Save the Deli

Toronto Life: Here’s the Beef

I completely forgot to post this. Last month I had an article in Toronto Life about deli in the city. A little hometown pride.

Montreal, schmontreal. Toronto knows a thing or two about smoked meat, too
By David Sax

Image credit: Christopher Stevenson

Ever since 30,000 Montrealers arrived in the 1970s, they’ve been kvetching that there’s no decent Jewish deli in this charcuterie-crazed town. The latest deli man to counter that narrow-minded view is Zane Caplansky, who opened Caplansky’s Deli this summer in the Monarch Tavern. In the first few weeks, he sold out of meat twice and was instantly hailed as a smoked meat messiah. It’s time to put aside comparisons—and niggling thoughts of Maple Leaf’s “Fast Food Nation” nightmare. Here are five pickled meats that Toronto does better than anyone else.

TORONTO PASTRAMI: In New York, pastrami is made from a cut of beef known as the navel. Toronto’s deli men do things differently: Lorne Pancer, the third-generation owner of Moe Pancer’s Deli (3856 Bathurst St., 416-633-1230), uses the whole brisket, rubbing cooked corned beef with peppery spices before popping it back into the oven. It’s more tender than NYC pastrami and more subtle than Montreal smoked meat.

BARREL-CURED CORNED BEEF: Rarely found in the U.S., barrel-cured meat is slowly brined in garlic, salt, aromatic spices and sugar. One of the best is at Thornhill’s little known Steeles Deli (182 Steeles Ave. W., Thornhill, 905-881-8366), where translucent pink slices practically liquefy on the tongue.

BABY BEEF: In the ’40s, a crooked downtown delicatessen supplier dyed then-inexpensive veal red and passed it off as corned beef. Customers loved the gentle flavour, and baby beef remains a delicacy that can only be found in the GTA. At Yitz’s Deli (346 Eglinton Ave. W., 416-487-4506), the lightly brined brisket of milk-fed veal—no longer dyed—tastes like corned beef’s velvet cousin.

TORONTO SMOKED MEAT: At Caplansky’s (12 Clinton St., 416-500-3852), Zane Caplansky rubs his briskets in spices he picks up in Little India, cures them in barrels for up to three weeks, then hardwood smokes them until the meat is deep maroon and super-tender. Imagine Schwartz’s famous product married with Texas-style barbecue brisket.

HOT TONGUE: Hot pickled tongue is the only way to enjoy the fattiest, saltiest and most decadent of all Jewish deli meats. When it’s properly boiled, peeled, sliced razor-thin and steamed to order, like they do at the mother-daughter-run Coleman’s Deli (3085 Bathurst St., 416-789-1141), it should dissolve directly into the arteries.

6 Responses to “Toronto Life: Here’s the Beef”

  1. nATE Says:

    Oy the agony, oy the extascy. Since being diagnosed with kidney failure a year ago my diet has been severely salt restricted. Of all the foods that I can no longer even dream about eating, the greatest absence is that of deli. Thank GOD for this site because while I am forbidden to taste the wonders of deli with my tongue my memory is stirred by the descriptions and the words that expound one of what was my former favourite form of dining.

    By the way, the one little old fashioned deli that I used to love to dine at was Wolfie’s on Sheppard just west of Bathurst. Nothing fancy decor wise and the atmosphere is pure old fashioned Toronto deli from the 50′s. The proprietor, Dave can’t sing to save his life, but he does, and the sandwiches are flavourful and served in belly busting quantities. Damn, now I have gone and made my self hungry for a gastronomic luxury I can no longer enjoy.

    Thank you for helping me relish in my cravings for there is fine dining, and there is eating out and there if fast food but none of them compare to a sit down at a real deli for a real meal

  2. Anne Nault Says:

    Well Done Yourself! Not being raised with Deli and only coming to it later in life, I found this to be the primer in Deli-basics. I just knew I loved this stuff and had no idea of the origins involved before my corned beef hit the table in front of me. Many thanks.

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