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Oct 9, 2005 12:45 PM

Best Pastrami Downtown?

  • d

Where is the best place for a good Pastrami sandwich, or buying pastrami to take home? Ideally somewhere in the downtown area. The In-Laws say they haven't found anything in TO that makes them as happy as the pastrami in South Florida or NYC and we'd like to surprise them next week.

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  1. Sorry, not downtown, but just to give you an alternative.....

    The best deli meats I've had in TO is at Centre Street Deli in Thornhill.

    Head north on Bathurst past Steeles. Make a left at Centre. A little past Promenade mall, the deli will be on your right. Parking is sometimes tight and there was a line-up for tables the last time I was there on a Saturday afternoon.

    By the way, they have pastrami (which they refer to as "Old Fashioned") and turkey pastrami.

    5 Replies
      1. re: Dev

        Let me second the recommendation for Centre St. Deli. Have loved it for years. FInally tried Moe Pancer's just the other day and there's no comparison. Go. Enjoy. Even if you have to wait.

        1. re: Richard

          Anyone who has been to Centre Street Deli knows it is the very very best deli in the GTA. Hands down. I love my deli, and cant say enough about Centre Street, even though it takes a year to get there. IT IS WORTH IT!! Yitzes on Avenue Rd is good, but its not Centre Street. Pancer's has gone way downhill in recent years, I wouldnt even go there. Colemans, on Bathurst just norhtof Lawrence is also good, but I'd reccomend Yitzs and Centre Street (obviously) over Colemans. If you are still looking for a downtown deli, your best bets are Zupa (I think thats what it is called) which I think is on Peter Street(not sure, its been a while) or New York Deli on Bay, south of Bloor. Happy eating.

      2. re: Goober

        ...or you could go for the real pastrami good stuff at Moe Pancer's on Bathurst north of Wilson.

        I'm the sure the Centre Street Deli does decent Montreal smoked meat but for the real Toronto deli experience, Pancer's is your best bet.

        1. re: westhead

          hand carved pastrami at Pancer's is unbeatable! yum!!

      3. Try Yitz's up on Avenue Rd. Amazing deli.

        1. My company just moved to North York, which has given me an opportunity to try some of the Deli up there. I agree that the Centre Street Deli is top notch. But for pastrami take home, I would go with Hartman's Glatt Kosher Meats. Not as salty as the Centre Steet Old fashioned, and I can definitely taste the smoke.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Pantz

            Thanks, I will have to try Hartman's. Smoked Meat at Centre St is fabulous, but it really isn't pastrami.

          2. This is a pet topic of mine. I am so disgusted with the pastrami situation in Toronto that I sometimes make my own (which takes about 3 weeks plus an entire day of smoking and cooking).

            Centre Street is the best deli in the Toronto area, bar none, but it's still not first rate. I don't think they even sell pastrami. Their "old fashioned" is Montreal smoked meat, which tastes completely different from pastrami. The Centre St version is from Lesters in Montreal. It is undeniably "authentic", but it isn't even Montreal's best (since it is made using an industrial process rather than dry cured). For real smoked meat, you would need to order an overnight shipment from either Schwartz or The Main.

            When James Chatto of Toronto Life declared that Hartman's has "the finest pastrami he has ever eaten", I was quick to check it out. I can only conclude that Chatto has never eaten pastrami (except, perhaps, from a boil-in bag or a supermarket deli counter). Hartman's pastrami may be to your liking, but to me it is pathetic pastrami.

            Since the original post is a year old, I won't address the other recommendations in detail. Suffice it to say that it is hard for me to agree. Pancer's isnt bad if you order it hot, medium, hand sliced, and with extra spice. Katz's is passable when ordered medium with extra spice and "pastrami sauce". Yitz's, Colemans (except for their hash), and Zoulpys don't merit further mention.

            I heard good things about the New Yorker (Bay/Bloor) when it first opened. This was started by the guy who owned the original Pickle Barrel on Leslie in the seventies. I then heard it went downhill. I've been meaning to try them for years, but somehow never got there, so my mind remains open (though not hopeful) about them.

            12 Replies
            1. re: embee

              yeah I can attest to that about Lesters using industrial
              process lol... back during my college days, I worked part-time
              for a cleaning company, and during part of a summer they sent
              me to Lesters to clean their offices, cafeteria at
              night..they had a complete crew cleaning all the machines at
              night.. lol

              1. re: newcaveman

                they took me downstairs to show their big meat rooms where
                they were smoking meats hanging from their hooks lol...outside
                the rooms, there were big drums of spices...
                the size of a drum like the whiskey barrels you see on
                a travel/food show about whiskeys..

              2. re: embee

                Have you posted previously about making your own pastrami? I'd love to hear about the process.

                I haven't had much exposure to pastrami in the past, so I'm posting based on my limited experience. I can say that what I appreciated about the pastrami at Hartmans was the quality of the meat, the texture and the definite taste of smoke. I actually don't taste much smoke at all in the Centre St. Old Fashioned. On the other hand, I didn't taste much spicing on the Hartman's. Is this why you find it pathetic?

                I'm assuming Hartman's produces it themselves? It seems to the result of small scale, hands on operation.

                I've been to the New Yorker, but only had the straight brisket. Found it to be tender, with a nice amount of fat and that intense beefy/brisket flavour. I'll try the pastrami next time.

                1. re: Pantz

                  You may be sorry you asked, but go to

                  You can also learn a bit about smoked meat from

                  Traditional pastrami and smoked meat are dry cured with salt, a spice mixture, and nitrate (or equivalent) for 10-20 days, smoked with real wood smoke, and then steamed for hours. The primary difference is in the spicing. They MUST be sliced, by hand, while still hot. (The difference between hand and machine sliced brisket is not subtle.


                  For the record, the traditional pastrami served in New York is not made from brisket (it's called "plate") and has a flavour I have never tasted outside of New York. It is usually pickled in brine before smoking. It is completely different from either Toronto pastrami or Montreal smoked meat. The generally agreed mecca is Katz's on East Houston St.

                  If you've never tasted real Montreal smoked meat, you can order a brisket from Schwartz. Be aware that the traditional method makes every brisket taste different, and some are MUCH better than others. This element of risk is just the way it is and there is no getting around it. You must get it medium fat, steam it a long time, and slice it by hand. The slicing requires some degree of skill -- it's easy to do it wrong.

                  There is no source of traditional smoked meat in Toronto. The one purveyor, Reuben Schwartz on King St, closed earlier this year, the victim of some stupid marketing decisions, SARS, and a public (including many Chowhounds) that didn't understand what they were selling. Our loss.

                  Centre St sells Lesters smoked meat from Montreal. Since many Montreal delis serve it, it is undeniably "authentic". They know how to cook and slice it and it tastes very good. But even their "old fashioned" is not the real thing. This is an industrially produced product that is pumped with a chemical solution to cure it, though I believe it is actually smoked. The taste and texture are nothing like the real thing.

                  As to pastrami in Toronto, only Katz's on Dufferin makes their own. But this is not an artisinal product. It doesn't have a chemical taste or a weird texture, but it is nevertheless cured using a brining pump rather than by the traditional method. Though it is really smoked, little smoke flavour comes through. The end product is too lean and very dry, and must be thinly sliced by machine. It improves with a fat and spice kick from their "secret pastrami sauce".

                  The famous Pancer's does NOT make their own pastrami! They buy it, add their own spices, and cook it again. (I don't know who their supplier is, but it might be Chicago 58.)

                  As to Hartman's, what can I say? This is not pastrami. I've only had it once and I had no desire to return. It is definitely not dry cured and it may use the industrial process (which can be done on a small scale). The smokiness seemed like added smoke flavouring rather than the taste of smoke. The spicing did not exist. Is this smoke-flavoured corned beef? Maybe. But it ain't pastrami.

                  By the way, you can identify an industrial cure fairly easily. Look at the cut surface of the meat. You will see numerous puncture marks where the curing solution was injected. These are visible on the slices, but the cut face is easier to judge. Traditionally cured meat does not have any puncture marks. Note that the injection method doesn't necessarily produce bad tasting meat. It all depends on what they inject. And all smoked meat from Lesters tastes the same, which is not the case with the real thing.

                  If you look at the pictures on

                  you can see that this guy started with an industrially cured corned beef (as opposed to curing his own meat). See the meat surface toward the end (caption "Yum"). The needle punctures are clearly visible. But this pastrami undoubtedly still tasted good.

                  To see how bad it can get, try Mel's Montreal Deli on Bloor (which several Chowhounds seem to love). The "spicing" is just something painted onto the meat surface -- there aren't any actual spices -- and chemicals dominate the taste. The texture is spongy and very weird. This may have started out as a brisket, but it's sure something else when it gets to Mel's.

                  1. re: embee

                    embee, what do you think of the New Yorker Deli on Bay Street compared to the other places you mentioned? I used to like it, but it's obviously not in the same league as Katz's in NYC and Schwartz's in Montreal, which I've enjoyed many times. I'm not an expert (yet) so thanks for the "smoked meat 101" crash course!

                    1. re: Food Tourist

                      As noted in my post above, I keep meaning to try the New Yorker, but I've never actually been there. When they first opened (it's been quite a few years now), I heard some very good things about it. I have more recently heard that things have declined. I guess I need to get there and try it once and for all. I'm not expecting great things, since they definitely don't cure their own meat, but everything I do know downtown is pathetic.

                      I don't know whether it has changed hands since opening, but the guy that started the original Pickle Barrel (which was quite good way back when) came out of retirement to run the place. He was pretty picky about things. (I think the actual owner was/is? his daughter)

                      1. re: embee

                        Oops, you're right -- I'm going to blame this collapsible format that hides previous replies! However, now that I know that New Yorker doesn't cure their own meat, I'll be more likely to take a road trip if I get a craving!

                        1. re: Food Tourist

                          Well, I decided I had to try the New Yorker and made some time to get there today. Not awful, but definitely not worth a special journey.

                          The pastrami was disappointing. Tasted on its own, the flavour was more typical of a less than wonderful Montreal smoked meat than of pastrami. It was thinly sliced by machine and had the telltale needle punctures of an industrial cure and indications that a chemical solution was used (though it did not have the weird texture of Mel's briskets).

                          The flavour was weak and, on a sandwich, the meat flavour was completely overwhelmed by the bread! Not terrible, but far from chowish.

                          The rye bread was presliced and from a package and was OK but boring. I couldn't tell if it was Silversteins, but it definitely wasn't their fresh-from-the-bakery version.

                          On a more positive note, the chopped liver was tasty and the latkes were crunchy outside and creamy within. The cole slaw was the oily non-mayo (i.e., Montreal) variety and had a slight spice kick. I didn't try the turkey, so I don't know if it was dry, but a whole bird sat encouragingly on the counter. There were 5 kinds of mustard on each table.

                          1. re: embee

                            Just got back from the The Healthy Butcher on Queen St. West. They are selling a pastrami they smoke themselves for $16.50 a pound. Forgot to ask for more details on how it is made.

                            I don't know if it's handsliced, but it is sliced thickly. The texture of the meat is a little dry and flaky, but not at all tough. I expect it will become moist again with a gentle reheat. There is a good amount of nice fat and the smoke flavour is strong. As for the cure, there is a nice spice to it, but it is taking a back seat to the salt and smoke. I think the wood they used was hickory. My immediate reaction was "this is BBQ".

                            Haven't tried it in a sandwich yet, but by itself, it's pretty appealing.

                    2. re: embee

                      embee, the only thing I'm sorry about is that my mouth is watering. Thanks for the post and the links. A lot of great info to digest!

                      I've been doing Texas Style BBQ briskets for the last couple of years on my trusty Weber One Touch. I feel like I can achieve a good (and occassionaly a great) product, but it's a tricky cut to cook! It's now apparent to me that I'm going to have to invest in some serious smoking equipment and take a shot at pastrami.

                      1. re: Pantz

                        I've mainly used an electric smoker that burns pans of sawdust on a hotplate. Since the pastrami actually cooks by steaming, cold smoke works fine (though an automated, temperature controlled smoker would be nice...). It's much tricker to do a good texas-style brisket.

                        I've heard many warnings about smoking food over soft woods and I gather it may not be the healthiest thing to do. But, weird as this sounds, my absolute best pastramis have been smoked over cedar (specifically, certified pure cedar hamster litter). For Montreal smoked meat, hardwood mixtures (maple; a bit of hickory) seem to work better.

                      2. re: embee

                        embee, thank you for your posts. They have been very informative.

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