A Sense of Humour With the Wilensky Special Please!

It's impossible to write about Montreal's Mile-End without mentioning Wilensky's. This landmark light lunch eatery located on Fairmount has been serving up its signature special sandwich to the rich, famous and nostalgic since 1932. Wilensky's was immortalized on the pages of Mordecai Richler's the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, and for this reason, many people flock to the site to try the famous fried bologna and salami sandwich served on an onion roll with yellow mustard.

I went for the first time 8 years ago on a frigid day in December. The most striking aspect is the decor, or the lack thereof. The nine vintage stools that line the thin counter top, the cabinets, machines, dishes, signs, even the font, give the restaurant the look and feel of 1954. There is also an endless array of laminated newspaper reviews of Wilensky's over the years and several yellowing photos of former patrons and employees along the walls. The lunch-hour crowd has access to quite a bit of reading material. There are even some bookshelves with some paperbacks from the 70s. I should have taken this as a hint.

As I ate my Wilensky special on this cold day, I attempted to find out more about the restaurant from the man behind the counter, who wasn't particularly keen on small talk. When it came time to pay the bill, I laughed at how little it cost and how ridiculous it seemed to be calculating a 15% tip. I realize that a 15% does not sound particularly generous, but given the decor, the uncomfortable stool and the server's aversion to conversation, even 16% would have been folly.

The man behind the counter asked me why I was laughing. I said, "At these prices, it must be hard to make a living."
"We don't make tips here. They all go to the heart and stroke fund," he said.
Unfortunately, this only made me laugh harder. Again, he asked me, "What's so funny?"
I was at a loss for words, but because he had asked me so directly, I thought he would be able to handle my answer.
"Well, uh, I just find it ironic. After all, doesn't the cholesterol in salami and bologna sandwiches cause heart disease and strokes?"
He said nothing. He glared at me until I packed up my stuff and left. Unsurprisingly, it seemed much warmer outside than it had in my final seconds at Wilensky's.

As I was researching the restaurant, I came across a review from Frommer's. They had this to say,

Wilensky's has been a Montréal tradition since 1932, and has its share of regular pilgrims nostalgic for its grilled-meat sandwiches, low prices, curt service, and utter lack of decor...
After reading this, I realized that I had had a true Wilensky experience.

I went back one other time with my daughter who was then in pre-school. The decor remained unchanged, but this time the server, a woman, was much warmer. This may have been because I knew better than to ask too many questions. The sandwich was fine, just as I remembered it. My daughter, however, was unimpressed and demanded to go to a "real" restaurant.


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