The taste of the Maritimes hits Montreal

Donair Cité brings the staple wrap of the East Coast—an adaptation of the Turkish doner—to Quartier Latin.

Donair Cite Montreal
Donair in Montreal.

Though I’ve been an enthusiastic resident of Montreal long enough to remember Thursday keggers at the Green Room (RIP), I am in fact a Maritimer, hailing from the land of Acadian forest and Atlantic salmon. It’s a unique and wonderful place where beards and flannel have ALWAYS been cool, with its own regional delicacies that us expats can’t help longing for occasionally, despite Montreal’s abundant variety of
exciting culinary delights.

If you’ve ever made the trek out east to dip your toes into the Atlantic, perhaps you’ve tried the sandwich that fuels downtown Halifax: the donair.
Much like poutine in Quebec, the donair, despite being ubiquitous, wholly unpretentious and inexpensive, is regarded as a signature dish with high cultural importance in eastern Canada, a designation surely related to its status as an item not available anywhere else. That is, until now.

That’s right: Maritime expats and Montrealers of every other stripe can now enjoy a little taste of the East Coast at the brand new Donair Cité diner, in the Latin Quarter. And I’m happy to report that these donairs are the real deal, right down to that magical sauce.

The donair is much like a shawarma or gyro: a pita wrap containing meat shaved off a vertical spit, tomatoes, onions and a garlic sauce. The name is adapted from the Turkish doner. The original donair recipe was developed in Halifax 40-ish years ago by Greek immigrant Peter Kamoulakos, who modified the traditional gyro to appeal to the local market. Donairs use beef rather than lamb, with a unique spice blend and a sweet garlic sauce. In the Maritimes, donair sauce is drizzled on pizza, used as a dipping sauce for almost anything, and bottled and sold in supermarkets. In order to offer a convincing donair, the sauce must be just right: silky smooth and sweet with a garlic kick.

Though I’d heard from several trusted sources along the Maritimer-grapevine that Donair Cité was legit, I was still afraid that I’d be disappointed. But that first bite of their expertly mixed secret recipe was so evocative of home that I was surprised to find myself still in Montreal, and not in the
middle of Halifax’s Pizza Corner.

Creating the perfect donair sauce is no easy feat, according to Donair Cité’s owner, Todd Langseth. He makes the sauce in small batches every day because the risk of a large batch not turning out right is too high. The recipes for the sauce and the spice mix were entrusted to him by his father (the longtime operator of a Halifax donair hotspot) and tweaked slightly for the Montreal palate—the meat is a touch spicier, for example. Though the meat and sauce are the stars of the show here, it’s also worth mentioning that the tomatoes and onions rounding out the wrap were plentiful, fresh and appetizing.

So far, the menu features donairs of various sizes (served with or without cheese), egg rolls filled with donair meat with a generous portion of donair dipping sauce on the side and donair pizzas and garlic cheese fingers (another Maritime staple: a pizza crust topped with garlic butter and cheese, cut into strips and dipped in — you guessed it — as much donair sauce as you can handle).

Vegetarians are limited to pasta for now, but Langseth and his team are working on developing a veggie donair, as well as some other creative menu variations such as donair burgers and salads. They also look forward to offering a selection of imported Maritime beers and an expanded dining room. ■

Donair Cité is located at 2070* St-Denis, in Montreal. (514) 286-2483

(*Please note that Donair Cité moved this week from its previous location across the street at 2051-B.)

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