Caplansky's Amazing Smoked Meat Sandwich
So today my coworkers discovered one of Toronto's most amazing sandwiches... it is a homemade smoked meat sandwich. You must try it.
Caplansky's offer's awesome sides in addition to the smoked meat sandwich. The fries are some of the best I have had, the gravy is also homemade and reminds me of authentic jamacian jerk gravy (it is homemade from the smoked meat), the split pea soup was delicious, and the cole slaw was refreshing In fact, I found the whole meal rather light and well portioned. Of course we were all in a protein induced food coma for the rest of the afternoon.
These sandwiches are currently sold from a table on the second floor of the Monarch. But based on how busy they are, my guess is that they'll be finding new (larger) digs soon.
356 College Street, Toronto, ON M6J, CA
We finally made it to Caplansky's last weekend.
Loved the room and the food, but we found our first bite of smoked meat... disconcerting. While we were anticipating a "better" version of the deli sammy we've known and loved, what we actually got was an innovation, perhaps a revelation. Spicier than expected, hand sliced and doctored with Caplansky's own mustard, we found the meat mixed the familiar fave with the taste of southern bbq to produce something with a unique taste and texture... and delicious-ness.
Loved the borscht and the slaw, fries were mediocre (did we hit an off day??)... can't wait to get back for the pea soup, knishes and hopefully a shot at the smoked turkey.
For photos and a longer report:
Caplansky's blog definitely shows signs of growing pains in the small kitchen. The Monarch has been extremely busy since the Globe and Mail review, and Zane has run out of cured meat supplies several times, even closing down for three days while brisket curing caught up.
And there are indications that Zane may be looking for larger quarters.
This might not be a good thing. The crowds will settle down after awhile, and the appeal of a small, dedicated crew in a quaint tavern will remain.
Parking is manageable on Clinton, and I enjoy going to a unique spot with good food and beer, and no pretensions or trendiness.
We went last week and our thoughts were:
Fries - Great
Borst (sp) - very good
Smoked Meat - really enjoyed the 'difference' in the flavour *but* my 'fatty' sandwich was maybe 6 out of 10, my girlfriends lean/medium was very dry. I actually tried half of hers and had to wash each bite down with water.
The smell in the stairway was .... let's call it ... bathroom deodourizer.
I'm not sure why The Monarch sometimes gets flack. I've never thought of it as an unkempt spot, it's perfectly fine, not at all dank or dingy or smelly. It’s actually quite bright and pleasant. If you think The Monarch is bad, yeesh, you should see some other spots. There's nothing wrong with it at all. Take it for what it is. And even for what it is, believe you me, you could do A LOT worse. It’s fine.
I will say that my 3rd visit to Caplansky’s today echoes yours in some respects. My sandwich, which I ordered fatty, was a 6/10. I will say I love what Caplansky’s has done, and I accept that artisinally-done food will have consistency issues, especially when the business is young. With that in mind I’d have to say that this 3rd visit was my least impressive in terms of smoked meat. It was cut nicely, I just found it a fair bit leaner than I would normally like, which made it seem drier and without as much robust flavour as my previous 2 visits. It didn’t seem as fatty and succulent as I know it can be and has been. Also, I know smoked meat isn’t served piping hot, but my personal tastes would respond better to it being served warmer. This goes for my previous visits as well.
I wasn’t overly thrilled with the house mustard, I found it a bit sharper than on my last visit in October or so, when I remember it being sweeter. This time the same amount of mustard completely overwhelmed my sandwich and I had to take most of it off. Hey, some people appreciate the raucous bite of dijon… I think I prefer my mustard with a bit less zing. A bit sweeter. But that’s just me. The mustard was well made, just not as sweet as I remembered it. Next time I’ll be more careful in how I apply it.
The fries were great. I enjoyed them even more than when I first had them in July. And a very generous portion I might add. Ditto for the coleslaw, it seemed more flavourful today than on my first visit in July. But still crunchy and bright and fresh.
I was thrilled to finally try the knish (they were sold out on my previous visit). It was pretty good. Different than I was expecting. I kept on expecting a potato knish, I totally forgot there was meat in the mix. Still, it was good. The meat in the knish tasted more like flunken (beef shortrib) than smoked meat. Am I wrong on that? Flunken isn’t cheap, and is the food of champions so if it was flunken….. good on ya. In any case it was good. I ordered my knish gravy on the side. I’m not sure it added anything to the knish, and I think could’ve used with some more seasoning itself. It was fine and interesting, but I guess didn’t rock my soul to its Rock Lobster core. The pastry was nice and crisp, but I guess not a buttery puff pastry which I was expecting and am used to, though I know there are many ways of doing knishes. Perhaps this was more boureka? That said, it was nice. I thought it could have used a bit more seasoning (S+P) but that is my own preference, not a shortcoming of the knish.
The split pea soup was nice, but again, for me I would have liked more seasoning. But that is easy enough to adjust on my own with the salt and pepper provided. Perhaps it is underseasoned for that reason…. to let customers decide for themselves how much S+P they’d like. I like my mom’s better :) But there’s nothing wrong with coming close to mom. And really, who is ever going to beat her?! No one. That’s who.
Sampled some cheesecake, which is apparently housemade by someone on staff there. Not bad! Nothing breaking new cheesecake ground (my sister’s is still my fave) by not bad at all. I love that someone on staff made it themselves. So it was a no-brainer to try that one. My mate loved it. She is a cheesecake freak. I think a strawberry topping would’ve made it even nicer. Still, quite tasty.
Service was absolutely fine. So far on each of my three visits I’ve had three different servers. All of whom have not only been more than capable, but also really nice. Nothing bad to say about service so far. And I’m especially unforgiving about questionable service. So far service has not been an issue at all for me. The guys at the Monarch have always been nice and chill as well. Which I really appreciate. Also, I love the fact that those that prep that food serve it. That is the kind of confidence that I find beautiful in strong, assured kitchens. Love that pride and showmanship. Wish there were more of it around these days.
I really appreciate this kind of food being available to the public, especially a young downtown set who might not have been exposed to it, or have access to it otherwise. I think this is one of Caplansky’s biggest achievements so far; bringing in young people with no access to - or even interest in - smoked meat, and opening their eyes to something revered my so many. Bravo Max. Mediocre sandwich today aside I know that made from scratch means not always consistent. No problem with that all. As long as it is made with love and respect I’ll come back and bring my friends. And I will. For sure. All in all I left quite happy. Keep up the outstanding work in progress.
Wow, great review Magic-agree with your thoughts the meat can be wildly inconsistent I've had dry as sawdust to very sublime. Yea I usually find it surprising to hear of the Monarch thought of as a 'dive' bar there are much more divey places in town. I would more rather think of it as a hipster bar these days with the hipsters gravitating towards the Monarch for some fifty on tap! I am usually at the Monarch for a smoked meat sandwich from Caplansky's but I gotta say the friendly service and unpretentious atmosphere sure help to make it a comfortable and relaxing time whenever I go there.
The issue isn't that I think consider the Monarch to be the divey-est, dirtiest bar in Toronto... Its that I find it quite divey and dirty as for a place to eat my food in. What I mean is, if there was a similarly dirty bar like that, I certainly wouldn't be ordering food from there. But if its the Monarch, we're supposed to make the exception?
it just is totally not the setting I want to enjoy my smoked meat sandwich in.. And I certainly wouldn't bring my kids there... And the parking situation can be quite annoying if you visit during a time when little Italy is packed (Although it often is fine during the day)
On the last occasion the bartender was swearing like a drunken sailor, talking about things like smoking joints and bringing home a female he met here last night... which is normal bar behaviour of course -- but just reiterates my feelings on it not being an ideal location
And last but not least, my biggest problem with the place -- where is Caplansky these days? Literally on my last 3-4 visits it's just been teenagers in the kitchen. Not that that is a bad thing, because everyone needs work -- but I highly doubt at Schwartzes deli that newbies make it to the meat cutting station right away without extensive training..
Long story short; if it was up to me, I'd be out of the Monarch for certain.. just my 2cents
While I wouldn't be at the Monarch if it weren't for Caplansky's (I'm far too young to be the non-deli crowd), I don't think it's a dirty venue. There are plenty of places much worse. I'd much rather eat a smoked meat sandwich at the Monarch than anything at Sneaky Dee's, for example.
I've seen the kitchen, and it's clean. The Monarch itself is far from dirty, and the tables are cleaner than you'd get at a McDonald's. The patrons are colourful, but I don't have kids, so it doesn't bother me in the least.
The Monarch isn't actually dirty, and neither is Caplansky's kitchen.
I do think the Monarch has a "dive" atmosphe, but it sure feels different at lunch than it ever did before. The deli customers are a really interesting mix. There was a column about this in the National Post a couple of weeks ago (available on their website).
While some of those who hang out at the bar, especially at night, are not my cup of tea, the daytime bartenders are very nice guys.
Yes, the stairs are dark and smell of disinfectant. No, this place will never look, feel, or smell like a deli. From reading Zane's blog, it seems there are meat supply issues again and he needs a bigger smoker (for which there's no obvious space).
I've had three sandwiches there recently, Two were absolutely perfect. The third, though apparently in cure for four weeks, wasn't really ready to serve. That's why most delis buy their meat already cured, usually by injection, from Lester's, Chicago 58, and heaven knows where else.
Funny thing is, what you dislike about the place's ambience is exactly what makes it charming. Jamie Kennedy went so far as to say Zane managed to capture that elusive 'cool-factor' the time he visited.
Last time i visited, families were happily chowing down next to natty-haired hipsters and people were actually talking between tables in that oh-so-deli sorta way that makes places like Schwartz's great. It had a very family feel.
Fact is, retro food screams out for retro decor, not some sanitized, starbucksed or subwayed interior and while you can argue it's relative dingy-ness, everyone can agree the place feels pretty old school.
And Zane told me that when he does find a place to move into (which he's not in a rush to do since he's got a pretty good deal going right now) he'll set up shop somewhere in Kensington as a tip of the hat to it's Jewish Market past. I dig the kinda moxie it takes to stick that true to your roots and will happily eat at the Monarch until he moves elsewhere.
Oh and aside from taking Mondays/Tuesday off regularly now, he's there all the time and has his staff trained well enough to read his mind...
sheesh, this was long-winded...
To each their own, I suppose
I don't enjoy the location or atmosphere really but of course its totally up to the individual :)
I respect everyone elses views on the place... Like I said, I like the food, just don't really care for the Monarch
...If I thought parking was bad at this location though, Kensington is probably going to be twice as bad, no? Damn it
Divey and dirty? I don't think so. Zane has set up shop in an honest working bar. There's no wine list, no linen, no reservations. You go in, get some great smoked meat and other treats and enjoy the sights and sounds. I've been to Caplansky's, a lot. I've been to the Monarch, a lot. It isn't dirty in any way shape or form. Sure, the stairs are dark and might smell a bit but hey, so do most places at some time or another. I'm sure the language was colourful, but outside of church, you hear it every day, from the lowest food court to the highest end resto. It's a fact of life.
I figure if it's good enough for Madam Justice Abella, it's good enough for me and any kid I know. As to Zane's presence, bear in mind it's a one man show, things have to be bought, delivered, picked up and the like. I'm sure he'd love to be in the kitchen or meeting customers, but it's a business first. I hope he stays there for a while longer, he's brought some great food to the hood, and it's a nice change from California et al.
We'll all disagree on thing or another, fact of life. But we all (for the most part) agree that it's some damn fine smoked meat. Hell, if he were serving it at the 'cafe' at Bathurst station, I'd be there...
One thing about the Monarch experience. It is one of the last of its kind. It's not a chain, you can bring your own food in and it's not staffed by overly perky servers trying to sell you the latest flavoured shooter or frozen delicacy right from Sysco foods.
Just as an aside - I was at Caplansky's last night for the Mines Action Canada fundraiser. Packed house which is good to see. Zane went out of his way to support what I think is a very worthy cause. And...wait for it...he made a very delicious vegetarian chili. I mean really, really good. Not too fiery and there was a hint of chocolate to it...
And of course the sandwich, slaw, poutine and fries were excellent as usual.