A multi-facetted restaurateur
The man himself, Pete, holding up a brisket. Relax I’ll tell you what a brisket is. Just read on (Photo courtesy: Spunkybong)
Provocative title, what? Hey! Wha the.. ! Now look here, I’m not trying to be gross. Ouch! Hey, cut it out. Boy, do you have a one-track mind.
I was only referring to the Montreal landmark, watering hole, roadhouse and wayside salon named Smoke Meat Pete. If you’re taking the twennie (that’s how Canadians say ‘Highway-20’) and you’re driving west toward Toronto, just past the Galipeault bridge turn your peepers to your nine o’clock. Nine o’clock is to your left (I love using these terminologies. I was in the special forces).
Okay, so you’re looking to your left. Now don’t do that all the time you’re driving or you’ll tailgate and crash into the car in front. There’s a traffic light up ahead, so watch it. You bend a fender over here and you’re down at least 200 smackeroonies.
So, just keep an eye turned to the left from time to time. You’ll see a Dairy Queen and right behind it a wooden cabin kind of joint like those salons you see in westerns. You take the first left turn and park your car. There’s ample parking there, no sweat.
No, Pete’s joint is not on a hillside. I slanted my camera. (Photo courtesy: Spunkybong)
On one side of the calaboose, you’ll notice a garishly colored vintage Ford truck. It’s Pete’s truck. Pete loves vintage cars. In fact every once in a while he invites folk to just drop in with their vintage cars and his parking lot turns into a vintage car and bike show.
There’s a wooden rail out front which you can tie your horse to if you rode in on one. No one will bat an eyelid. At Pete’s folk don’t have eyelids. I usually chain my bicycle to the rail.
Sorry about the ‘calaboose’ bit. Doesn’t fit the context but I used it anyway. Calaboose meant a prison in the Wild West. Smoke Meat Pete is anything but. That’s one thing that will annoy you about my blog. I use words I find fun, without any context whatsoever. What will you do? Sue me? Go ahead. Warren Buffet and I use the services of the same law firm.
As you walk toward Pete’s joint, you’ll see a big van, all painted over, with a cute devil in a Stetson and a trident and a couple of blues legends and the words ‘You can’t beat Pete’s meat’ emblazoned over. I am not sure who the two legends are. My guess is that the one in the Stetson is Elvis and the other guy who’s laughing, I don’t know who he is. That’s Pete’s all-purpose van.
Pete’s van (Photo courtesy: Spunkybong)
If you’re coming from the east, you’ll note huge wall murals on the side of the building – paintings of B.B.King, Etta James and Buddy Guy. I have never heard of them. I’m not a blues guy. I am an Indian from India, used to Bollywood duets that are sung while running round trees and kissing kisses that are near misses since those sanctimonious Indian censors don’t permit actual contact kisses on screen. I am just beginning to understand western music, so relax, cut me some slack.
(Photo courtesy: Spunkybong)
Soon as you walk in you are hit by the atmosphere. It is bustling in there. The joint is jam-packed. On the left is a tiny stage and there is this couple, a huge black guy with a string of harmonicas round his waist who later introduced himself to me as just ‘Hawk’. And his comely partner on the guitar whose name I fail to remember (at 60, I can be excused for not remembering women I meet).
That’s Pete in his apron, with Hawk and his partner (Photo courtesy: Achyut Dutt)
You walk up to a tiny cubby hole where you have to place your order and pay up in advance. There’s always a long queue and you had better order everything at once. Except for a beer refill, if you want to order another dish later on, you’ll have to fall in line once again. If you glance to your right while you are waiting in line, you can see Pete, the owner, in his habitat, wrestling with a sizzling brisket of beef. He’ll find the time to give you this big friendly grin. Relax, I’ll tell you what a brisket is, later on.
Having paid up, you go sit somewhere and wait for the waitress (oh they are so pretty) to bring you the food.
Pete’s waitresses are demure, polite, always smiling and….lovely (Photo courtesy: Achyut Dutt)
I have to warn you that the music is loud. Don’t be an eager beaver groupie and pick a table right in front of the band if you don’t want long-term hearing loss. I usually choose a place by the stage but to the side, away from the direction of the speakers. Indians are smart, no?
Another thing. Get there well before the music starts. That way, the queue at the counter won’t be long. And don’t worry about running out of cash. Prices are very reasonable. You can gorge on just $15 (excluding the beer of course).
Now, about what to order. Smoked meat of course. That is Pete’s specialty. He serves smoked meat, mainly in the form of beef slices or ribs, in sandwiches and mixed platters. And in case you don’t eat red meat like me, there is chicken and turkey also available, all smoked of course.
Yummy or what? A smoked beef sandwich and fries (Photo source:Wikimedia)
It is now time for me to be absolutely frank with you. I haven’t yet fully developed a taste for smoked meat. I am a 60-year old Indian from India who has wallowed in hot curries all his life.
Why do I go to Pete’s then? One – I love the joint, the atmosphere, the polite courtesy shown by the waitresses and the smiling counter girl and the absolutely fantastic owner/chef (Pete). Two – I love the music. Hawk, for instance, should have been a star, he is so so good. Three – the fries, I have never tasted fries so good.
Four – and here is the thing – I am beginning to love smoked meat. I am shedding my Indianness and getting into the groove, like. It’s a little late in my life but that day is nigh, when I might decide on smoked meat instead of chicken butter masala, for my meal, when I eat out.
Another thing. Whenever folk talk about Montreal smoked meat, you will hear them speak of Schwartz’s, a world renowned smoked meat deli in downtown Montreal. Schwartz’s is also famous because it is owned by the singer, Celine Dion. Big deal. I have eaten at Schwartz’s and I can tell you, it is nothing to write home to my Mama about. As far as I am concerned Pete’s is the best.
Now about Pete. Pete started in the meat business early, when he was just 16, so says his website. He began working for his Dad at a deli downtown and then opened up his own joint after a while. He is also an award winning music promoter, his niche – blues, jazz, bluegrass and country rock. He has bands playing there every evening, some of them like Hawk, simply fantastic musicians.
I can’t finish without a brief on smoked meat, can I now? Especially since most of my readers aren’t in North America.
In the days before refrigerators, meat used to be smoked so it could be stored without spoiling. Smoking arrests the growth of bacteria and prolongs shelf-life of protein-rich foods such as meat. Smoking in various forms is done not only in North America but also throughout Europe as well as in the far east (the Japs smoke fish).
Here’s the history (I love history. I am 60 and therefore history myself)……
Smoked meat is said to have been brought over to the US in the 19th century by Romanian Jews who used to call it pastrami. If you want to go back even further (I am loving this), Romania was once a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and they say that pastrami originated from the Turkish word ‘pastirma’ meaning ‘to cure’.
Relax, we are getting there. Once in the US, those Romanian Jews established the tradition of making smoked meat and began calling it pastrami, which it still is called today. A branch of the Romanian Jews settled in Montreal and began the tradition of Montreal Smoked Meat, which I understand is slightly different from pastrami. Pastrami is usually made from a different section of Clarabelle’s anatomy and therefore tastes just a little different.
Making smoked meat is an elaborate thing. First you have got to get a particular section of beef called a brisket. This is a thick flattish slab of flesh that is cut from just above Clarabelle’s front legs. The pastrami beef comes from a section that is lower down. A good sized brisket could weigh around 10kgs and feed around 15-20 hungry meat eating folk in one sitting.
This is what a brisket looks like (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)
And this is where the brisket comes from, just above the front legs (Photo courtesy:Google images)
First you take the brisket and coat it with the cure which is a mix of salt, pink salt, black pepper, coriander, sugar, bay leaf, and cloves. Seal the thingapoo inside a sealable Ziploc bag and stuff it into the fridge for 6 days. Twice a day, visit the fridge and flip the brisket over. Don’t get waylaid when you open the fridge and take a beer out, unless it’s a weekend.
After 6 days, take the zingazoo out of the fridge and wash all the cure off the brisket, to remove the salt and then pat it dry with a paper towel. Now comes the rub, which is a mixture of black pepper, coriander, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dill weed, mustard, celery seed, and crushed red pepper.
Coat the brisket with the rub and move to your patio and fire up a grill or a smoker (which looks like a fireplace). When it is around 225°F, throw in chunks of wood and wait till the wood starts smoking. Now place the tray with the brisket inside the smoker. Don’t just use any wood. Smoking wood is a special variety, usually a hardwood like oak, pecan, hickory and mesquite.
The brisket gets smoked for 6 hours and then you take it out and steam it on a tray for a couple of hours and its done, ready to be sliced and devoured. All that sweat is really worth it, the meat is delicious.
Music, vintage cars, a renowned institution in smoked meat and to top it all, an interesting, charming and gracious chef and owner. That is Pete and his world.
(I hope Pete is reading this. Who knows, the next time I walk in, everything could be on the house for me).
Psst! Pete’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Smoke-Meat-Pete/227070167344264
Psssst! thingapoo and zingazoo are words I made up