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Disappointed with Caplansky's

I feel like the little boy pointing out the emperor has no clothes on, what with all the raving about Caplansky's smoked meat lately. I'm an ex-Montrealer, and I LOVE Schwartz's, and so far the only thing edible here has been Centre st. deli's smoked meat, but yes I realize it's Lester's, etc -it's just better than anything else.

Then Caplansky's arrived -probably the only one in the city actually smoking his own briskets. I've really wanted to like it, but just tried it a second time, and won't be returning. The first time, a couple of months ago, the sandwiches were too dry, but still tasty, and from all the Chowhounder's reports, it sounded like he's been tweaking and improving. So I went with my wife this past saturday with high hopes. This time the sandwich wasn't overly dry, but the SALT almost killed me! Both my wife and I found it incredibly salty, and I even gave the half sandwich we took home a try the next day (cold) - I ate it slowly, really trying to see if I'd been wrong, but no, it was salty in a strange kind of way.

On top of that, the cole slaw we got was almost inedible -it seemed the batch hadn't been stirred, or left to marinate, so there was so little dressing that it was like just eating raw shredded cabbage. Also, the fries were better than our first visit, but the kosher salt on it was overdone (and I like salt on fries!), so between that and the sandwich I felt I needed to stick my head in a bucket of water.

We tried the cabbage borscht, and I liked it, although there was almost no cabbage in it, and the broth didn't have the richness that it should.

Anyway, there's my rant - maybe we just got a bad batch, but have any other people found it unpleasantly salty??

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  1. FresserGuy, you'll find was discussed recently in this thread:

    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/549562

    1. FresserGuy,

      When I had my Caplansky's meal, I too found the meat to be a bit salty. I oftentimes find most cured meats to be too salty, as well as smoked meats. This one was a bit saltier than most, but it was still bearable as the fries were not oversalted, nor was the borscht that time.

      some photos to show the quality of the meal I had
      original post: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/555111

      However, the fries were not over-salted (IMO) the time I had it. But I do find that consistency is key, and it appears that the batch you had may have just been below par - which is unfortunate and should be unacceptable at restaurants. Sorry to hear it was disappointing.

      Cheers and to Happy Future Eating

      1. I haven't noticed a salt problem, but it has cropped up in recent posts. I wonder about the curing, and whether it is 100% controlled. Zane stated, in a previuos post, the Butcher Shoppe is the source. They provide cured briskets (see their web site) which anyone can buy, spice, and smoke. It is possible there has been some irregularity in the curing, hence, over-salting for a particular batch. A temporary problem, easy to fix, and probably addressed already.

        2 Replies
        1. re: jayt90

          The briskets are cured in house. The only explanation I can surmise is that some are getting overcured. I haven't run into this problem, but it can certainly happen. It has happened on occasion with my own cured meats.

          Several different things can cause a given piece of meat to cure faster or slower than expected, or to cure unevenly. That's why injected chemical cures are so popular among meat processors. These cures are much more predictable, but not necessarily the best tasting.

          1. re: embee

            I was thinking overcuring was an issue. It could very well be that a bunch of people had sandwiches from the same batch of overcured briskets.

            I had a very salty one about a month ago. Excessively salted. But that's one sandwich out of 6. I had another last night and it was back on track, if only a little dry. Overall, i don't see any reason to press the panic button.

        2. We were there on Saturday as well and our sandwiches were definitely beyond our salt tolerance, and we like salt. Other times we've had Caplansky's the sandwiches weren't as salty. I'm guessing that the recipe is still in progress, but Zane seems to read the posts and I'm sure he will work it out. It is definitely an art to get it right.

          1. I was there last week and had no complaints over the salt content or coleslaw.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Rudiger

              I have had issues with over salting both of meat and fries.
              It will take some tweaking to nail it and tactful comments to Zane will help.
              Please encourage the guy, I wish there were more chefs out there trying to put as good a product on the table.

              Many chefs have salting problems when working in a very hot kitchen because they sweat like crazy, lose salt and then crave it.
              Also, when they taste their food they taste small amounts rather than eat a whole sandwich. The first bite of an over salted item can be good but the 10th bite can be unpleasant.
              I have not had over salted meat at Caps. but he could lighten up on the fries. After all there is salt on the table.

            2. I agree with you. Still love the sandwich, though. The key is to ask for it without their homemade mustard and use the honey mustard instead. Works for me.

              6 Replies
              1. re: currycue

                Hmm. Seems to me like quite a few people have issues with the housemade mustard.

                I don’t think there should EVER be a default mustard spread on a sandwich, housemade or not. Customers should ALWAYS have a choice. To me at least, there’s no debating this. Sometimes, I don’t even feel like mustard on the entire sandwich, just half. Why mustard doesn’t come on the side, or placed at the tables is beyond me. Perhaps a cost issue? At any rate, that is my feeling. At the very least, customers should have a choice…. there should not be a default, especially if posters have had dubious things to say about the housemade mustard. It would save the kitchen work too!

                1. re: magic

                  A spread of mustard is really a sauce added by the cook or chef. It's their choice. You may ask for it to be omitted, but otherwise it's like getting Dover sole with a mornay, and it is their choice. You can always vote with your feet, but I prefer to let the cooks put their best effort forward.

                  1. re: jayt90

                    I like the house mustard, I don't ask for a different topping on my sandwich

                    If I get sliced meat for take-home I just use plain yellow hotdog mustard

                    1. re: jayt90

                      I disagree. Mustard is not a sauce. It is a condiment. Condiments are meant to be optional. Most delis, in fact the overwhelming majority I’ve been to in my day, serve smoked meat sans mustard. For a good reason. Some people have a strong aversion to mustard, and most like to regulate how much is put on their sandwich. When I was at Caplansky’s I had no objection to the amount of mustard on my smoked meat. It was perfect. But that is not the point. The point is not all customers have the same palate. Some like lots of mustard, some like just a little, some like none at all. Most delis let customers decide what is best suited for them. And if not, they should. Mustard is not a sauce, and should not be a signature item forced on customers without their asking.

                      And at the very least the default mustard should not be the housemade one. Made from scratch though it might be.

                      Listen, this is not an attack on Caplansky’s, it’s a suggestion. And a valid one. Because like you say, people can always choose not to go if they don’t like the way things are done there. But in whose best interest is that? Caplansky’s?

                    2. re: magic

                      Zane is VERY proud of his mustard. I don't think it's about cost. Indeed, if you look into Jewish deli history, there was a time when any self-respecting deli had it's own signature mustard. However, I'll agree that Zane's is an acquired taste.

                      There are also implications that go beyond individual taste buds. People from Montreal expect yellow "ball park" mustard on a smoked meat sandwich People from New York City tend to expect spicy brown (typically Gulden's). Some people who order hot mustard expect Nance's while others expect Keen's, or a German Mustard, or a Dijon.

                      If you don't want a whole grain, sweet/tart mustard on your sandwich, order it without. There's a choice of at least three other kinds - usually yellow, Dijon, and honey - on the table or available on asking.

                      Personally, I'd serve the sandwich naked and let each customer choose as the default. At the moment, the house mustard is the default.

                      1. re: embee

                        Don't get me wrong, I LOVE the fact he takes pride in his mustard, in his creations. We all do.

                        At the end of the day though, I don't want anyone's pride choosing what I eat. I want to choose what I eat.

                        They should absolutely be naked. I just see it as such a non-issue and easy fix.

                  2. While we are on the topic of constructive (and loving) feedback, I’d like to add my discomfort with adding smoked meat to most of the sides. Now, I’ll be the first to admit I have not yet tried (but will quite soon) the borscht with smoked meat, the knishes with smoked meat, or the poutine and gravy laced with smoked meat. I think it’s good to put your own stamp or twist on things, but I don’t think reinventing the wheel all the time is need, or likely what Caplansky customers are even looking for. I mentioned the smoked meat twist on poutine to a poutine fanatic friend of mine and she was aghast. To be honest, I agree with her, and I’m not even a poutine fan to say the least. I think if you’re trying to meet the demands of your customers, then meet the demands of your customers. Give them what they want, not want they want, but with a condition. From what I understand, people are going nuts over the borscht so I’ll leave that alone. But smoked meat as an element in poutine? I don’t know… to me it seems….. not so much. Smoked meat in the knishes sounds interesting, but I’d prefer it if it was strictly potato, shmaltzy fried onions, salt and pepper. That’s it. Real old country. How it should be. Maybe do a separate smoked meat knish as another item, but let the potato knish stand alone. Again, I haven’t had it yet, but to me, this seems reasonable.

                    Besides, smoked meat that is actually more like southern brisket in poutine and knishes? Just doesn’t sound right. Especially for those who are purists and looking for something traditional. But hey, it’s not my place to decide that. It’s not my business model.

                    I’d just suggest taking it easy on incorporating southern style brisket into new items that it might not pair ideally with. Especially when it is not what is being asked for.

                    And I say this all with total and absolute respect for this establishment and its promising future…

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: magic

                      Regarding the salt factor -- I was there yesterday (and tried the poutine) and the salted meat is no longer a factor.. I am still mad about the $14 I spent on a lb. of take-out about a month ago, it was inedibly salty and got thrown out

                      I am not a fan of the smoked meat in the poutine. I found the gravy to have an underlying "somewhat odd" flavor, I guess I am one of the suckers for just traditional chicken gravy over some nice curds. Of course -- I can only speak for myself though.

                      This was probably their first real pot of gravy and I'm sure it will only improve! Glad to see the meat is back also

                      1. re: magic

                        I'd serve the sandwich without pre- applied mustard. I wouldn't touch the borscht recipe, which is, arguably, the best I've ever tasted. I'd serve the smoked meat as an optional layer on the poutine, rather than putting it in the gravy. But it ain't my resto.

                        If anyone remembers my original post, on another thread around three hundred or so back, I'm the guy who always wanted to open a deli but never did. Zane's the one who did it, which earns my big time respect. But I also know that most people aren't saying anything about things which displease them. Some customers will always have something to kvetch about, but I think he'll deal with real issues and good suggestions very seriously.

                        1. re: embee

                          Well said, there is certainly a difference between kvetching and legitimate, well thought-out constructive feedback. I think a sensible business owner will know the difference. But at the end of the day, like you say, it’s not our restaurant…

                        2. re: magic

                          A classic poutine should not have smoked meat in it, but pretty much every smoked meat place in Montreal offers a poutine with smoked meat, as well as places like La Banquise (hey, hot dogs aren't an element of poutine either, but they wind up in it sometimes). So a "smoked meat poutine," while not the classic dish, is certainly authentic Montreal.

                          I went out and tried the poutine (as well as a sandwich), and it was acceptable for Toronto. The fries (while great on their own) are not a poutine patate frite. The gravy is not the traditional chicken gravy. The curds did not squeek. While this might seem like a terrible poutine for some, the combination was actually quite good. It's not the best poutine on the planet, but for Toronto, it's pretty good, and with our comments and suggestions, perhaps it could become a great poutine. Non-squeeky curds are still better than grated cheese, and the gravy with smoked meat is still better than a heavy, cornstarched, beefy gravy.

                          The sandwich was good. No oversalting (out of four sandwiches so far, I haven't had this issue). I have had issues previously with the sandwich being dry, and this time it was a tad dry as well, though not overly so.

                          I commend Zane on his product. I certainly think that people on this board think he's a hero, and, in a way he is. I don't think his product is the greatest, nor would I prefer it over Schwartz's, but that's not the point (or a valid comparison). I have had nothing but good smoked meat sandwiches (though others have suffered oversalting and unbearable dryness), so I can't complain.

                          Like any artisan product, Caplansky's smoked meat is bound to suffer from some sort of inconsistency, especially as the business is starting off. Is it a replacement for Schwartz's? No. Will it ever replace Schwartz's? No. Does Zane care about his product, and ensuring that it is the best it can be? Emphatically so. I hope he doesn't clutter the menu too much, but he is definitely giving a great effort to produce an excellent product and listen to his consumer.

                          Is the house mustard great? I'm not sure. I am personally a fan of ballpark mustard on my smoked meat, but I do like mustard in general, so I have no problem with Caplansky's.

                          Though it's pretty far out of the way for me, I will keep returning, because I think it's a good product and the man deserves support. Would I recommend it to friends looking for a Schwartz fix? Maybe, not not as a replacement for Schwartz's. I would recommend it to friends who are looking for a good product with a lot of care put into it, at a reasonable price, which (referring to the meals I have had there) is really tasty.

                          I really love Schwartz's. I don't love Caplansky's to that level, and I don't crave it randomly throughout the year, but I, like others, don't see Caplansky's as a Schwartz replacement. I see it as someone who is dedicated to making delicious food. The problem is that people are referring to it as a replacement for Schwartz's, or Montreal smoked meat in general, which it is not. If you go there expecting Schwartz's, you will be let down, just like if you go to Splendido and expect Pierre Gagniere.

                          1. re: tjr

                            Not saying that I wouldn't love fresh squeeky curds on my poutine but...

                            A couple of weeks ago half of chowhound went on a search in the GTA for squeeky curds and pretty much came up empty handed.

                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/535494

                            And BTW, huge supporter of Caplansky's and the passion being poured into it.

                          2. re: magic

                            Oh, foo. I've been to plenty of places in Quebec that offer a "poutine Italienne" which features a tomato/ground meat sauce on top of the fries and cheese. I don't have a problem with Zane trying to make things his "own". Sure, he might be wise to offer a plain and a smoked meat version, but seriously: if he hadn't offered it first, who would have asked for it?

                            And you owe it to yourself to try the borscht - it's fantastic, and the little bits of smoked meat fall into what our Louisianan friends call "lagniappe".

                            1. re: KevinB

                              I think that’s kind of what I was trying to say, so forgive me if I’ve sent out the wrong message. If poutine with smoked meat is going to be offered, a traditional poutine should be as well. That’s what I meant.

                              I was there yesterday and did indeed try the Borscht. It was lovely. A very nice soup. I was sad there were no knishes yesterday:(

                              Hadn’t been in a while and I was surprised to find how much the smoked meat had changed since I was last there. It was still wonderful, but a lot less “southern smoke” than before. To me at least, it seemed more Montreal in taste. Maybe it was just this batch, I don’t know. But to me, it was a more traditional smoked meat sandwich, as opposed to the southern style taste I’d had a while back. Either way, both were great. I can see what people were saying about the salt. Although I don’t think the meat was overly salty the salt was certainly more pronounced than last time. Again, not oversalted, but certainly seasoned well.

                              I also tried the house mustard. I liked it! Ordered my sandwich sans mustard, but ended up putting the house mustard on most of it. I actually liked it better than the standard yellow mustard, which surprised me, as I normally go for standard yellow on my smoked meat, if any mustard at all. House mustard was a nice condiment. Didn’t find it overpowering at all. A nice compliment to the sandwich.

                              Next time I hope there’s knishes! Can’t wait to go back.

                          3. From speaking with Zane on numerous occasions both in the restaurant and elsewhere I can tell you that if you have ANYTHING to tell him that will help him improve the quality of product, then do so. He wants to and needs to hear if there are issues with the salting, the gravy, the coleslaw and anything else. He's pretty damn passionate about what he's doing and wants to ensure that the quality is as high as possible.

                            So if you do go and find the meat too dry, too salty or too thin, say so. If the fries are oversalted or the coleslaw isn't to your liking, say so. If you think the gravy needs some work, say so. Zane is the guy in the kitchen, he's very approachable and he needs to know.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: escoffier

                              i dropped in last week..had the med fat and slaw...both were good, no salt issue's...i have been going to the monarch for years..veal next door ..up for a pint and all is good..having zane in house is bonus...and corey at the bar all is good..as the above post says, 'the man is trying' and honestly both times i have been in to eat he has come by and asked how things were..how many places can lay claim to that.

                            2. Went back to Caplansky's, I was in the area. I'm just going to address new topics that were raised on this "Caplansky" string of posts.

                              1) I agree that mustard is a condiment and is a matter of choice. In Montreal, the default on deli sandwiches is a "brushing" of yellow mustard on the top bread, almost to the point that you can't even taste it. Every deli puts out mustard on the table so you can add to your level of satisfaction. For take-out, if you don't say "extra mustard", you won't taste the default. I respect Zane making a home-made mustard, but the staff should default their service by asking "yellow or house mustard" - Every time someone orders a sandwich (like a wing place asking "medium or suicide?"). My American relatives always insisted on Gulden's Mustard on their deli in Montreal, and they were the exception to the yellow mustard standard. I dined in for the first time and ordered my sandwich bare, and was handed a tray of 3 choices of mustards - it was all good.

                              2) My cole-slaw looked appetizing and I was excited to dive in to home-made slaw. I was dissapointed. It tasted like simple raw shredded cabbage. I was expecting a home-made vinaigrette dressing. Honestly, without dressing, it's completely pointless to serve the slaw. Everyone knows my deli-going experience, and I always noticed at ALL deli's, most people leave over 90% of their plate or cuppette of slaw - it's more decoration than a side. I always thought "imagine serving cole-slaw with home-made dressing and having people craving the slaw instead of having it be decoration". I guess I still have to wait.

                              3) I heard many people mention that the fries are too salty. I disagree. This was my third fry order and third time that I added a little bit of salt to my fries. (Delicious).

                              4) I knew that poutine was added to the menu. I love plain crispy greasy fries with my deli and Zane delivered for the 3rd consecutive time. Yes, I am from Quebec - and yes, I've had my share of poutine and I miss having it, however, for my personal deli experience, it doesn't go with deli. If I lived in the area, I would pop in once in a while to get a poutine believe me. Whenever I have had poutine in the past, it was the main focus of the meal (being that it is soooooo rich, and I usually ordered a 'family-sized' for myself) - so when I go out for deli, I want the focus to be on the sandwich, not on the side dish. Just my personal preference.

                              5) On the authenticity of poutine if it has bits of smoked meat: Definitely still authentic!! The general rule is that if you add anything to poutine that will raise your cholesterol level the authenticity remains intact.

                              6) The sandwich tasted "ok". It was less salty than the last time. I'm just not adjusted or addicted to the flavour of the meat yet. Clearly, I want to be !!!!!!

                              1. I'm a Caplansky's fanatic, but I do have to agree, the salt has been dialed up a little too much lately for my taste. As has been noted, Mr. Caplansky warmly welcomes feedback, so we've put in our two cents. There was a period there where he had perfected the cure (getting it even-colored throughout) and at the time it was lighter on the salt. We'd love it it went back to that.

                                Any discussion about "authenticity" and comparisons with Montreal and Schwartz's are decidedly beside the point and cause me to tune out instantly. This is uniquely Zane's interpretation, and it's superlative. The rest of you: train fare to Mtl is $123.90 return -- bon voyage eh.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Brennius

                                  Well I've never had a problem with the fries being salty -- I love that flake salt he's using

                                  In fact, I'd like to use this for some potatoes of my own at home -- what kind of salt is this? I don't think its sea salt, kosher, or iodized because those are the 3 I'm most familiar with

                                  Cheers

                                  1. re: duckdown

                                    It's ordinary Windsor kosher salt, plainly visible in the kitchen. If you want to do even better, try using Maldon salt or, especially, truffle salt. Truffle salt, fresh thyme and rosemary, and a spritz of fresh lemon juice will leave even Jamie Kennedy's fries in the dust.

                                    1. re: embee

                                      the granules look much larger than the box of kosher salt I have here at home.. odd

                                      1. re: duckdown

                                        Every brand has different sized crystals. When you are using salt in a recipe that measures salt by volume, and where the specific amount of salt really matters, the differences can make or break the recipe. A cup of each kosher salt brand weighs a very different amount from a cup of any other.

                                        1. re: embee

                                          Thanks embee -- guess there is always more to experment with even when it comes to something as simple as salt!

                                2. Maybe not the best some of you guys have had but he does have a new business he is working on AND is most definately the best Toronto has as the moment.

                                  So kudos to him.