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Sep 4, 2006 04:52 PM

Jewish deli...

Does anyone have a good suggestion(s) of where I can find my childhood favourites (smoked whitefish, challah, pickled herring). I especially interested in stores, not restaurants...

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  1. Try Centre Street Deli...they have the smoked whitefish but not the pickled herring (they do have a pickled salmon though)


    I never tried any of the items you mentioned but their smoked meat sandwiches are pretty good...not as good as Schwartz in Montreal of course ;



    5 Replies
    1. re: thegreatfoodhunt

      the one that closed...on King West?

      There's also a "Reuben's" on Bay St at Queen's Quay.

      1. re: LikeTheWolf

        Yes, the one on King west closed. They smoked briskets in the back room that came pretty close to the Schwartz product. Some days they literally had fewer than 10 customers.

        So is the Reubens on Bay St a deli that smokes its own briskets or is it something else?

        1. re: embee

          Actually never been. It's on my to do list. I did however try the one on King West. The smoked meat was good not great. The fries were excellent though.

          1. re: LikeTheWolf

            RE: King West Reubens - The smoked meat wasn't great. The place was always dirty and the guys that worked there were less than cheerful. I believe that a TRUE deli would prosper in the downtown core.

            1. re: LikeTheWolf

              Yes, you folks are right! But the closing of this place is still a loss. I'm a nutcase on this, reduced to curing and smoking my own pastramis. Since that takes an hour of prep, 2-3 weeks in cure, 6-8 hours to smoke, and half a day to cook, Reuben's could at least satisfy a craving with much less time and effort.

              True, the smoked meat wasn't GREAT, but it was dry cured, slow smoked, and hand sliced, and it came closer to the real thing than anything else in town. And it was pretty good--and occasionally better than that. No, it wasn't Schwartz's--but even Schwartz's product is wildly inconsistent. That's an inevitable result of the old fashioned process. Lester's always tastes the same, but it never achieves greatness.

              Schwartz's is also dirty, if not filthy, has serious attitude issues, and ain't exactly customer friendly. If the owner of Reuben's knew that you understood what he was selling, he would personally choose and slice a brisket for you and throw in a large container of the trimmings. He said that customers complained that the meat didn't taste like Shopsy's or Dunn's, or Centre St -- which was, of course, the point. The waiter, Jerry, was a hoot.

              Unfortunately, they tried to emulate Schwartz's and you can't do that with a new deli on King St in Toronto. They needed nice decor, but intentionally created a dive. And there was no way their electric smoker could produce the same result as Schwartz's 80-ish years of "shmutz".

              A true deli can't prosper when people don't know or care what one is. Shopsy's, Switzer's, and even the original Pickle Barrel on Leslie St were once good delis. They all still exist--and look at them now.

              End of rant...

      2. Toronto is a sad place for good Jewish deli. I don't know why, given the large and sophisticated Jewish population, but really good deli and appetizing is hard to find.

        The best places I know of for what you mention are Daiters (Bathurst near Baycrest) and Chapmans (York Mills & Bayview in the mall). Both are good. Neither is first rate compared to what was available 30 years ago. Chapmans is very expensive. Nortown Foods (multiple locations including next to Chapmans) also sells this stuff, but I don't find it as tasty.

        Best challah in my opinion is Grodzinski (Bathurst near Daiters and Centre St in Thornhill). Harbord Bakery downtown also had great challah and possibly still does--I haven't been there recently. I don't like the challah from anywhere else, though brioche loaves from places like Bonjour Brioche and Rahier aren't that different from challah. If you like sweet challah, there's a frozen challah available from many Jewish stores and some Loblaws that you can rise and bake yourself (Lenchners??).

        Centre Street deli does, indeed, have much tasty house-made takeout. The actual deli meats, from Lesters in Montreal, are the best of their kind in these parts, but hardly first rate. However, Toronto did not support the only deli selling real Schwartz-style smoked meat -- Reuben's eatery closed last year after poor business and poor reviews from ignorant Toronto critics (some of them Jewish).

        Katz's on Dufferin makes all of their deli in house. Again not first rate, but top line by Toronto standards.

        For one-stop shopping, try the Sobey's on Clark Av in Thornhill. It's a unique store, unlike any other Sobey's. Quality ranges from good to apalling, but you won't leave empty handed. Note: much of what they sell is kosher and not available on the Sabbath.

        There are many Russian stores around Bathurst from Finch well into Thornhill. I can't recommend anything, but someone more familiar with the area might jump in.

        2 Replies
        1. re: embee

          For Jewish deli either make it yourself or content yourself with memories. One big exception Haymishe Bakery on Bathurst at Stormont, one street south of Lawrence.It is the last good Jewish bakery in town (in Canada- please comment) and has excellent non Jewish speciality breads.

          Baking may be like Broadway, not what it used to be, the talent went into medical and law school.

          1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

            Ah Vinnie, how true. Problem is, its ONLY the Jewish stuff. Other kinds of baking (and deli) in Toronto have never been better. Do try Grodzinski for bread.

        2. Pancers on Bathurst just north of Wilson has deli, but not sure if they have what you want.

          Then you can go to the actual kosher stores lke Perl's & Toronto Kosher which used to be Strolis. You also can't go there Friday night or at all on Sat.

          Let us know where you find the best : )


          1. I don't know why, but Montreal icons, or copies thereof, have never done well in Toronto. I think it is just a difference in style. By the way the deli in New York City has deteriorated, especially since 2nd Ave. Deli closed (it was the best).

            I eat at Pancers, since I am very fond of their Pastrami, with extra spice and medium fat--a new dill, fries and diet cream soda and I am transported back. Of course, back in the day we ate at Switzers, before it got franchised and destroyed. We would never step foot in Shopsey's since we considered it an inferior product. My Mother would wax poetic about the deli of her youth Eppes Essen and its 5cent sandwich. I guess all the great ones are gone, so we make do.

            1 Reply
            1. re: faijay

              Eppes Essen was the best deli I remember. I lived a five minute walk from ther and I used to every Sunday. Now you've got me craving goose salami. I've never found any since they closed about 40 years ago.

            2. United Bakers on Bathurst at Lawrence..consistently good and cheap food.. always a fun place to go for stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, fresh bagles, lasagna and yummy salad dressing (spinich).. very good.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Derek

                Must disagree strongly. United Bakers, while usually crowded, does nothing well. They do not do deli. They are a "dairy restaurant". They are not "consistently good". Better lasagna and salad dressings can be had from the frozen food section and bottle, respectively. You got it all wrong.