Lex Gopnik-Lewinski is so enthusiastic about bringing classic Montreal cuisine to the Bay Area that he even got busted at a Canadian airport trying to smuggle a hunk of smoke meat through customs to the US. That prompted him to recreate the Montreal product, which is somewhere between brisket and pastrami, for himself on this side of the border. What started with pop-ups at Beauty’s Bagels, also Montreal inspired, is now Gopnik-Lewinski’s standalone restaurant, Augie’s Montreal Deli, in Berkeley. It opens after some construction delays at 875 Potter Street this Saturday, February 17.
Augie’s menu consists of poutine (with thrice-fried potatoes covered in gravy from Canadian chicken chain St-Hubert and squeaky local cheese curds from Oakdale cheese), sandwiches (smoke meat or smoked turkey on Metropolis Bakery Deli rye bread with Uncle’s Famous Pickle and yellow or spicy mustard), salads, and bagels from Baron’s. For true authenticity, there’s even a hot dog labeled as “Le Chien Chaud” in a play on Quebec’s famous insistence on French language menus.
Augie’s central smoke meat recipe comes from Smoke Meat Pete, whose legend extends far beyond Montreal suburb of Île-Perro. Gopnik-Lewinski spent “about two years” honing it with a copacker in Redding, who ships it down to the deli to keep costs reasonable. It was even approved by Shwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen, a famous standard bearer for Montreal Jewish cuisine. On a recent visit to Montreal Gopnik-Lewinski visited the establishment “at around 1:30 in the morning, and talked to the guys there [about Augie’s. They were really excited.”
Augie’s atmosphere will be casual — order at the counter and take a seat — and feature pictures of old Montreal delis, “to give expat Canadians those memories.” Gopnik-Lewinski himself is a dual US-Canadian citizen, who grew up in Toronto before arriving at age 11 in the Bay Area and idolizing all things Canadian, hockey included. Expect TVs showing live hockey games: “We want to be the hockey bar for the east bay — there’s not really a great place to watch,” he says. Augie’s expects to receive its beer and wine license in about a month, at which point they’ll start selling fine Canadian beer like Molson and Labatt.
Augie’s Montreal Deli will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, and 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday.