The sky was grey outside, but inside the dank confines of Toronto’s legendary Monarch Tavern, a new day dawned on Jewish deli in this native city of mine. As I’ve mentioned before, today was the day when Zane Caplansky’s long awaited delicatessen…the eponymous Caplansky’s…would open.
The promises were very high: smoked meat that was made from local, naturally raised beef, dry cured in barrels, and smoked over hardwood. Hand cut fries, Silverstein’s rye, real coleslaw, Strubbs pickles, and Cott’s black cherry. In terms of deli in Canada, this is about as good as it gets…
So how good did it get?
Let’s let my dad tell you:
Now for my humble opinion (as I am my father’s son, and this was basically his birthday lunch). Zane Caplansky has done nothing short of resurrect the traditional taste of Jewish delicatessen in a city where it is too often forgotten. His tender smoked meat, hand sliced to the perfect length, is nothing short of sublime. It does not taste like the famed Montreal smoked meat, or the New York pastrami, or even the Toronto equivalent.
It is a completely different and delicious product, due to the fact that it is the only smoked meat I have ever had that was actually smoked over wood. I’d describe the taste as somewhere between a milder Schwartz’s sandwich and a texas style hickory smoked BBQ. It’s less salty and peppery than other smoked meats (though a little more spice would make things interesting), but that first bite is like jumping into a campfire, as the charcoal tinged aroma of the meat’s carbon footprint comes alive in the mouth. It’s tender, it’s juicy, and there’s the perfect ribbon of fat lining each bite. Dad and my cousin Eric (no small authority himself) all agreed.
Simplicity is the key to this place. I see many eager young deli owners (or old), open up places with dozens or hundreds of items on their menu, only to get overwhelmed and let one half of their menus slide their asses onto the street. What Caplansky has done is start from scratch, putting all his effort into one product, with the idea of building it out from there. There’s a lesson for us all in this. The fries are indeed crisp, the coleslaw is slightly sweet and mild, and the black cherry is indeed fizzing away. I went for a beer, because today was a day for every deli fan in Toronto to celebrate.
At the Monarch Tavern
Sandwiches, soup, and soon blintzes served Tues-Sat (12-9 pm)
14 Clinton St.