Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kickin' it Old Shul

Caplansky's LogoThey say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” For Zane Caplansky, truer words may never have been spoken. Not a fan of what he considered sub par deli in Toronto he would pester friends to smuggle the good stuff back from Montreal. Not a long term solution Zane taught himself the centuries old art of curing meat and began making his own goodies. At first it was to satisfy his own palate. Eventually, at the behest of his friends, he opened a little spot in the Monarch Tavern. To say he was a hit doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. Eventually he’d outgrow the hotel and open his own place. I’d love to say that it was a run away smash hit but that doesn’t tell the story. Simply put, the review are mixed.

There has, perhaps, never been a restaurant that stirs up more passion than Caplansky's Deli in Toronto. For the most part, no one LIKES this place. They either love it or hate it with a heat of a thousand white hot suns. It's just about that simple. I have to admit, I do love the place. I’m not alone either. He’s got fans at the New York Times, Maxim and Gourmet Magazines and both John Catucci of You Gotta Eat Here and Guy Fieri and the Triple D gang have paid visits. He’s also featured in the David Sax book, Save the Deli.

Caplansky's DeliSitting just north of Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood Caplansky’s is a beautiful place. Decked out in blue and white the corner unit reminds me of a circa 1940’s milk carton. The small patio is abuzz on summer nights and the whole restaurant nicely complements the trendy neighbourhood.

Caplansky's InteriorInside is just as nice. A mismatch of tables and chairs complement the old school feel inside. The pressed tin ceiling was preserved and art deco lighting brighten the place. The large windows allow plenty of light during the day. It just has a nice warm yet utilitarian feel inside. In front where you wait to be seated you’ll find the “Trophy case.” Displaying the many dessert options available. Mid dining room there’s a counter where the meat is sliced and wares are sold. Always on patrol is Zane himself. Ebbing and flowing between the dining room to great guests and the kitchen in back.

So let’s get a look at what’s coming out of that kitchen. All sandwiches are served on near by Silverstein's bread and come with a Putter’s pickle.

Mustard LineupThey have a caddy on the table with your typical ketchup and mustard. They also have 4 of their (made in) house mustard varietals. All come in your standard mustard squeeze bottle.
Mild and Delicious: Yes it is.
Hot and Horseradish: This is really nice although I think a hint more horseradish would improve it. That said, it may make it too much like the next one.
Super, Extra-Hot Mustard: Wow!! This is not for beginners. Perhaps not quite to the level of Keens but in the same ballpark. It's everything you want from a hot deli mustard.
Honey Mustard: I really don't care for this one. I don't like the balance between honey and mustard. It's pretty much honey with some mustard. Not nearly enough to balance out the sweetness. I'd like more mustard than honey.

Beef BaconBeing a Jewish deli you absolutely can’t have pork products. But, but bacon!!! Well don’t you worry, Zane is curing and smoking his own. From cow. Beef Bacon is really interesting. It’s got just about all the attributes of regular bacon but lacks the bold, assertiveness. I described it to my wife as “gentle bacon.” It’s just more subtle and delicate in flavour.

Bean w Bacon SoupAn often soup du jour is Bean with Bacon. More like a thick stew actually at first glance it looks like chili. Loaded with tomato gravy and beans with some meat. Just remove the cumin (an other chili seasonings) and you have this dish. It's very nice and homey and tasted great on a cold winter day. 


Smoked Meat PoutineI'm somewhat torn with the Smoked Meat Poutine. Fries covered with cheese curd, topped with smoked meat simmered in gravy. Did I enjoy this dish?? Sure I did. It was tasty. Do I think I could've loved it?? I think so. First and foremost I don't like matchstick fries. Much like with pasta, the chunkier the sauce, the bigger the noodle needs to be. So a heftier fry would work better for me. Also, my favourite way to eat poutine is to let the cheese curds melt. Ya, the fries get a bit soggy but I like the trade off. The gravy here wasn't hot enough to melt the curds. It wasn't cold though, so don't misunderstand. And I just plain prefer regular poutine best.
For those that it matters to, the cheese curds had some squeak to them. For those who don't understand, poutine freaks rank curd squeak as one of the most important parts of the dish. Much like hot dog nuts are all about the snap of natural casings.

Smoked Meat & Pickled TongueA recommendation by one of the wait staff is a combination of Pickled Tongue and Smoked Meat sandwich. First of all it's not like Montreal Smoked Meat. It's not supposed to be either. Caplansky's is doing their own style which I thoroughly enjoyed. Hand sliced it was so tender it pretty much fell apart. As did the tongue. This was a terrific sandwich. It came on that same basic rye and I added a good dose of the SEH mustard. It was smoky, beefy and rich. It was fantastic.

BingoThe Bingo is a Friday sandwich of the day. Slices of fried salami on an onion bun with slivered red onion and cheddar cheese. It came dressed with the honey mustard. Again, as with the other sandwiches, I added the SEH mustard and it knocked it out of the park. The griddling of the salami really gets the oils going and helps carry the flavour. I'd have liked to see more cheese but that's just a fine tuning detail.


Meatloaf SandwichDefinitely my favourite sandwich is the Meatloaf. It comes on Ciabatta and you can get cheddar. Which I did. The meatloaf has smoked meat in it and is as good a meatloaf as you’ll find. The bold tomato flavour of the sauce is a great complement. My big concern is the bun would be too chewy and the guts would squish out the back. Not so, the tender bun is perfect and tasty to boot. I added a couple pieces of the cow bacon on half of it and while it was somewhat lost, the crunchiness added was nice.

Dessert CaseThe dessert (trophy) case is full of homemade goodies for your sweet tooth. I've had 3 options now and they've all been great.
Lemon Square: Rather like a square of Lemon Meringue Pie withouth the meringue. The crust is a bit like short bread which was fine. The curd was sturdy with a nice, but not puckeringly so, tartness that I loved.
Apple Crisp Pie: Among my favourite apple pies I’ve had. Bold with cinnamon just the way I like it.
Chocolate Cake: Let me just put it this way. If you love chocolate cake, you’ll love this.

Pecan Pie: It looks great in the case. A perfect looking pecan pie under a swirl of chocolate butter cream. It tastes great but sadly, when it’s heated that icing melts. I also found the chocolate distracts from the pie. It was good though I’d rather have the pie unadorned.

So there you have it folks. Fine old school deli served in a nice place.

You can find Caplansky’s at 356 College St. in Toronto, Ontario.

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You can also find them on the web, facebook and Twitter.
Caplansky's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now folks, see you next time in the food court.

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