I’ve been wanting to meet up with Toronto Star reporter and beer expert Josh Rubin for some time. The opportunity finally arose today before my flight back to Ottawa, which was around 4PM – meaning that I had some time to kill in the afternoon. @starbeer suggested that we meet up for lunch and a pint at Caplansky’s.
Caplansky’s Delicatessen first opened shop in 2008 when owner Zane Caplansky (check out his blog) simply got fed up relying on visits with Montreal friends to get his fix of Smoked Meat Sandwiches – so he opened his own kitchen in the Monarch Tavern. After a very successful year, he had to relocate to a bigger location – on College just west of Spadina – and opened his very own full establishment.
Despite that, Caplansky’s feel like it’s been there forever. A bare brick wall covered with old pictures, neons and newspapers’ article, a worn-out terrazzo floor, and the counters displaying the meats, the pickles, the desserts. Somehow, the location can hold 70 people, and maybe an extra 40 outside, where we decided to sit under the awning to enjoy the comfortable if cloudy day.
Caplansky’s does things the old-fashioned way. Except for the bread (which is from Silverstein’s Bakery) and the pickles, everything is home made. Of course, the meat is the star. They hand rub the meat and then turn each brisket everyday for three weeks. They smoke it right there in the kitchen – and there is no doubt about that when you walk in and you’re hit by the aromas. The smoked meat is then hand-cut, which makes for thicker, more appealing slices. They also make a house mustard, in which the mustard seeds are fermented in Chimay. ((The coleslaw of fennel, red onions, garlic, carrots, cabbage, and olive oil, is also his own.))
I soon found out that there is more to Caplansky’s menu than the classic Smoked Meat Sandwich. I skipped over the breakfast menu (available all day, offering, among other things, smoked meat hash, versht and bagels.) to focus on the lunch section. In addition to smoked meat, you will find other deli sandwiches such as Smoked Turkey, Grilled Salami and Pickled Tongue, available in the regular or fresser format. Other Jewish deli classics are also offered, such as Chopped Liver, Knish, Kishka, Borscht, Gefilte Fish and Motza Balls. More modern dishes are also available, and tempting, like the Caplansky’s burger with its 70% ground beef, 30% smoked meat combination, or the Smoked Meat Poutine.
But I felt I had no choice but to go with the Smoked Meat. But in order to sample other things, I picked the Sandwich and Soup Combo ($13), and decided to go with our servers’ recommendation with the beef and barley soup. Josh picked the Tongue Sandwich and I gladly accepted his offer to get a platter of pickles ($5) on the side.
The selection of pickles included green tomatoes (super duper acid!), a whole bunch of pickle spears (thick, sour and garlicky), and a couple of different peppers, both hot and sweet. A nice selection, and we’ll forgive them for buying them elsewhere.
The soup arrived promptly.
A small but deep bowl of soup, filled to the very limit, so much so that some was dripping on the side. I don’t know why, but it made it actually looked even more appetizing.
An appealing dark red colour, this soup is hearty, thick, rich.
Lots of beef chunks, great chewy barley, deep tomato flavour, it was served piping hot with a slice of rye bread.
And let me tell you, it was simply delicious. And really, really filing. I was really glad I a resisted the Fresser – because I doubt I would have finished it.
Our sandwiches soon arrived in all their splendors. A pile of meat, a pickle, a cup of coleslaw. Simple, yet, so appealing.
Most smoked meat tastes of pickling, or worse is simply watery. But Caplansky’s smoked meat is actually quite smoky: you totally get the charcoal flavour right there underneath the spiciness from the rub. What a novel idea! A smoked meat smoked over wood! The meat was tender, but a little dryer than what you might be used to when it comes to smoked meat – which helped the rye bread hold together, as it really should. The spice level is great, it’s not too salty from the curing – reminiscent of Southern American cuisine. Out of the four available on the table, I went with the House Mustard to complement the meat. Sharp and zesty. The coleslaw was good as well.
To chase everything down, we both had a pint of Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale ($6.75). Here is a bold, hoppy beer, which include pineapple juice in its ingredients, hence the Hawaiian style. You can totally get the pineapple, which is different yet not overwhelming or too sweet.
I thoroughly enjoyed Caplansky’s and will certainly go back. (Or try to find its spin-off, Thunderin’ Thelma, a food truck roaming the streets of Toronto and recently featured on Eat St.) The food was great, the beer interesting and the service, efficient despite how busy the place was.
Next time, go for the borscht. It’s a cabbage and tomato borscht, sweet and tangy and with little flecks of smoked meat. Oh god, gotta get me some.