Montreal is a city for foodies. Many of the recommendations I’d received from friends were for champagne bars and fancy French restaurants with several courses, foie gras, and lots of dollar signs on their yelp pages. But one of the best meals we had in Montreal was significantly more lowbrow than those establishments. I was told to explore the Mile End neighborhood, and I found a nearby place called Wilensky’s Light Lunch to drag my family to one afternoon.
We were ravenous from a day of exploration and when we first walked in, I wondered if we’d made a mistake. There were only a few stools to eat and they were full, not good for a girl with a broken toe, a cane, and a tired family. I thought maybe we’d have to take our sandwiches to go. But then, just like that, a group of four sitting at the bar got up and as my family sat down and I started looking around, I knew that it was going to be a great experience.
Wilensky’s has been open since 1932 and there is history all around. A girl behind the counter asked us what we wanted and I said I thought we might need a minute as I studied the signs on the wall. But when she told us about the special, salami, bologna, and mustard on a pressed roll I said, “four, please,” then checked to get my family’s approval. They’ve learned to trust my ordering over the years – or maybe they were afraid I would give them attitude for wanting something else – so they just nodded.
Here’s what one of the signs says about the special, which can explain why this is my kind of place:
When ordering a special,
You should know a thing or two.
They are always served with mustard,
They are never cut in two.
Don’t ask us why, just understand,
That this is nothing new.
This is the way that it’s been done
I’m sure that my dad had some beef (bologna) with this poem since it rhymes “two,” “two,” and “two” and if it were a Beyoncé song he would’ve rewritten it, but we all were too hungry to judge. The sandwiches came out in what seemed like 10 seconds and we got a side of pickles and dug in. This sandwich is a perfect Erin sandwich. Perfect taste, no veggies, and pressed flat so it takes up less room in my tummy – is that how it works? I’m not a doctor. The sandwich surely doesn’t look like much, but it does the trick, and does it well. We also each ordered a different soda which were mixed old school behind the counter. I got a cherry cola and it was definitely the best cherry cola I’ve ever had, and I am not even saying that because of how much my body needed that boost of caffeine at that time.
I’d read in my guidebook that the staff might be grumpy, but I felt welcome and even appreciated the entire time. Another amazing thing about Wilensky’s is that the sandwiches are under $5. This is a far cry from the 12 cents they were in 1932, but still much less than I can find a sandwich for in New York aside from McDonald’s. It’s clear that aside from the prices, this place has not changed much in 82 years. But it doesn’t have to.