Head to Salt Spring Island for some real, home-style Montreal Smoked meat and to share a laugh with Buzzy.
By CINDA CHAVICH
Got a hankering for an old school Montreal smoked meat sandwich? Now there’s an island solution to your classic sandwich cravings - Buzzy’s Luncheonette on Salt Spring Island – where you get a side of silly with your smoky brisket and kosher dill pickles.
The personable Howard Busgard (a.k.a. Buzzy) and his lovely wife Melanie Weaver recently pulled up stakes in Los Angeles (where he was a longtime TV producer and comedy writer) to open a postage-stamp-sized Jewish deli in a strip of colourful shops behind the local gas station in Ganges.
The moment he opened his little shop, Buzzy’s become a destination for visitors and locals alike. When I stopped in, they were chewing the fat (and the smoked meat) with a couple of their regulars, while doling out their meaty sandwiches, crispy potato latkes and slabs of creamy cheesecake.
Busgang has never run a restaurant before but living on a small island - “where there are more bears than Jews” – soon had him perfecting his recipe for Montreal-style smoked meat. It all starts with Alberta beef brisket that’s rubbed with spices, cured for 10 days, smoked over hickory wood overnight, then steamed until soft. Hand-cut into thick, garnet-hued slices and piled on marble rye, it’s a beefy sandwich to behold.
You can have it Old School (topped with cole slaw), get The Rabinowitz (Buzzy’s riff on the Reuben with house-made sauerkraut, Russian dressing and melted Swiss) or The Hungry Jew with horseradish sauce, slaw AND latkes (“Buzzy loves this one so much he named it after himself”).
Of course, there’s black cherry soda in the cooler and, on this day, a pile of fat ruglach pastries on the counter (created by another local legend, Jana Roerick of Jana’s Bake Shop). The giant jar of dill pickles come from Strub’s, and if you love a good potato knish, make sure to arrive early.
Busgang grew up in Montreal and says he bought land on Salt Spring Island while on holiday 15 years ago – paying annual taxes on the property but never finding the time to visit.
When he brought his new wife north to inspect their investment, the former New Yorker was instantly smitten with the place.
“I wanted to see this Salt Spring, this place we were paying for every year,” she says. “ How good could it be? That was September and we were here in July.”
Busgang says “we moved out here to change the story of our own lives” and it’s worked.“We love it here,” he says. “I’m not used to being this happy.”
Buzzy’s is obviously filling a need, selling out of their smoky meat daily. There’s nothing quite like it in Victoria either, and Busgard is toying with the idea of offering occasional pop-ups in the capital.
Buzzy’s Luncheonette may be new but it already has a cosy, lived-in look, with framed news clippings and funny one-liners to keep you amused while you wait. Be prepared to line up on the weekends (they can go through 60 pounds of smoked meat a day) and leave extremely sated, with a smile on your face.
As the sign out front declares: “Serving Salt Spring since yesterday.”
Here’s to many more tomorrows.