Montreal mavens of Ashkenazi and Sephardic soul food, prepare to schep naches. Arthurs, a self-described nosh bar from Raegan Steinberg and Alex Cohen, is about to give the city a taste of classic Jewish cuisine. The restaurant, named for Steinberg's late father, is slated to open June 15 on a block of Notre-Dame Ouest that includes Rustique, and the forthcoming Torteria Lupita sandwich shop. It's wonderful news for lovers of Jewish cuisine in Montreal, who, Hof Kelsten aside, have had few next-gen Jewish restaurants to celebrate.
Steinberg and Cohen have both worked a variety of jobs at a host of Montreal restaurants, and started Back of House Catering in 2014 after stints, respectively, at McKiernan, Liverpool House, and Joe Beef, and Joe Beef, Greasy Spoon, and Ryu. Steinberg worked under, and with, Marc-Olivier Frappier, Emma Cardarelli (Nora Gray), François Côté (L'Impérial, in Granby), and Leigh Roper (Foxy) at the Joe Beef family of restaurants in Little Burgundy. When it came time to branch out, "it was actually Fred [Morin] who inspired me," Steinberg recalls. "He always told me, 'Do what you know, and make the food that you grew up with.'"
Although Arthurs was announced months ago and the build has been ongoing for weeks, "we've only recently started doing promotion," says Steinberg. Expect takes on Eastern European Jewish staples like chicken liver, schnitzel, blintzes, gravlax, pickled salmon, and cabbage rolls, and nods to Sephardic classics like shakshuka. It's an homage to Steinberg's Romanian-Polish heritage, and Cohen's Sephardic roots, and an opportunity to fill a culinary niche not otherwise ministered to by Montreal's extant Jewish delis, bakeries, and restaurants.
Just don't call Arthurs a deli. "We're not trying to do smoked meat, karnatzel, or be Schwartz's or anything like that," says Steinberg. "Russ & Daughters was sort of my inspiration. Their history is so rich — you can't recreate that. But we'll be very concentrated on fish. I'm working with some friends who are smokers, and we'll eventually have our own smoker here." The liquor licensed 28-seater will elevate familiar Jewish dishes with fresh ingredients, Steinberg elaborates, and will serve as a jumping-off point for a more Jewish-inflected side of Back of House's catering business (this Passover menu hints at how the couple blend Ashkenazi and Sephardic influences). "I want to make sure every product is amazing. When beets are in season we'll make borscht. Our blintzes will be filled with homemade Quebec strawberry jam. We're trying to build a family-style restaurant that becomes an institution. My dad's name is riding on it, and I don't want to shame it."
When asked about the recent spate of vandalism and looting in the area, Steinberg admits to being apprehensive. "We are concerned, extremely. We've already been tagged. We've painted the front of the restaurant white, which is daring. But we've got cameras. And Arthurs is a small business. It's just me and my husband. We live in Saint-Henri, and we've put a lot of money and time into this."
Status: Arthurs, 4621 Notre-Dame Ouest, (514)-757-5190. Opens June 15, Wednesday to Sunday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.