The Wilensky’s Special Remains A Taste of Montreal Tradition

The Wilensky’s Special Remains A Taste of Montreal Tradition

Just north of Downtown Montreal, the bustling Fairmount Avenue West is known for several legendary food shops. Among them stands Wilensky’s Light Lunch, a culinary landmark steeped in history. Originally opened in 1932 by Moe Wilensky, this kosher-style lunch counter serves simple yet iconic delights, most notably the “Wilensky Special” and customized sodas.

Childhood Visit

My first visit here was with my mother and her friend, when I was just a kid. The friend hyped it up, explaining that “they make the drinks right in front of you!” It turns out that decades later, with my second visit, they still make the drinks at the counter while you watch. During a recent visit, I couldn’t believe how the restaurant was exactly as I remembered it. It’s an old, counter-style restaurant with newspaper cutouts of stories and reviews, a wall of photos of “regulars,” and previous celebrity guest photos posted throughout the place.

The Wilensky’s Special Still Impresses

Judging by this visit, Wilensky’s still captures the hearts of locals and visitors alike. While eating at the counter, tourists were buying souvenir t-shirts and one woman literally bought a box of dozens of sandwiches. The restaurant’s charm and its famous grilled bologna sandwich, the Wilensky’s Special, are the centrepiece of the restaurant. It is always served with mustard and asking for no mustard is sacrilege. Sandwiches are simple and prepared almost as quickly as one can finish eating one.

The sandwich has even earned a spot in literature and TV. The restaurant was made famous in Mordecai Richler’s book The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (and scenes from the movie version were filmed there). Even the ever-missed travel and food TV host chef Anthony Bourdain featured the restaurant.

The Wilensky’s Special is also ideally eaten with a taste of the aforementioned home made sodas. I tried the cherry soda, and then the chocolate soda which is made from syrup. I was warned that it was not for everyone, as “you either love it or hate it.” I enjoyed it but I see how it can turn people off.

One of Montreal’s Last Culinary Icons

Wilensky’s steadfast adherence to tradition resonates deeply with patrons. The Wilensky’s Special is prepared in the exact same way that it has been since the beginning. This stands as a testament to the establishment’s dedication to preserving its unique culinary heritage, which has nurtured a loyal customer base.

Affordability and Authenticity

Wilensky’s is renowned not just for its food but also for its pricing strategy, which reflects a commitment to accessibility over profit. Given today’s rapid inflation and high prices, Wilensky’s remains a reasonably priced restaurant. Granted that the sandwich itself is fairly small, and one could easily eat two of them, it remains a decent price.

Visitors appreciate the reasonable costs which contrast sharply with other historic Montreal eateries that might capitalize more aggressively on their legacy. For example, not too far away is Schwartz’s Deli which serves the best smoked meat sandwhiches on the planet but definitely charges for it. Wilensky’s approach fosters a welcoming atmosphere where all feel invited to partake in a piece of Montreal’s history without breaking the bank.

A Community Cornerstone

There’s something uniquely special about the connection between Wilensky’s and its customers. It’s one of the rare restaurants where personal histories are intertwined with an eatery. Many patrons recount many visits spanning decades, often across generations. These narratives highlight Wilensky’s as more than a restaurant. It’s a community cornerstone that holds a special place in the hearts of many.

Embracing the Simple Joys

The consensus among visitors, whether they’re locals revisiting their roots or travelers discovering Montreal’s culinary delights, is clear: Wilensky’s represents the joy of simple, good food. It’s a place where the focus is squarely on the quality and authenticity of the experience rather than culinary frills. This resonates deeply in a city like Montreal that has seemingly endless restaurants, many of which are often chasing the next big food trend.

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