’s still the same family and staff running the show. This definitely has to do with why it’s a local favourite. To be honest, even though it is considered a “local favourite”, a lot of locals don’t even really know about it. Long time residents and people in the neighbourhood know about it, but beyond that I wouldn’t say it’s that “famous”. However after The Mind of A Chef airs, I’ll be lucky if I even get a seat next time. I did talk to Sharon Wilensky (the daughter), and she already said the line ups have been crazy since the clip was released on the internet.
Sharon: “What can I get for you?”
Me: “Whatever “the thing” is to order here.”
Sharon: “We’re known for our “Wilensky’s Special”.
Me: “I’ll take one.”
Sharon: “With or without cheese?”
Me: “However you would have it. The traditional way.”
Sharon: “One Wilensky’s Special. No cheese”.
And this was the famous sign and the “rules” at Wilensky’s. You take the sandwich as is, you don’t ask for it to be cut in two, and you don’t tip. Yes. There is a “no-tipping policy”. According to the website they believe everyone should be treated equally and any change left at the counter is donated to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. It’s little tid-bits like this that make Wilensky’s so special and makes this post so much harder to write.
Wilensky’s is a place that locals hold dear to their heart and there’s a lot of history behind it – read their story here. It’s a nostalgic place with traditions, and places like these are always tough to write about. It’s never really just about the food. It’s everything else that comes with it. It’s the familiar faces, old fashioned soda fountain with house made sodas (which I wish I knew about at the time), recipe that has stayed the same, old fashioned grill, attitude and “rules”, that people come back for.
On the table:
I knew the rules, but for some reason they slipped my mind and I accidently asked for it to be cut in half. Being a food blogger it’s natural for me to ask for something to be cut in order to get a photo of the cross section (and yes, I am fully aware of how “nerdy” that sounds). Obviously she said “we don’t do that here” and then it all clicked in again. It’s just the way they do it here. So with no utensils available I resorted to plan B…
**Wilensky’s Special - 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- A sandwich made with all-beef salami and all-beef bologna with mustard and grilled on a roll. $3.90 ($4.49 with tax)
- Okay so it wasn’t the most amazing sandwich I’ve had in my life let alone in Montreal and I would rather have Schwartz’s, Lester’s, or Olive + Gourmando (all in Montreal).
- It’s comparing apples to oranges, but I prefer the orange if that makes sense… ?
- I remember walking down Fairmount Street while eating this sandwich and a few locals would stop to tell me I was eating “the best thing on the street”. (I guess I really look like a tourist?)
- The sandwich was invented by Moe Wilensky.
- Back in the day people would ask Moe to make them “something special” and after playing with combinations of salami and baloney he came up with this.
- The sandwich was how Eastern European Jews would make salami sandwiches at home, but the combo was different.
- Apparently back in the day when nobody knew what to really order or make and resources were limited, many Jews just ordered a baloney sandwich.
- It was a very basic and simple sandwich.
- It was 1 slice of baloney, 5 slices of salami and a smudge of mustard sandwiched between a hot off the grill pressed Kaiser roll made from cornmeal.
- For me, the bread was the highlight. It’s specially made for them by a bakery.
- It was actually a very big bun, but it gets very squished, thin, and grilled until crispy.
- It was a kaiser roll made from cornmeal so it was slightly sweet. The cornmeal gave it that extra crispiness.
- It was soft and slightly fluffy despite it being flat and comparable to an English muffin.
- The meat wasn’t too special for me and it’s not made in house.
- The baloney just seemed like the same processed meat at the grocery store, although fair enough that I don’t know what this really tastes like.
- I’ve had limited grocery store baloney in my life time, but this one wasn’t artisan.
- The salami I didn’t even remember was salami and I thought it was an all baloney sandwich.
- It was very standard salami and this wasn’t anything too special either.
- The meats weren’t too salty, but there were no other flavours or spices or anything.
- I couldn’t even really detect the mustard, but they do give you a bottle of mustard to add yourself if you wish. It’s not frowned upon to do so either.
- I heard many people ordering the Wilensky’s Special with optional swiss/cheddar cheese, but this is not the traditional way to have it, and I asked for the original version.
- I could imagine it being better with cheese, but personally I didn’t really get it. It would be a “ham and cheese” sandwich.
- It was a good sandwich and I enjoyed it, but it was more of a nostalgic experience that I couldn’t relate to.
- I would understand it more if I were a local and not a tourist who decided to check it out after a floating clip on the internet.
- I guess it could also be seen as a “bang for your buck” place offering great value, but honestly the sandwich was really small.
- It was almost the size of a McDonald’s hamburger and I would need 2 to be full.
- I wouldn’t consider the sandwich “light”, but volume wise, one was a snack. (You should see those kaiser buns before they’re pressed)
- For nothing being made in house and a “heat and serve” operation I actually found it kind of pricey.
- I wouldn’t tell anyone to avoid it since it is an institution and it’s still a good sandwich, but just don’t get overly excited about it or you might be disappointed.
- If I had to have a bologne sandwich, then sure, I’ll have the Wilensky’s Special!