A MAIALINO LINE COOK DISHES IT UP…
I was recently reminded of a well-known diner in Montreal called Wilensky’s. It’s a simple and straight-shooting institution that serves and has always served most notably the Wilensky Special, a pressed all-beef fried salami and bologna sandwich on a locally baked Kaiser roll. Its notoriety derives from its old mustard policy—if you DON’T want mustard on your sandwich, it’ll run you an extra 10 cents (previously 5 cents). Nowadays, mustard is compulsory.
This modest eatery could not be further away from the celebrity chef constellation of New York. And yet, next to Maialino, where I work, it raises an interesting distinction. What is the uneasy foxtrot between the curated vision of the chef and the wants and desires of its guests? In many ways, this question enters the oldest dialogue in history. In Plato’s The Republic, he asked why we would let ordinary people run society when we have philosophers. He reasoned that would be akin to passengers on a boat navigating the ship instead of the experienced captain. If we compare chefs to rock stars (as it has often been done), would you ask Mumford and Sons to change the lyrics or key to suit your whims? Rather, isn’t it the other way around where you gravitate to a song because it profoundly delights your palate, perhaps even surprises you?
A condemnation this is not. Obviously, with a magnanimous willingness to accommodate a majority of requests, Maialino has a legion of regulars the likes I have never seen before. They include not only admirers from the neighborhood but also those who seek a place of comfort whilst going about their daily lives – whether it be business meetings, breakfast bites or special dinners. Standing alongside the unwavering excellence and accessibility of the dishes going out of the kitchen is the unobtrusively deft service that is always there when you need it and not so much when you do not. It is about your enjoyment and that alone. The food and its delivery is thus subsumed under the larger orbit of one’s dining experience rather than demanding a stage for its own vanity (though it has much to boast about).
So, Wilensky’s is undoubtedly a cool place, with its old world appeal and quirky fascism. And perhaps truth be told, a fried salami sandwich just isn’t the same without mustard. But chances are, and if given the option, you would return to Maialino again and again because no matter what the words on the menu say, you can get that delicious mushroom and goat cheese frittata to go, just like your mom used to make.