After the death of legendary deli owner Peter Varvaro in 2013, change was inevitable at the landmark Main Deli Steak House.
Change, perhaps, but not a decline in the quality of pillar menu items like smoked meat, lox and coleslaw. But, alas, this is exactly the case, reports CultMTL.
In "The end of the (old) Main", Louis Rastelli writes that "since its sale earlier this year, the unthinkable happened: the Main stopped smoking its own meat."
It wasn’t so obvious at first — black-rimmed unnaturally pink briskets began appearing in the window display along the spice-encrusted originals. The first order of pink pastrami-style meat that was served to me was jarring — it was instantly clear that this was not the usual smoked meat. A sampling of the lox plate showed that the salmon was also no longer smoked in-house, losing its melt-in-your-mouth texture and unique flavour.
The culprit, it seems, is a change in management and concept. New owners Constantinos Grillas, Stratton Stevens and Orlando Garrido (Rastelli calls him Orlando Cardemil) have big plans for The Main Deli, apparently.
Cardemil has experience in this, having been part of the team that developed the Donini pizza franchise in the 1980s. The Main’s old smoking equipment is being replaced with new smokers in 2015, and the meat will be raised on his own farm. He’s promising organic meat with no chemicals (although he did not rule out nitrites when I asked him about these). The rye bread will even be replaced with gluten-free bread!
The promise of new smokers and non-USDA feedlot beef elicits optimism (and skepticism) but the notion of gluten-free anything at a deli feels aberrant. (As for nitrites in deli meat, food writer Michael Ruhlman effectively tackles the subject here.) And until that new smoker cranks out what everyone hopes is Main-level smoked meat again, what recourse is there for regulars of the iconic deli?
Go across the street to Schwartz's, perhaps, or, maybe, take a trip to the West Island to Delibee's or Smoke Meat Pete, where Varvaro's sons continue in their father's footsteps–a good distance from the Main.
For the record, The Main's website still boasts that it serves 'the best smoked meat in Montreal' and contains a YouTube clip of a 2006 documentary about Peter Varvaro and his deli.