Montreal's Dunns finally lands in Lotusland

Smoked meat icon steams meat to perfection

The first thing you need to know about newly landed Dunns Famous Smoked Meat, explains owner Elliot Kligman, is that it's not just like any other smoked meat.

One bite, and it doesn't take me long to agree. I can honestly say I haven't tasted smoked meat as delicious as this since my last time at Dunns in Montreal, more years ago than I care to admit.

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The dapper and energetic grandson of founder Myer Dunn likes to tell it how it is.

"We're using the same meat here that we use in Montreal," says Kligman.

"We're cutting it by hand there and training people how to cut it by hand here. And that's crucial. A lot of guys use slicers. But when you use a slicer you can't steam the meat enough or it will fall apart on the slicer."

"With a hand cutter, you can steam it to perfection. And that's what makes it tender and melt in your mouth."

And that it does, indeed. The third generation owner says it's the initial preparation that makes it unique, even in smoked-meat crazy Montreal.

"Most of the meat in Montreal is tumbled and cooked with steam overnight," he says. "My meat sits in a brine for seven days. It's not tumbled: it's cooked on dry heat for 12 hours as opposed to the four hours that others steam their meat for."

Such perfection doesn't come cheap.

"I lose 220 pounds for every thousand pounds I make. Conversely, my competition gains 250 on every 1000. I'm not kidding."

He's not. "That's a 500 pound difference on every 1000."

As the Hired Belly processes the numbers, we cast our minds back to some of those late evening post-toomany-pints pilgrimages to the original (now vanished) St. Catherine's Street store, way back when. "You were open till three, right?"

"Wrong! We never closed," says Kligman.

"There were no locks on the doors ... only on the bagels!"

Under Kligman's leadership, the company has flourished, with more stores opening and a deal for a Dunns-branded smoked meat in Costco (also in Australia and Japan).

"It's actually helped our notoriety," he says.

So wy did it take so long to make it to Vancouver?

"If it wasn't for (franchisees) Cindy Heaven and her husband, who really pushed me to do this, we still wouldn't be here."

(The Heavens, on trips to Toronto, used to drive to Montreal just to get their Dunns fix-and, evidently, convince Kligman that we, too, deserved a Dunns.)

We move on from the classic on sourdough to taste the Reuben that-made with sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, Swiss cheese and a double stack of smoked meat-is equally delicious.

"It's about the sauerkraut, right?" I offer.

"No. It's all about the smoked meat."

Right! Dunns (827 Seymour St, 604-682-8938) is up from the Orpheum stage door, in the refurbished Capitol 6 building. It's open everyday from 10 a.m. to midnight and to 1 a.m. on weekends. info@hiredbelly.com

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