Friday, November 21, 2008

Montreal's Best Eastern European Delis - Part I

Every year, around this time, I get a hankering for Ukrainian comfort food: you know, cabbage, beets, potatoes and kielbasa. When I was a kid, I used to turn my nose up at my Nanny’s (that’s grandmother, not au-pair) home-made borscht, cabbage rolls and god forbid you ever mention the word “head-cheese” around me. Nowadays I can’t get enough of said delights and am slowly coming around on head-cheese, so long as I don’t get any of the jumbly bits. While I have been making pierogies for a few years now (to moderate success), I decided a few weeks ago attempt my grandmother’s cabbage rolls. Unlike the more common variety (big, fat and covered in tomato sauce), my grandmother’s cabbage rolls were tiny, tightly wrapped and filled with rice, onions, bacon and a wee bit of ground beef. While I knew where to get the accompanying kielbasa and pierogies, I was a bit flummoxed as to where to find pickled cabbage heads. This, in turn, led me on an abbreviated tour of some of Montreal’s Eastern European delis.

Here are my findings:

1. Euro-Deli Batory, 115 Saint-Viateur West

As the closest on my list, Euro-Deli was my first stop in my quest for pickled cabbage heads. Having frequented this place for years, I knew I could find quality kielbasa and quite good frozen pierogies (and, if I am feeling lazy: beet stock for borscht), but would it carry pickled cabbage heads? After I milled about the store for a while, perusing their selection of pickles, sauerkraut and assorted sweets and juices, I finally asked the owner whether or not they carried this pickled staple. In a hushed tone, she informed me that following numerous requests, she had stocked pickled cabbage, but no one ever came in to avail her of the briny leaves and thus, has stopped carrying them. She suggested I try Slovenia.

2. Charcuterie Chopin, 4200 Blvd. Decarie

While the odds of finding pickled cabbage at this small NDG deli were slim, my dining companion and I were getting hungry and were looking for a lunch of pierogies and kielbasa. Chopin is more of a charcuterie than anything else and is known for its selection of cold-cuts and varieties of kielbasa. My dining companion and I each ordered some pierogies (served with a little bit of delicious pickled beet salad) and a piece of kielbasa. While we waited for the dumplings to be boiled, we were served a small plate topped with one big hunk of cold kielbasa; this was back to basics: no cooking, no mustard, no utensils, just one big chunk of meat. The sausage was wonderful, a perfect combination of garlic, pepper and smoked pork. The pierogies were also quite good, but I would have enjoyed a few filled with sauerkraut, rather than the regular potato/cheese filling. Needless to say, there were no pickled cabbage heads.

Stay tuned, as the search for pickled cabbage continues…

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