In a city where you can’t throw a bottle of Tums without hitting a pizza, sub or steamie or poutine joint, there’s little patience for pretenders. Fake 2-for-1 deals, trendy overhyped eateries that shutter within a year, grease pits and heartburn emporiums, Montrealers have had it.
But on a searing hot July afternoon on a stretch of road north of Highway 440, your taste buds beckon and there’s not much of a better way to sit out the heat than duck inside, pull up to a window-side counter and settle in for a true original.
Vincent Sous-Marins Pizza is an iconic entry in the Montreal fast food pantheon and for good reason.
When Vincent Cammisano got into the restaurant biz 45 years ago, lending his name to a legacy that would pepper the Montreal resto scene for more than a generation, he didn’t go into it as a chef bringing authentic flavours of his native Sicily. “Not at all” laughs his son Frank, 49. “He was a barber.” Having arrived in Montreal in 1959, working at the famous Aldo barber in Montreal, Cammisano picked up on what Quebecers wanted to eat, Montrealers in particular, and the legend was born.
“Everything is the same” Laughs Frank in the Laval location. “Nothing has changed. When it’s perfect, you don’t mess with it.”
Indeed, this is the original: “No crappy sauces, just oil, salt, pepper, a little oregano, that’s it.”
And you can appreciate it as you sink your teeth into perfectly fried strips of steak, green peppers done to the right tenderness, loads of shredded lettuce, cheese and tomatoes nestled in a perfectly toasted bun. Order a heap of fries slathered in ketchup as a perfect accompaniment. Down it with a frosty Coke and watch the asphalt heat up.
“I’ve made thousands of these,” he says, “but each time I take one off that plaque I look at it with pride. That’s a Vincent sub and someone’s going to love it.”
Vincent’s counted some 30 locations at one point, about half owned by the family until Cammisano retired and the last one was sold in 2015. But Frank knew the demand was too great to resist and there was a hankering for the true classic in Laval where much of his clientele already resided, so he brought a grill and two generations’ experience feeding Montrealers here a few years ago.
“When we announced we were opening here people went crazy” he recalls, having been in this business for 39 of his 49 young years, starting at 10 in the kitchen with his father on weekends and in summers.
He knows a little bit about good eating and what his clients want and they’ve clearly spoken, for more than a generation. “No question Number 9 – Le Champione Olympique” he says without missing a beat. Steak, pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms, fried onions, cheese. Always 14-inch – winter, spring, summer and fall. Always the favorite, always been.”
As for pizza, he quips, it’s the “Number 6 — à la Frank, meat sauce, Italian sausage, mushrooms, onions, mozzarella. There’s nothing more popular” he says.
There’s something about a name, a brand, a taste and a tradition that was built back when the Quebec Liberal government introduced Bill 22, Richard Nixon resigned over Watergate scandal, Happy Days debuted on television, and Blazing Saddles dominated the big screen.
Richard Benoit agrees, the Maine resident and Laval expat recalling his favourite restaurant. “The first time I had a sub there was at the one on St Hubert near Jean Talon: Buy a 14-inch and get a 7-inch free! I would eat the whole thing and a large greasy french fry…ahhh the good old days!” Indeed, It was a quarter-century ago that the Vincent brand came up with the Montreal tradition of buy a 14, get a 7 free, the remedy for two pals short on cash or nights when you’re really hungry.
Frank is proud to announce this is still a family affair, helped out regularly by his daughter Nina-Marie, son Vincent and wife Maria. “Everyone is here, it’s a family business.” But with hundreds of meals prepared daily, and pickups and deliveries rushing out to all points of Île Jésus, it seems like Vincent’s today, like five decades ago, is everybody’s business.