By Neale McDevitt
I’m a native Montrealer, born and bred. I’ve lived on this great Island my entire life, 43 years in NDG and the last six in St. Anne de Bellevue. As such, I love this city for a myriad of reasons – its multicultural smorgasbord, the Jazz Fest, the Habs, Anglophones speaking French to Francophones who, in turn, answer in English.
But I cannot – will not – list my hometown among the world’s great cities for one reason. Corrupt politicians? Crumbling infrastructure? Traffic woes? Ludicrous language laws? The exodus of the Expos?
As important as any one of these issues may be, they quickly melt from my consciousness within seconds of my biting into a medium smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s. I’m like that. Food matters.
Which brings us to why I would fail to grant Montreal entrance to the pantheon of great cities like Paris, London, Rome and New York – the absence of hot dog vendors in the streets.
That’s right. No hotdog carts.
People like to eat street hotdogs. It’s fun. It’s fast. It’s little different from your regular sit-down dining experience, be it at your desk, in a cafeteria or at a restaurant. It makes you feel like Detective Lennie Briscoe of television’s Law & Order, eating on the run while solving another case.
“I believe Montreal is the only city in North America where you can’t sell food on the streets,” says Mathieu Laperle, Director, Food and Hospitality Services. “If you go to Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Canada Day you’d be amazed at the variety of food that you can buy from street vendors.”
But, Laperle is determined to change all that with a new addition to McGill’s culinary vehicle – vehicle being the operative word: the A La Cart gourmet hotdog cart.
Located at the crossroads of the downtown campus for lunch every day, the New York-style food cart offers hungry passersby a selection of delicious, grilled-on-the-spot sausages including Angus beef, merges (Lamb from Québec), Italian and October Fest, all served on homemade buns.
And, yes, all the classic condiments and garnishes are available including gourmet sauces, fresh diced tomatoes, sauerkraut and Dijon mustard to name a few.
Also on the menu are kettle chips, Mac Farm apples, soft pretzels and oversized chocolate chip cookies.
And how did McGill manage to circumvent Montreal’s strict anti-street food regulations? Simple, says Laperle. “We’re private property.”
Laperle says while sales were slow at first, they have picked up of late. A typical lunch rush may serve as many as 150 customers. And, as word gets around, no doubt many hungry Montrealers from outside the Roddick Gates who hanker for a taste of something they can’t get anywhere else in the city will be lining up to place their orders.