Review: Wilensky’s Light Lunch (Mile End, Montreal)

Wilensky’s Light Lunch is a truly popular Mile End spot for a quick bite. As it lay ahead with a frosted green trim and exposed brick interior, I felt my excitement brewing.
Wilensky’s is run by the youngest daughter, Sharon, and along with her family have kept the neighbourhood institution alive since 1932. The space not only embodies the same mystique and décor but feeds the same clientele as well as new followers after all this time.
When you walk into the shop you are confronted with warmth, the most gorgeous scents of cooked food, lovingly drawn handmade signs tacked onto bristol boards above the counter, fading articles brimming with pride from local papers and abroad taped onto the most gorgeous wood cabinet housing knick knacks and tobacco from a time long past, a ring-up cash register, old fashioned soda fountain and seventy-plus-year old grills oozing nostalgia. How can one not feel giddy? You will truly feel like a kid in a ‘sandwich’ shop.
Sharon stated ‘even if we change a small detail in the space, we hear it from our customers’. The ode to keeping her grandparent’s and father’s, brother’s memory alive and the comfort of her customers are important to Sharon and her team. Tears fill her eyes as she spoke of her loved ones long passed and their vision– one can feel the emotion and ‘keeping the legacy’ alive runs far deeper for Sharon.
As per the Wilensky website, ‘We are famous for our “Wilensky’s Special®”. Invented by Moe Wilensky, its beauty is in its simplicity: all-beef salami with all-beef baloney grilled to mouth-watering perfection on a tasty roll with a hint of mustard. And it’s served piping hot and lightning fast!’
A simple meal once observed by Sharon’s father eating in front of his customers in the Wilensky Cigar Store – these customers wanted to try the same yummy eats that Moe was eating on his breaks.  The “Wilensky’s Special®” was born and has proven over time to be the best in comfort foods in the area.

The production line, friendliness and the honour of producing product that no one else is doing – this is what makes Wilensky’s unique. You need to make at least one visit when you are next in Montreal. Hang your coat up, sit at the counter, watch your meal be prepared, grab a book of the shelf, check out the cd’s to purchase in the corner and have a light conversation with Sharon and her team as you eat an honest, hot meal. Pay homage.
This writer watched many people walk into the space and order tops and bottoms which are beef hot dogs served open-face on either the top of an onion roll that has the onions on it, or the bottom, which doesn’t. Along with chopped egg sandwiches and cheese sandwiches. Many of the patrons stood open mouthed before making a decision and sat quietly excitedly awaiting their meal served on a single napkin on the Formica counter top – one at a time. The rules abound – but no one questions them. The quietness that exuded from the joy of eating a simple and tasty meal filled the space. “It’s our culture, it’s our subculture”, says Sharon.
Wilensky’s old-fashioned soda fountain is not just for decoration. The drinks are home-made drinks and house flavours such as cherry-cola, cola, pineapple, root beer, cream soda, and even chocolate. You can combine flavours, too. Have a cherry-pineapple or a vanilla-cola. The creations are almost infinite. Grab a diet drinks, milkshake or egg cream to go. You won’t find the quality anywhere else in Montreal.
Wilensky’s motto is indeed to provide fast service and treating everyone equally. No tipping is suggested and if you happen to have any change the staff encourages you to leave it in the Heart and Stroke Foundation box. Some true down home goodness. Paying it forward even in the smallest of intentions.
The humility of the business and space is evident. Tucked in a corner of the space is a laminated newspaper article of Mordechai Richler enjoying a special with the Wilensky family’s patriarch. A quiet and reflective newspaper piece that could easily be emblazoned above the counter shines shyly from the back of the shop demonstrating Richler’s book The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and his love for Wilensky’s. Richler’s book was eventually made into a film starring Richard Dreyfuss and showcases the actor in the Wilensky space. Bien sur.
The next time you are in Montreal – be sure to visit Wilensky’s Light Lunch for a bite or two. Not only is the space worth dwelling upon as you have a light meal but the conversation with staff and locals will illuminate you and you will leave with more than your belly full – your heart will be full too.

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