Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jesse's Deli Feature # 3 - "And this time... it's personal"

Throughout Canada and probably most Diaspora North American communities, Jews and their delicious deli Sandwiches, have constantly been on the move. 

In Toronto, the legendary delis of yore like Switzer's, Shopsy's (the authentic deli headed headed by Izzy Shopowitz on Spadina which I was not old enough to have eaten and not the horrendous Industrial imprint which now bares his name) moved from the original Toronto Jewish settlements in Kensington and St John's Ward into more spacious Uptown homes.  

As such, the area of the city north of Eglinton probably has the greatest number of quality Toronto delis. Here are my three favorites: 

The first deli Sandwich (and possibly Sandwich period) I ever ate came from Wolfie's.  While I may have begged my parents to go there due to the appeal of the cartoonish wolf logo,  the the soft texture coupled with the saltiness and smoke of the pastrami and corned beef, probably sparked an obsession that led to the creation of TGCSB. I like to think of it as my Sandwich Cavern Club

Wolfie's has got a lot of important things I look for in a deli. On top of having a quality Sandwich, the other major factor I look for its character. Now I don't need to be physically assaulted and taken outside to read a menu like this: 

but I like a Deli where the owner/proprietor gives a little schitck. And David Gelberman delivers, fiddling with his (Greyish market) Satellite and kibbutz with all of the Sheppard ave regulars. Whenever I ask for my sandwich hand-cut complains (Why would ANYONE want it Hand-cut? Oh you spent 4 years in Montreal, Still). The restaurant is a like a mini museum/shrine to Coca-Cola, with David often extolling you to buy a glass bottle Coke and open it with his vintage vending machine.

Like previously reviewed Mutual Street and the like, David serves Lester's smoked meat from Montreal. Somehow the flavors are just much more alive at Wolfie's, and the steaming is much more even resulting in a much juicier product. It is a credit to David and deli-men and women everywhere when they can make an industrial product taste artesianal.

The double rye is an intelligent, if carb heavy technique. It allows for the deli-heads who prefer platters to assemble there own, less jaw exercising version of the Sandwich. I ate the smaller half a whole and divided the larger half into 2 smaller sandwiches (which kinda reminds me of the Classic Carnegie Deli Mitosis, where a singular Herculean Carnegie Deli Pastrami was turned into 8 normal sized Sandwiches)

The meat, as mentioned is very juicy, and has good hits of salt and garlic spice throughout. 

Eating this Sandwich most recently after an exam (something about enforcing Trademarks  mentally triggered deli meat in my brain, maybe it was reading about -Sandwich related caselaw e.g. Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma v. Maple Leaf Meats) I remembered just how this Sandwich triggered a life long love affair with Deli. Its still got it. 

Judgment: 8.25/10 Opas 

As well, Wolfie's offers many other deli options: 

So I suggest if your up north or just in the mood for a kibbitz and Sandwich, hit up Wolfie's.


Moe Pancer's has a long and storied family history to it. Founded by Moe in 1957, the restaurant now run (after a brief scare were I worried it would be sold outside of the family a couple of years ago) is run by Grandson Lorne. 

If any deli remains quintessentially Toronto its Pancer's.  Its meats come from local supplier Chicago 58, it is one of the last places in Toronto that serves local "Baby Beef", and it has black and white photos all over the walls showing pieces of Toronto deli (and Pancer family) history.  The waitresses are the ones of deli legend who are equal parts knowledgeable, helpful and cantankerous.

I started off by splitting a Baby Beef Sandwich. Served on Silverstein's omnipresent rye, Baby Beef is essentially milk-fed Veal Shoulder (which in the 50's  was considerably cheaper than regular beef), lightly brined, and dyed Pink/Red. The result is a much more mild version of your typical Pastrami or Corned Beef, which is subtle but delicious (but will always remain a bench player in Jesse's  pantheon of Deli Meats): 

The Corned Beef is quite possibly Toronto's best. Spicy, peppery and well-marbled,  the love and care that each brisket has undergone at Pancer's is readily apparent. Each bite is alive with hints of pimento and cracked garlic, complimented with a suitable roster of mustards. Even Jay's tie (featured below) was hungry to get at this Corned Beef. 

To liven things up, I also suggest occasionally getting the Sandwich on an Onion Roll.

All of the deli offerings are great, the mood is one of a genuine deli and each bite tastes like a little piece of history (in the Good Sense obviously, not like the meat tastes like it was around to see the after effects of the Teapot Dome Scandal) 

Judgment: 9/10 Opas

Centre Street Deli 

When I get asked by ex-pat Montrealers' were to get the best Viande-Fume substitute, I tend to refer them to Centre St Deli. Founded by Mischpacha of previously reviewed Snowden Deli, Centre Street has been keeping grizzled Montrealers at bay since 1988. 

Unlike my friends at Wolfie's, the Smoked Meat here is only hand-cut. I am of the opinion that this is crucial in deli. Although it is time-consuming and can lead to many a sprained wrist, hand-cutting ensures that each piece is well-marbled and juicy. 

The Briskets are well-steamed, hand-sliced, then delicately placed on top of rye and painted with yellow mustard.   

A warning though, notwithstanding the deliciousness of this Sandwich, REMEMBER TO REMOVE THE TOOTHPICK BEFORE CONSUMPTION.

Centre street, like Snowdon, offers the option of regular or 'olde-fashioned' (aka extra spiced) and I tend to opt for the later, as I prefer lots of that crack-like combo of garlic and pepper in my deli meats.

While it's a notch below its Mtl cousin Snowdon as well as the behemouth that is Schwartz's, Centre St is just about as close as you can get to real Montreal Smoked Meat without boarding a 5:00 p.m Via express train

Judgment: 9/10 Opas.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's a Bries - The Cheese Sandwich Post:

The first sandwich I ever truly "fell for" (In the somewhat anthropomorphic Sandwich to human sense) was likely the grilled cheese. The grilled cheese is perhaps one of the simplest Sandwiches out there and likely one of its best. It's soft, nurturing and truly serves as one of my most important comfort foods. Also, it's one of the most socially acceptable vehicles for molten cheese (nachos notwithstanding). While not an especially noteworthy iteration, I have consistently ordered the Grilled Cheese platter (along with the requisite Pea Soup) from United Bakers' since the Reagan administration.

Every country that eats cheese and some kind of bread has seen some variation of the Grilled Cheese (or is it the other way around?), whether it be the Mexican Quesadilla

The Portugese Francesina

Czech Smažený Sýr

or the Welsh Rarebit

And who could possibly forget the famous Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese, which grew no mould, and sold for $28,000?

The American Style Grilled Cheese seems to have originally popped in the 1920s, and remained open faced until the 1960s, when the top slice of bread came to dominate relevant Sandwich discourse.

Roughly 6 months ago, after launching a similarly themed restaurant, Rob Yuil opened an all-grilled cheese , all the time, Sandwich shop in Kensington, appropriately titled "The Grilled Cheese". By being a single item shop, with a limited prep area, Rob continues to fight an uphill battle. But his Sandwich delivers the Goods.

The wide variety of offerings lead to a veritable Sophie's Grilled Cheese Choice Situation:

On this particular visit, after much consternation and soul-searching, I opted for the Grill Works with Provolone, Swiss, Monterey Jack, Portobello, Roasted Red Pepper and Red Onion. Immediately after ordering, I worried that with such diverse ingredients, the Cheese factor would be overshadowed...

The sweetness of the grilled vegetables seemed to compliment the delicate balancing of selected cheeses, and it was clear that the cheese would not be outdone.

The Grilled Cheese was excellent, with a relatively even distribution of cheese, bread and veggies per bite. My only complaint was that it felt a little shy on the butter for my liking.

Overall - A very good Niche Sandwich Shop. Great selection, customizable (Bacon for $2 etc.), very good accompanying soups (last time I was there it was organic tomato, a.k.a. the Grilled Cheese Sandwiches' best pal), and a menu that will allow you to explore different options for at least a dozen visits.

Judgment: 8/10 Opas.

The Croque Monsieur, while functionally similar, has its own separate history. Roughly translated as the "Crispy Mister", legend (endorsed by Wikipedia and various Sandwich crackpots on the net) suggests that the Croque Monsieur was invented, like most wonderful things, by accident. Sandwich lore holds that it was created when a blue collar worker left a cold cheese Sandwich with Ham on a radiator - et voila.

The first recorded literary mention of the Croque-Monsieur dates back to Proust's 1918 magnum-opus À la Recherche du Temps Perdu

Or, en sortant du concert, comme, en reprenant le chemin qui va vers l’hôtel, nous nous étions arrêtés un instant sur la digue, ma grand’mère et moi, pour échanger quelques mots avec Mme de Villeparisis qui nous annonçait qu’elle avait commandé pour nous à l’hôtel des «Croque Monsieur» et des ufs à la crème…

Clearly a storied history indeed.

Run by the owners of Tati Bistro, Chabichou is a combination cheese-monger/cafe/prepared food outlet. With a wide array of cheese and liberal use of the French language, I figured this would be as good a spot as any to get the French Classic.

The Croque Monsieur is typically served with Emmental or Gruyere (I believe the latter was used) with extra layers of cheese on the top with a gooey concentration of ham and cheese in the middle. As it is French, it is also typically generously buttered.

In this particular version, the cheese was good, the ham was rich and flavorful, but the preparation felt off. Instead of frying in butter, a semi-prepared version is sent to a Subway-esque speed toaster, which gave the bread the seem unfortunate texture of the bread portion of a Toasted BMT/Garlic Bread instead of a more even pan-based golden crunch.

Still, the ingredients were very good.

Judgment: 7/10 Opas.

At no point should this post suggest that a great Grilled Cheese needs to be fancy with white truffle oil and edible gold and served w/ Caviar-emulsion ketchup. Far from it. Sometimes a slice of Kraft single and some Brian Schwartz whiter-than-white white-bread is just when the doctor ordered. But when you feel the need to get one out, there are tons of fantastic Grilled Cheese Sandwiches to be found.

After all, if the cheese isn't yours, it's Nacho Cheese.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Little Sandwich Engine that Could.

 Sky Blue Sandwiches

After being twice referred to on this site (two different mentions in the Sandwich Times), I finally decided to take the time (as 'pseudo-productive procrastination'  from exams) to review the damned place. The restaurant, named after Wilco's sixth album, snuck into Koreatown about 7-8 months ago.

Chad, the lovable nebbish of an owner, pours his heart out into every Sandwich he sells, and as we shall soon see this has both positive and negative effects.

Months ago when this curiosity of a themed sandwich shop opened, I visited the place with my girlfriend and there was nary a person in sight.

The menu has about 16 Signature Sandwiches and allows for customizable Sandwiches with choice of protein, condiments and bread (all of which is excellent and baked in-house!!!). Things looked EXTREMELY promising.

I ordered the Ham and Cheese, she ordered the Chicken Salad.

And then we waited... and waited...

After 20 mins, we were given some complimentary mushroom barley soup (which was tasty if a bit too salty) and were profusely apologized to for the wait.

Then another 10 minutes passed and Gabby received her sandwich.

While I only had a couple of bites, the Sandwich, the now off the menu "California Stars"  was excellent with bug chunks of juicy chicken breast, celery green apple and a perfect level of mayo (a rarity in any "salad-type' Sandwiches)  on served on,  fresh Whole-wheat bread.  It received a hearty two thumbs up from Gabby. In fact upon doing the research for this article, the sandwich was clearly so memorable that even 10 months after the fact she instantly recalled both the name and contents of the sandwich!!!!  

After another 5 minutes or my order, a classic Ham & Cheese came (which I believe is no longer a featured sandwich and has been replaced with the seemingly superior I'm Always in love). The sandwich was  simple, well executed and, completely proportional, a nice change for my usual heavy on the protein focus that this blog seems to take: 

                                                   The ideal 50:50 meat/cheese/bread ratio??? 

While  level of gooey cheddar made the sandwich reminiscent of a grilled cheese w/ ham, an extremely solid offering indeed.

More recently, I had "Were Just Friends", a Chicken Panini with roasted red peppers, red onions and Swiss. 

The repeat visit confirmed two things: 1) they make a very good sandwich 2) it takes a really really long time for the sandwiches. 

Between time of order and arrival, I waited approximately 40 minutes. While I am totally rooting for this guy and his Sandwich dreams, a Sandwich just can't take 40 minutes to prepare.  Perhaps Chad is too loving in his Feng Shui arrangement sandwich prep and is often working the counter,  baking bread, serving customers and assembling the Sandwiches but somethings gotta give. 

The Sandwich, on the other hand was even better than my first visit: 

The balance of the toppings was great, with the all of the flavors acting in a harmony reminiscent of the early Ruthless Records era Bone Thugs N Harmony

Again, a great balance and structure to the sandwich, with consistent apportionment of meat/cheese/topping in nearly every bite. Clearly thought has been put into this Sandwich. The peppers added a great sweetness, and the bread was just as flawless as my first visit. 


Really like the Sandwiches, Love the pro-Sandwich mantra and spirit of the place, Don't Love the wait. 

8/10 Opas 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Jesse's Deli Feature Part 2 -

To start off with an old Deli Joke attributed to  Yiddish Humorist and Deli Maven Myron Cohen:

and delivered by Harold Zapolsky


The New Yorker Deli at 1140 Bay Street kinda reminds me of that guy from High School who tried desperately to live up to the big name carved out by an elder sibling.  

The place does a number of things very right:

It has all the classics of  Ashkenazim cuisine (Kishke, Cabbage Borscht, I may have even tripped out and seen Cholent there) + just about everything else you can imagine .The Menu is so in depth, it evokes the   Pickle Barrel's 7 volume Magnum Opus 'Remembrance of Delis Past".  It has Gluden's Spicy Brown Mustard (IMHO the only deli brown mustard out there,  really worth fuxing with). It also has Dr Brown's soda, and while I opted for my go-to deli side-kick black cherry,  I'd imagine if any Canadian Deli carried Deli-legend and Soda Pop Curiosity Dr Brown's Cel-Ray celery flavored soda, it'd be them.

But alas amongst all this inspiring indicia of quality  hope,  the actual Sandwich itself left a lot to be desired. Stale rye and industrial tasting corned beef, were not helped  by a poor slicing job which left 1/2 of the sandwich very dry and the other half almost pure gristle.

The Mustard was probably the best part

Judgement: 5.5/10 Opas

Despite a relatively weak rating, I still find myself here from time to time, why you might ask?

Good location, Pretty good breakfast, decent chopped liver, and very serviceable corned beef hash   (I mean a man can't live on Sandwiches alone can he?)


Caplansky's is more like the new upstart kid in school, who is getting all of the attention from the opposite gender.

It has received shout-outs in Gourmet Magazine, is being touted by the New York Times as one of the Young Turks out to take deli back to its "roots", and is one of the most discussed Toronto restaurants on Chowhound. Yet on the other hand, when I talk with other deli-loving Sandwichites, people seem to go out of their way to disparage the restaurant to me. 

Simply put, in MY humble opinion Caplansky's serves (when you get the right cut) an excellent product.

A few talking  points:

  • Schwartz's ≠ Caplansky's,  Caplansky's ≠ Schwartz's. While they are both of the "smoked meat" tradition of deli (vs Corned Beef/Pastrami/Salt Beef traditions), they are pickled, spiced, cured and smoked in different ways.  Apples and Oranges, and if you step into Caplansky's expecting to taste Schwartz's you will be pretty disappointed
  • Caplansky's deserves props for their end to end dedication in preparing their product. Its just about the only place in Toronto that does it and you can taste the love and effort put into the briskets, as well as other homemade classics like the Smoked Meat Knish
  • The consistency issue: just like how every snowflake (or at least what the conspiracy theorists at the National Snowflake Institute have led me to believe), no two smoked briskets will be the same. To quote Schwartz's Owner/Self Proclaimed Deli Curator Hy Diamond in Save the Deli "You'll never get the same sandwich twice because it's natural meat here. It's the opposite of McDonald's. Every Brisket is different, so every time you eat a sandwich it's different. And sometimes, you'll get one that just melts in your mouth,
This particular sandwich (of the 5 or so I have had at Caplansky's since they moved from their spot in the Monarch to their new fancy digs) was that melt in the mouth one. 

Smoky, juicy with a perfect rush of saltiness and pepper.  The sandwich, ordered medium-fatty uses Silverstein's rye, who pretty much have the Toronto Rye scene on lockdown.  Every bite got better and better

The meat, was skillfully hand-cut against the grain with perfect levels of marbling. These days, with hand-cut deli replaced my the machine (aka both of the Toronto entry's in Deli Feature #1), quality meat slicing is becoming a lost art. Not so at Caplansky's where seasoned slicers of Toronto deli lore have found a place, with Zane himself slicing (and sweating profusely when doing so) when needed.  The well selected condiments (choice of Toronto Mustard All-star Kolzcik, French's or a grainy home-made version) provided a perfect finish to a damn-near perfect Sandwich.

Bonus Points go for making a very gutsy smoked meat poutine (which thankfully he didn't have the Chutzpah to name Jew-tine). After 4 years of eating potuine/smoked meat at an alarming rate in Montreal, this is one of the first times I think I seen smoked meat actually aid the taste of a poutine, with cutting board smoked meat leftover making for a spicy smoky gravy.

Judgment: (when you get the right Brisket) 9.5/10 Opas  - (an off-sandwich is probably more in the 7/10 opa range).

Overall I have lots of love for Caplansky's. Occasionally the mustachioed hipster service sucks, and sometimes my sandwich has been dry/too salty. But when they are on, THEY ARE ON.

Deli Feature Part 3 will be features the best delis of uptown Toronto including: Moe Pancer's, Wolfie's, and Centre Street Deli

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sandwich Archive Selections and Winnipeg Wackyness

Unfortunately exam crunch time has got be to bogged down for one of usual verbose, William Faulkner meets Fred de Luca posts where a rhapsodize lovingly about all aspects of Sandwich lore (wait I'm starting to do it).

Instead here are a cpl of Sandwiches which were decent but did not merit entire posts:

Egg Salad from MBCO (Montreal Bread Compnay)'s now defunct Rosedale Location.

Note that the Egg Salad is really more of a "deconstructed hardboiled egg"

Comments: A little heavy on the mayo, great pumpernickel bread, mixed feelings about use of lettuce (added crunch bet well a little foreign), could have used better spicing of Egg Salad

Judgment: 6/10 OPAs

Here are some Sandwiches and Quasi-Sandwiches I consumed during last August's Great Canadian Sandwich Meet n Greet, aided in large part by noted fresser Daniel Julian Palitsky

First Sandwich consumed was an early morning Sausage n Egg from regional Fast Food Joint: Salisbury House  aka Sal's

Comments: Processed Cheese, Breakfast Sausage and Fresh Cooked Eggs w/ a side of Hash Browns is like the VIP version of most fast food breakfast. Also, the greasy breakfast sandwich represents one of the few times that I believe processed cheese is superior to the real thing. Pillow-y  soft bun gave this a very nurturing feel for first thing in the morning

Comment's 7/10 opas.

In the realm of  Quasi-Sandwiches, I consumed (or at least attempted to consume) this ill-advised, Thisiswhyyourefat-esque monstrosity at Johnny G's in Winnipeg, after a Bar Mitzvah reunion type night at local watering hole Alive:

The Chili-Burger is just what it sounds like: A burger, smothered/covered/sandblasted with Chili Sauce (of the  smoky ground beef variety, I don't recall seeing a kidney bean anywhere near this thing)

5 bites later I think all I could achieve was this

Comments: Chili sauce could have had more flavor be it smoky, spicy, etc (adding ground beef flavor to burgers seems like redundancy of the highest order). Burger itself was dry and overcooked.

Comments: 5/10 (though I have heard that this particular restaurant pales in comparison of other Chili burger Meccas in Winnipeg)

Finally my favorite Sandwich of the Winnipeg trip had to have been from Lovey's BBQ  .  A young upstart trying to bring real southern BBQ (and clearly succeeding) to the 10 time Slurpee Capital of the World .

and they succeeded, making one of the tastiest Pulled Pork Sammies I have ever eaten:

Comments: Perfectly sour cole slaw, equal parts sweet & tangy barbeque sauce served as perfect compliments to Stellar Pulled Pork. Clearly this pork had been through a serious journey to get to my plate. Meat was succulent, and had great levels of smoke to it (which tends to separate truly divine pulled pork from the pretenders). The bun served as an adequate conduit the aformentioned elements and thus served its role.

Judgment: 9/10 Opas


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Sandwich Times - Volume 6

1. People, People, enough about KFC double down. 

I know it exists, I know its really savage, I know it pushes the limits of Sandwiches as interpreted through Article 31 of The Vienna Sandwich Convention, 

It's the Snakes on a Plane of Sandwiches... 

  • Both were discussed, early in their development stages, on the net
  • Both caught internet/blogsphere fire,went extremely viral, and were launched to extreme news coverage from both new and traditional media 
  • Both the presence of actual snakes on a airplane and the double down have a tendency to increase sodium levels   
  • Both are probably what you would expect them to be (One has Sam Jackson being really Sam Jackson-y, the other has the colonel's best + bacon + swiss) 
  • Neither are going to have a lasting impact on anyone. 

2. In a news story that is equally ridiculous, a man recently dislocated his jaw on a giant sandwich:  

The sandwich in question, from regional U.S. sandwich chain "Which Wich", was named "The Wicked" which (sorry for all the W's) contained: Turkey, Ham, Roast Beef, Pepperoni, Bacon, Cheddar, Pepper Jack & Mozzarella. This clearly was not enough for Chad Ettmueller, who ordered "Double Meat, Double Cheese"...

Surprisingly , instead of suing (as is the tendency in the sandwich-crazy litigiousness of the U.S. class-actions), they seemingly decided to turn it into a commerical instead? 


3. A new feature in the Sandwich times is a posting of the analytics from Canwiches, to give you the who (reads this blog), what (are they reading), where (do they come from), and how (the hell did they get to an obscure blog about sandwiches) of this Great Canadian Sandwich blog. 

The following google searches lead people to Canwiches (in no particular order) 

1. chowhound mutual street deli 
2. henderson county cold cheese sandwich
3. best canadian sanwich shops 
4"i'm messing up your google search stats" OR canwiches 
5. the canadian sandwich 
6. chopped liver sandwich Montreal

4.  For anyone whose ever been interested in how to construct the most famous hilarious oversized sandwich, 
the dagwood, 

Here it goes: