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Apr 1, 2007 04:40 PM

Looking for the best smoked meat in Toronto

Hi, anyone know where i can get some awesome smoked meat/ rueben sandwich in the GTA?

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  1. Nowhere. Yes, really.

    Centre Street Deli is ok, I guess.

    1. I don't know about "awesome" - for that you probably have to go to Montreal. But I find the smoked meat (order the "old fashioned" only) at Centre Street Deli is excellent. Also, their fries are amazing. They are on Centre Street, between Bathurst and Dufferin, a bit north of Steeles.

      If you do a search you'll probably find the old threads discussing this. But I highly recommend Centre street deli, for things other that their smoked meat. For example, they make fantastic party sandwiches (for takeout only), and you can get other tasty treats at the takeout counter, like poppy seed cookies and knishes. Their chopped liver is very good too.

      1. For a great Reuben sandwich, try Coleman's at Bathurst and Lawrence.

        1 Reply
        1. re: FlavoursGal

          Forgive my kvetching, but the state of deli in Toronto is shameful, especially given the Jewish population here.

          I have had Schwartz' meat from Montreal a few times, and I am always blown away. We have nothing like that here. I do like Centre Street, especially with the kids, but it just does not compare.

        2. It's an almost hopeless quest that has been addressed at length on other Chowhound threads. Awesome smoked meat doesn't exist in Toronto. Centre Street's medium old fashioned is as good as it gets. (Some other delis use the same smoked meat brand as Centre Street, but don't have the old fashioned variety and don't know how to cut the meat.)

          Avoid, at all costs, Mel's Montreal Deli on Bloor.

          I can't personally vouch for anyone's reuben, but Coleman's has great corned beef hash and FlavoursGal knows deli, so they are worth a try.

          28 Replies
          1. re: embee

            I agree that Centre Street is the only place in town that even approximates the medium smoked meat at Schwartz's in Montreal. There is really nothing like it in TO. I went to school in Montreal and I've eaten at Schwartz's countless times. I love it so much that my girlfriend and I make an an annual pilgramage. Okay, its supposed to be for a romantic weekend, but truth be told, it's mostly for Schwartz's (please don't tell her that!).

            In fact, I think nothing in Montreal is as good as Schwartz's. The Main, almost directly across the street, is not as good. Ben's (RIP) and Reuben's don't even come close.

            Here is the food schedule (for the summer 2007 long weekend in Mtl.):

            1) Arrive in Mtl at 8pm or so
            2) check into B&B
            3) go to dinner at L'Express, my favourite bistro in Mtl.
            3) wake up, grab the paper and go for croissant and lattes on St. Denis.
            4) Schwartz's for lunch (medium smoked meat - extra spec, karnatzel, pickle, cherry pepper, and maybe, liver entree. Don't forget the cherry coke.
            5) Au Pied du Cochon for dinner (that poutine???? you gotta be kidding me!!! Big hunk of fois gras on top with gravy laced with fois gras. Unbelievable. The seafood "Plateau" is also amazing, as is EVERYTHING on the menu.
            6) Go for breakfast as Cosmo on Sherbrooke in NDG. A real hole-in-the-wall (I think there are 8 seats at the counter and that's it!) but the food is great. There was a CBC documentary about it a few years ago.
            7) late lunch at Schwartz's
            8) back to TO.

            Then, when back at home, I go to the gym every day for three weeks! Not the most heart healthy weekend, but we walk everywhere when in Mtl., so we get lots of exercise too.

            1. re: acd123

              Sounds like my dream weekend! Can I copy your itinerary?

              1. re: redearth

                Of course. Stay at a B&B near Parc La Fontaine. Lots of good ones.

              2. re: acd123

                The documentary on Cosmos wasn't a CBC documentary(although it aired on the CBC & CBC Newsworld several times). The same director is currently doing a Cosmos follow-up documentary. BTW, there's currently out there a new documentary on Schwartz's(it apparently will show up at a Toronto film festival in May, I'm guessing it's the Hot Docs film festival).

                1. re: acd123

                  no more spec in hebrew deli. (Schwartz) or at least when i went about 2 weeks ago.

                  the waiter told me, no one orders it

                  1. re: galambo

                    I suspect that even a big time fresser might draw the line today at eating pure smoked fat. Even cheap bacon is lean compared to that spek.

                    1. re: embee

                      Maybe I exagerated a bit. I only ordered the extra spec once to try it (several years ago) and it was tasty but definitely too much. Medium smoked meat is plenty fatty for me.

                      1. re: embee

                        probably why they don't have it anymore

                    2. re: acd123

                      We have the same Montreal itinerary...except dinner at Lemeac and brunch at Reservoir. Fairmount bagels and Schwartz's for the drive home. Last time we were at Au Pied, they served a table a whole pig's head to a table that (I swear!) squealed. There is nothing cooler. We had to drive to Montreal for smoked meat when I was pregnant. Now my son loves Schwartz's. There is no equivalent.

                    3. re: embee

                      What's so hard for a Toronto deli to get good Montreal smoked meat(they don't want to do it)? I don't understand it. Several of the top Montreal smoked meat delis, don't make their smoked meat(they get a good commercial brand like Quebec Smoked Meat, or get it made according to their specs from a commercial smoked meat supplier). Same would apply to pastrami. Why is it so hard to get great pastrami outside of NYC(Katz deli in NYC doesn't even make their pastrami, like almost all the top pastrami delis in NYC)? Steaming & cutting it correctly is another matter, but sourcing great smoked meat or pastrami is more than three quarters the battle.

                      1. re: BLM

                        I spoke to the producer, Ezra Soiferman, this morning to get a copy of the "Man of Grease". I want my girlfriend to see it before going back this summer. Looking forward to his follow up doc.

                        I just researched Chez Schwartz, the doc you are referring to. There will be a screening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival on May 10th at the Bloor Theatre. Tickets go on sale on April 16. I know I will really enjoy that film. Looking forward to it. The TJFF website reports that there a serving of Schwartz's smoked meat is included :-)

                        Thanks for the info.



                        Does Schwartz's make its own smoked meat?

                        1. re: acd123

                          Yes Schwartz's make their own smoked meat(made the old fashion way). Last year, there was a book out on the history of Schwartz's.

                        2. re: BLM

                          Why bother? We had one deli that made its own, Reuben's. Toronto's restaurant reviewers, most of them Jewish, all panned the place and told their readers that the smoked meat was better elsewhere. They didn't understand what they were getting! Now's reviewer directed his readers to the appalling Mel's Montreal Deli instead! Why make the effort when it isn't appreciated?

                          Reuben's wasn't well run and had many deficiencies. Some Chowhounds dissed them and I often had to agree. But the smoked meat was the real thing and it gradually improved over time. The owner really cared and had some passion. If he saw that you understood what he was selling, he'd hand out free slices and give you a free container of trimmings to take home. He'd show you the meat curing and smoking in the back. The electric smoker couldn't reproduce Schwartz's 80 years of schmutz, but it was the only game in town. It was always edible, often good, and sometimes great. But Schwartz is inconsistent also. That happens when you make a traditional product. Tenderness is all over the map and it doesn't always taste the same.

                          Reuben's was ugly as sin, badly lighted, and uncomfortable. The service (save for one waiter) was horrendous. Their King St W location (opposite the theatres) had an impossible parking situation for take out. When the SARS scare hit, they sometimes had virtually no customers in an entire day. But the bottom line is that Toronto didn't support them. They closed their Steeles location (which should have been successful) in part because the customers kvetched that it didn't taste like Centre St, or the Pickle Barrel, or Dunns.

                          There are places that sell Lester's, arguably the best of the industrial deli products. But only Centre St sells the old fashioned version and few of the other places know how to slice the meat. Bagel House and some other places import smoked meat from Montreal, but it isn't very good to begin with and they don't make sandwiches well. Mel's is absolutely disgusting - it reminds me of chemically impregnated plastic.

                          I know Schwartz doesn't sell wholesale, but a deli certainly could bring in product from Quebec Smoked Meat. If anyone out there has a restaurant, why not give this a try and tell us on this board?

                          1. re: embee

                            The Reuben's location was all wrong. It should have been in a neighbourhood like Bathurst/Eglinton or many others. I hope that there is someone out there that will give it another try.

                            1. re: acd123

                              The King St location wasn't very good. They were counting on office lunches and pre-theatre dinners, but they never marketed themselves very well to either segment. They also tried to make a new restaurant look like a retro dive, but all they pulled off was ugly. Yes, a very bad location. But Steeles and Laureleaf could have been a hit had they known what they were doing.

                            2. re: embee

                              I remembered this deli. They originally called themselves Reuben Schwartz's & tried to mimic the exact same menu as Schwartz's in Montreal. That sent alarm bells to Schwartz's. What got Schwartz's deli in Montreal the most furious, was using the Reuben Schwartz's name(Reuben Schwartz's was the name of the founder & long-time owner of Schwartz's).

                              1. re: embee

                                Schwartz's I don't think has the capacity to produce anymore smoked meat product in its current configuration(if they wanted to expand to the wholesale market). They would have to open a separate location to fulfill their wholesale needs. They have had offers to open a location in Toronto, & even seriously considered opening a second location on Crescent street around 2 years ago.

                                1. re: BLM

                                  And I hope they don't expand. Almost every small, personal business of this type that expands or franchises ends up losing whatever made them successful.

                                  1. re: embee

                                    I have a trusted contact at Schwartz's, they won't expand anytime soon(highly doubt if they would ever).

                                    1. re: BLM

                                      What ever happened to the Briskets restaurants in Montreal? They opened up on Bishop St. in the 1980's I think, and their smoked meat was very good, made, I believe, the old-fashioned way. If I recall, they opened a couple of other locations which never took off.

                                      1. re: FlavoursGal

                                        I don't know if they are still around. They opened to raves in the eighties, but branched way out and turned the food into crap. I was in a Briskets in Ottawa in the late eighties. Yuck...

                                        1. re: FlavoursGal

                                          Briskets for most part has been gone from the Montreal restaurant landscape since you moved from Montreal, but they still have the one location on Beaver Hall(downtown Montreal). I suspect they don't make their own smoked meat anymore.

                                  2. re: embee

                                    Boy, I have to agree with pretty much everything you wrote, embee, except I would call Mel's smoked meat rubber rather than plastic.

                                    I used to go into Reuben's King Street location on a regular basis, and for the most part enjoyed the sandwiches. I got to know the owner and his sidekick Jerry fairly well; they were happy to take me on a tour of the operations when I asked. They showed me how the meat was dry brined with spices, and I got a look at the smoker in action.

                                    About the Reuben Schwartz name: the owner told me that as a kid he lived on the same street as old man Schwartz and I think he said that the widow gave him or sold him the original Schwartz recipe. That was the claim, anyway.

                                    The one thing I always found a little off-putting was their New York/New Jersey in-your-face style of hospitality; it was really out of place for Toronto. They kind of barked at the customer immediately upon entering, and I'm sure they scared off more than a few.

                                    But they were always quick to hold out a plate of freshly sliced meat for anyone to try.

                                    I've had Schwartz's on a few occasions, The Main twice, Centre Street a few times, and I don't think any of them are spectacular. In fact I think Schwartz's and The Main are not that much different, with the former being a bit better with the spices and the latter more tender. But neither spectacular (I had an uncle and aunt with their own deli in Detroit, and it remains the deli highlight for me at this point).

                                    I've had sandwiches from the Corned Beef House, The New York Deli, Pancers, etc, and while some of them make a sandwich that'll do, no one makes a great one. I can't fathom why Toronto is such a wasteland in that regard.

                                    1. re: Mississauga Matt

                                      Toronto does not have any good family run deli's that have corned beef or pastrami like they used to make. All the good Jewish delis are gone. The population is too modern. Remember Switzer's on Spadina? That tradition is gone, lost. Montreal still has some families that carry on the old tradition. Kishka?? Some don't know what it is. Panser's, OK Pickle Barrel??

                                    2. re: embee

                                      When I worked nearby I would go to Reuben's as much as my arteries would allow.

                                      I loved the meat. Just about as good as Schwatz's - the only thing like it in Toronto.

                                      It is because of the quality of Reuben's that I was so underwhelmed by Caplansky's meat. Why was everyone fawning over his smoked meat and not Reuben's - must be even better, I thought. Not even close.

                                      I miss that greasy little deli.

                                      1. re: Sui_Mai

                                        You are absolutely right, and I loved that place also. Unfortunately, as I posted above two years ago, they did almost everything they could have done to ruin their business.

                                        Their location, service, and attitude sucked and they never even tried to draw the clientele they really needed. Instead of Jewish Montreal expats and local deli lovers in general, they went after tourists on their way to the theatre.

                                        Their original Steeles location should have been a huge success. However, when customers complained that the meat tasted different from the stuff at other local delis, they essentially told the customers to get lost. Yet they never merchandised what they did have to locals who would have cared. They just chose to shut down.

                                        Jerry, the King St waiter, who I personally liked, used a shtick that frightened potential customers (mostly tourists) away from the door. Trying to "be" Schwartz was also a mistake and nearly got them sued.

                                        Whatever the means used to acquire the recipe and methods, the meat was close to Schwartz at the start and a dead ringer at the end.

                                        Caplansky didn't try to be Schwartz, or anything else. He didn't have a purchased or purloined recipe. What he did have was passion, a willingness to hear his customers, and the personal skills to be a great host.

                                        Zane also got very lucky. When ReubenS opened, a local guy with good North American media connections (David Sax) was not writing a book about the "Death of Deli". His timing turned out, by fluke, to be perfect. Most importantly, he doesn't frighten his customers out the door.

                                        Zane also got the good reviews that ReubenS also deserved. Now gave Zane a great review, but sent smoked meat seekers to Mel's rather than to ReubenS back in the day. Perhaps Now's reviewer learned what smoked meat was supposed to be between then and now.

                                        1. re: embee

                                          V. interesting. Thanks for the insight.

                                    3. re: BLM

                                      part of the reason is there is no expert SM cutters in TO. it makes a differnece on how it is cut.

                                  3. Moe Pancer's on the west side of Bathurst, just north of Wilson is definitely above average. I know, I know, not as good as anything that might be served in Montreal, but it more than adequetly meets most smoked meat or corned beef craving.