I have an urge to sink my teeth into a Bens deli smoke meat sandwich! Thankfully, after nearly a century in business the McCord museum has revived the institution and during its launch I was able to savour one again :p The legendary Delicatessen founded by Benjamin Kravitz in 1908 was a place that drew thousands of visitors and whose reputation extended far beyond borders. And it wasn’t an easy feet for famous customers to be displayed on the Wall of Fame. Michael Jackson was only granted permission after his second visit by the owner and its board of directors! And that was only after his mega success album Thriller. When Claude Lemieux and the Habs won the Stanley Cup in 1993 vs the LA Kings they had to twist the owners arm to drink champagne exceptionally from the Stanley Cup and not from their in-house ones. Other icons included former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, artist Leonard Cohen, entertainer Liberace, and professional athlete like Jean Béliveau, one of the many Montreal Canadiens. And everyone was treated equally… hurry up another customer wants your seat!
I’ll be the first to admit that reminiscing about Bens makes me feel way past my prime, considering it closed its doors 8 years ago due to fast food chains opening up in the area and an unforgiving labour strike in 2006. The one most of us remember opened in 1949 on De Maisonneuve and Metcalfe – 22 hours a day. Offered were fresh, quickly prepared dishes from Eastern Europe and North America. The smoke meat sandwich, with the side of coleslaw and fries was a family recipe that remained the central menu item, propelling it to become a renowned Montreal specialty. Btw the colours yellow and green they used for their streamline modern style decor is a proven formula to stimulate hunger.
During the exhibit launch I had the honour to meet Elliot Kravitz aka Ben Jr, grandson of Ben Kravitz, who’s very 1st job was working at the deli and talked to us about the elements of this iconic eating establishment. As Suzanne Sauvage, President and Chief Executive officer of the McCord Museum gracefully put it “Not only do they symbolize an era, they represent the culinary tradition that is typically Montreal that continues to thrive today.
For those of you craving to try for the 1st time or hoping to eat another Bens deli smoke sandwich… Google search their online catering service out soon!
Bens deli commemoration video here.