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Dining à la cart
by Barry Lazar
Where does the “I love to munch” crowd lunch? Down at Club Price, a.k.a. Costco. Yes, our shrine to savings, the cathedral of quantity, the taj of tackiness, the weltshmerz of warehouses, is also Montreal’s weirdest dining experience.

Stroll down the overloaded aisles between noon and 2 p.m. and see the presenters on display. They have official red caps and uniforms. One piled up bowls of freshly blasted microwaved popcorn near the digital cameras. Another offers something vaguely chicken like in a sweet plum sauce at the end of aisle seven or gives out chocolate candies behind the kids clothing or serves up slices of lox skewered on toothpicks in front of the frozen shrimp display refrigerators.

The amazing thing is that we eat not only “à la cart” but in total randomness. We never know what we are going to get and the store is too big to risk declining dessert simply because the bon bon was offered three aisles before the sushi. So we eat and search at the same time. And we question constantly. Should we have two pieces of croissant and spoil our appetite for the sliced turkey? What happens if there is no sliced turkey this time? This is a restaurant designed by an anarchist. There is no menu because there can be no expectations. There is only what is and if we don’t grab a piece now, there may be none left when we come around the aisle again.

Is this serendipity or a case study in the gastronomy of chaos? This isn’t fast food, it is a feast for the frantic. Maybe there are a group of food psychologists somewhere behind mirrored glass walls looking down at the crowd. “Let’s see what they’ll eat next,” says someone in a lab coat stabbing at a palm pilot.

There are lots of people I know who come her for cheap eats. Lawyers, businessmen, people who do not have to cadge free food samples in order to survive. There may even be some who purchase a package of what they are eating and bring it home but they are few compared to the packs of retirees grabbing handfuls of free nuts or a stack of cupcakes as they push giant shopping carts down the aisle.

But, and indulge me here, these are just the hors d’oeuvres. The repast awaits at maybe $2 or $3 per person. After the hordes and beyond the cash registers, there is something that passes for a lunch counter. Amazingly, it is worth it. Good polish sausage, superb all-beef New-York-style kosher hot dogs, slices of pizza, decent fries and something that looked like a chicken-bacon-and-cheese wrap on steroids are served with as many 20-oz. soft drink refills as the body can stomach.

Three of us ate for $10.27, taxes included. Of course not included was the $135 we spent on a box of giant shrimp, all the light bulbs and bathroom tissue we’ll need for a year and a 50-pound bag of dog food.

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