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For Really Bad Deli, Try Centre Street

I have been to Centre Street Deli several times in the pasty and found it so-so, except for the chopped liver which was very good. Last week I tried it again and it was the about the worst deli I've ever had, excepting the time in Texas where I ordered Kasha Varnishkes and ended up kasha and elbow macaroni.

I ordered corned beef and potato and knishes. I don't know if I hadn't tried the corned beef before but it had the taste and consistency of rubber. The potato knishes was absolutely bland and tasteless, little more than plain mashed potatoes in dough.

I don't know where Cenre Street Deli gets its big reputation. If I want want decent deli in Toronto, I get pastrami at Katz's. There really doesn't seem to be much else, although I haven't tried Caplansky yet.

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  1. I too found their quality has gone down hill recently?! Bought some ox-tongue from them last week which tasted very gamy and un-appealing. Totally unlike the past!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu

      For deli, Caplansky's is my Toronto favorite - it does just about everything right on its narrow menu - but Centre Street Deli is no slouch, given that it's a much more complex operation. I've had very good at Centre Street, I've had respectable, I've had indifferent, but I've never had outright bad - and if I had, it'd object immediately and am confident they'd make it right. But if you order corned beef in any deli, you're usually asking for trouble. Corned beef is, in my view, a bland, tasteless, rubbery, sissified version of pastrami and smoked meat. It's popular with tender and timid tummies, tummies that shouldn't be in a deli in the first place. Delis are for bold flavors. Anyone ordering corned beef will get what they deserve: a blah sandwich. I've never had the potato knish, so can't comment. No commercial joint will ever top my grandma's knish anyway. But I agree with the OP on the good quality of the chopped liver. But then, if you lace chopped liver with enough chicken fat, it'll invariably taste good.

      Centre Street has a good rep because it delivers the goods most of the time. Like other joints with a vast menu, it has its ups and downs. But it retains its following. Just try getting in at lunch time. The locals love the place, and - unless they're young and restless - they're not about to drive due south for about an hour for a taste of Caplansky's. No matter how superior Caplansky's might be, it ain't worth such a shlep. And then, you have to find a parking spot. Oy!

      1. re: juno

        While I still hear good things from Montreal about Snowdon, I think Centre St has lost much of its ta'am.

        It remains the best "Montreal style" deli in Toronto. However, the smoked meat tastes the same as the Lester's served anywhere else. The "stuffed chicken" is actually pork - a shonda!

        I still like some of the house made stuff. The chopped liver, loaded with fat and fried onions, is delicious (though many consider it too sweet). The beef knishes - which are more like croquettes, are also very nice.

        They remain insanely popular, but where else to go? Their heart doesn't seem in it any more. It has been more than twenty years.

    2. How do you get Katz's in Toronto?

      8 Replies
      1. re: pinkprimp

        You are thinking about a different Katz deli. Here is a thread on the Totonto Katz, known for its pastrami with sauce: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/349721

        Katz's Deli And Corned Beef Emporium
        3300 Dufferin St, Toronto, ON M6A, CA

        1. re: jayt90

          Ah! I see, thanks.

          I was thinking that maybe there was a source for NYC's Katz's pastrami! lol

        2. re: pinkprimp

          Yorkdale subway and long walk through the mall to Dufferin, or Dufferin bus. It's just south of Yorkdale on the west side of Dufferin. Closed Sunday.

          Everything is house made. The meat is machine sliced very thin and tends to be dry. Get the pastrami medium and ask for "sauce" with it.

          If you were thinking of Katz's in New York, you can't get it here.

          1. re: embee

            embee, what is this 'sauce' you speak of? Please do tell.

            1. re: millygirl

              It's the spices and liquid that they simmer the pastrami in, i believe

              i actually preferred it without it, but i only tried it once... i should try it again

              1. re: duckdown

                Fonds and pan scrapings is what they gave me as sauce. I always ordered it.

              2. re: millygirl

                It seems to, indeed, be a mixture of cutting scraps, fonds, and fat. They used to put it on their sandwiches automatically, but I believe you need to ask for it these days. It adds moisture to their meat, which tends to be quite dry, and intensifies the spicing. It isn't something fabulous, but I find it enhances their sandwich. Obviously, YMMV.

                It certainly doesn't reach the heights of the "sauce" served at Schmerel's Smoked Meat Parlour, a long defunct North York deli. They slathered their pastrami in a spicy schmaltz-based concoction. I suspect this wouldn't be very popular these days.

                1. re: embee

                  Learn something new every day, thanks embee. Interesting, but I think I will continue to eat mine straight up.

          2. I'm really surprised to read this. I'm a huge fan of Centre St Deli. Aside from Caplansky's, I'd say Centre St is the best in Toronto. Their meat is consistently moist, tender and very flavourful. And it's hand sliced, which for some reason is very rare in Toronto. Aside from the meat, the fries are delicious (not standard frozen). And other stuff on the menu is quite good, too. Very friendly service.

            17 Replies
            1. re: SMOG

              I agree with SMOG. I love Caplansky's and I love CSD. They are different, but both excellent. As for embee's comment, "However, the smoked meat tastes the same as the Lester's served anywhere else," while I normally respect his comments, on this one disagree. Wolfie's serves standard Lester's MSM, which IS good, but it differs in moistness, mouthfeel and spicyness from CSDs. The MSM recipe used at Snowden and CSD is prepared by Lesters, but using a proprietary recipe. While I like both, I prefer CSD's version.

              1. re: OTFOODIE

                I'm not in any position to argue this point, since I don't know the facts.

                I haven't been to Snowdon in years, but recent pictures suggest an old fashioned with a deeper red colour and more visible spice. Since I haven't actually been there, I really don't know.

                I'm also told (and, again, don't know for sure ) that Snowdon doesn't even sell bacon & eggs, much less pork masquerading as "stuffed chicken". If their web menu is accurate, "stuffed chicken" is no longer even available there.

                In short, I no longer see Snowdon and Centre St as parallel operations. My experience suggests that Centre St has lowered its deli standards by quite a lot.

                I can't compare Centre Street's smoked meat with Wolfie's - my adventure trying to get some Wolfie's smoked meat is documented elsewhere on these boards. I can say that their "regular" smoked meat is no different to my palate than anyone else's. I can't compare their old fashioned with others, since the places selling Lester's in my part of town don't offer it. The differences in moistness and mouthfeel could simply come from cooking and slicing methods.

                Centre St certainly does sell "Delisnowdon" salami which, with its mechanically separated meat and milk ingredients, is not a high quality product. Therefore, they might serve a customized smoked meat also. I can only say that I enjoyed it more many years ago.

                Despite my reservations, I do NOT agree with the OP's heading. As I noted, it is still the best Montreal style deli in Toronto, and their house made food is better overall than the Montreal style foods you can buy elsewhere in the GTA.

                1. re: embee

                  I agree with embee; until something much better comes up, Centre St. Deli will continue to be the go-to restaurant for Montreal-style smoked meat for this ex-Montrealer. But I have to admit that, on my last visit there, there was a noticeable diminishing of the spice notes for which old-fashioned smoked meat is known. I'm wondering whether they're actually shaving off and discarding the delicious crust of spices that usually envelops an "old-fashioned" brisket or if they're somehow making it without it entirely. Next time, I'm going to ask for my sandwich "with crust."

                  And I have to say that the OP's header is way out of line. Many other delis in Toronto do qualify as "really bad deli." Centre St. is not one of them.

                  1. re: Tatai

                    Some downtown Loblaw stores had Lester's Old Fashioned at their deli counters last year. The spice crust was minimal - exactly as you describe in your post.

                  2. re: embee

                    I can understand your disdain (contempt?) for some of the items on the CSD menu as not belonging in a deli. I guess restaurants will put on their menus what they perceive their clientele demand. I wish their "bacon" and eggs used strips of the smoked meat instead of bacon.

                    I have been to Snowdon in the past couple of years. It was still run by Yanni and Ian. Yanni is Sam's brother and Ian is Cheryl's cousin, with Sam and Cheryl being that partners in Centre Street. I must admit, I didn;t review the menu to see of there was bacon and eggs and I didn;t check to see of their stuffed chicken was actually pork. I was there for the smoked meat. It was the same, though the sandwiches were smaller and cheaper. The people I was in town doing business with thanked me for "dragging" them out there for lunch - they found it inconvenient but worth the trip.

                    Keep chowing. Maybe we'll run into each other at Zane's someday.

                    1. re: OTFOODIE

                      More sadness than contempt. Montreal's wonderful (though now defunct) and equally unkosher Brown Derby used kosher "beef fry" - never bacon.

                      The "stuffed chicken" is totally over the line. Nobody who eats there is remotely kosher, but customers don't realize what's in this stuff. I've said "did you know this is pork?" to people who order it while I'm waiting for takeout. They never believe me and usually ask. Some take it anyway, but the majority thank me and don't.

                      The mechanically separated meat and milk ingredients suggest that the only truly custom thing about the salami is the label.

                      1. re: embee

                        What is the advantage in using pork for stuffing? Chicken is as cheap, tastes authentic, so why use pork?

                        1. re: jayt90

                          Chicken is usually 2x or more the price of pork, so there's a big saving if using pork. But I can't see how it's legal to call something chicken if it's pork, and it seems like an odd thing to do if you have customers who don't knowingly eat pork.

                          1. re: jayt90

                            I think the "stuffed chicken" we are discussing (which has little to do with stuffing or chicken) is a local Montreal product. I don't know much about its history, but I can surmise. I think it was a chicken substitute from back when chicken was a luxury food.

                            When I arrived in Montreal, Jewish deli "stuffed chicken" was a very large, mainly veal, emulsified sausage (much wider in cross section than a salami) that was stuffed into the skin of a chicken.

                            The non-Jewish version was called "mock chicken meat loaf". I don't know what went into mock chicken meat loaf - it could have been pork even then - but Jewish deli stuffed chicken was more elaborate and seemed to be made from veal.

                            I suspect that, as time passed, the increasing cost of veal (once much cheaper than chicken) plus the "packaging" made the economics of this product ridiculous. Still, there was a demand. I don't recall ever seeing this product outside of Montreal.

                            Pork is much cheaper than veal and can easily simulate veal in many preparations. While pork schnitzels are common menu items today, many restaurants used to pass off pork as veal on their menus. This was certainly true of most Bloor St Hungarian restaurants 30 - 40 years ago. In an emulsified sausage, nobody would be able to tell the difference.

                            The Lester's product sold by Centre St is a mock chicken meat loaf product that is, more or less, an off-white, unspiced, pork bologna. Slices from the loaf are 4.5 inch squares. It is sold only into foodservice and is not available in retail packages with an ingredient list.

                            Remember, this is pure conjecture.

                            1. re: embee

                              From 'Save The Deli' June 12, 2007:

                              "Stuffed chicken: I’ve never seen this anywhere but Montreal, except Centre Street. Ian Morantz said it was once minced chicken stuffed into a sewn up chicken skin. Now the casing is collagen, but it is essentially chicken balogna and is a cool, savory alternative to often blander turkey. With a ton of mustard, how can you go wrong?"

                              1. re: longolame

                                At Centre Street, it is now pork bologna and does not have a casing. Shame on you Cheryl! This seems to confirm my sense that Snowdon and Centre St no longer have similar deli standards.

                                It certainly wasn't made from chicken when I lived in Montreal, but it could quite easily have become chicken later on as veal prices headed for the stratosphere. It was, indeed, sewn into a chicken skin.

                          2. re: embee

                            Embee, I find this very disturbing. A lot of their clients are "kosher-style", meaning they are ok with non-kosher meat, but have never in their lives tried pork, shellfish, don't mix meat and cheese, etc. And for those that do, many don't allow pork in their homes. So to think that they would do this (and the owners are certainly aware of this) with "stuffed chicken" is quite disconcerting. I would imagine it would really anger many people.

                            So I have to ask - are you absolutely certain of this fact?

                            1. re: SMOG

                              Absolutely, positively, 100%. Does that seem certain enough??

                              1. re: embee

                                This confirms my instinctive belief, held for as long as I can remember, never to order stuffed ANYTHING in a commercial establishment.

                    2. re: SMOG

                      Another vote for Centre St. Deli. I live close by and always enjoy their smoked meat. And for credentials I go back as far as the original Switzers which will forever be the best.

                      1. re: mexivilla

                        I agree. CSD is very reliable spot for deli. Sure, they might occasionally serve up a sandwich that's a dud, but suggesting that the place sells "really bad deli" is way too harsh in my opinion.

                      1. re: duckdown

                        It's on the east side of Decarie Blvd., in the block north of Queen Mary Rd., in Montreal.

                        1. re: Tatai

                          ah, ok thanks

                          and I keep hearing of WOlfies, I've never been... how is their product? And where is it?

                          1. re: duckdown

                            It's on Sheppard west of Bathurst in a decaying, garbage strewn strip mall. The atmosphere is, shall we say "interesting", with no renovations in well over thirty years. Actually, it's a dump. The family that runs the place is very strange and doesn't seem to care much about customers.

                            They have Lester's regular and old fashioned smoked meat and Mello karnatzl. It smells good inside, though I never did get any food on my most recent, and definitely last, visit. Details of my experience are in a 272 post thread at:


                            You might want to go for the experience, but it doesn't seem worth it for the food. Even people who praise their sandwiches say nothing else served there is edible.

                            1. re: embee

                              I laughed out loud at this. Love your description of the place!

                              1. re: embee

                                To the decor description we should try to work in "Retro Coca Cola Shrine".

                                1. re: OTFOODIE

                                  Nice catch - I forgot that one...

                                2. re: embee

                                  I have been going to Wolfies since I was a little pisher. My dad stopped taking me there to my sadness because he thought Wolfie was a total shmuck. I later went back as soon as I was old enough to drive without my dad! It has wonderful smoked meat. There is something very culturally satisfying about eating the sandwhiches there. You know it may not be the best in the world but you at least know its the real thing. It's served by a Jewish family who have put their kids through school selling the stuff. The "Coca Cola Shrine" is definately part of it's charm; as is the dumpy strip mall. It makes it a Gem. Wolfie is real old now. He has sweet old man energy to him. If you are young Jewish and pretty, expect excellent service.

                                  Spoken from a Quebec Butchers Grand-daughter..Centre street Deli is in my opinion the absolute best smoked meat and fries going in Toronto. I do not eat anything else in the restaurant, nor would I want to.
                                  Embee, I really got a good laugh at your strip mall comments. By the way, Wolfies family used to sell black boxes for TV's on the side out of the restaurant. Awesome.

                          2. Are we fools to talk seriously about these places? The discussion is akin to one about the merits of Mexican tomatoes in February.

                            I was in Centre Street Deli a few years after it opened, first time last time. The meat had little holes in it , rainbows on the cut surfaces and it was sodden. Injected, chemicaled, and over-watered (to add weight.) What more is there to say? Except, oh yeah, the bread for the sandwich was no good.

                            Caplansky's can only be a promotion. That's as in campaign, not enhancement.


                            1. More people ought to try Pancer's. I had only been to the CSD once, but when i was there, eating my sandwich all i could think was- "people think THIS is better than Pancer's???"

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: ARisen

                                Centre st. is very competitive quality wise with the best of them

                                Having just come back from Montreal and eaten at Schwartz's I can tell you that we were less than impressed with what we had - although the karnatzel is still stellar. Early in May we were at katz's in NYC and are still scratching our heads about all the fuss.

                                We are blessed in toronto to have such a variety of choices when it comes to deli - but we are being gouged price wise - Schwartz's sandwich is $5.50 and generous.

                                1. re: Pizza Lover

                                  Interesting to hear your comments. While this thread is not about Katz's in NYC, I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed when I was in NYC. My expectations were sky high and they were still exceeded.

                                  1. re: Pizza Lover

                                    I've only eaten at Katz's in New York once, and couldn't understand the fuss, either. As for Schwartz's, I'm a former Montrealer who never got the appeal of their smoked meat, either. I always found it tough and chewy. We were probably the only family who went to Schwartz's for their rib steak grilled with fresh garlic and steak spice, which came with a piece of grilled calves liver and a portion of hot dog. I did love their French fries, too. I haven't been there in years; probably time for another visit.

                                    I do like Centre St.'s smoked meat although, as I mentioned above, found it to be underseasoned on my last visit. And Pancer's? Feh!

                                    1. re: Tatai

                                      Having grown up in New York, I can tell you that while every neighbourhood had at least one (and often more than one) good Jewish deli, Katz's was still worth a special trip. They aren't on a main transit line and the neighbourhood back than was a crime ridden black hole. I'd still go there as often as I could.

                                      Since, as with so many old favourites, I haven't been there in years, I only know what I hear. What I hear is that the pastrami still rocks. Possibly not so much anything else. (They used to have especially great fries and franks.) They never actually cured their own meats - at least within my lifetime - but they were certainly doing something right.

                                      As to Schwartz (and Caplansky's), lean will always be dry, catch-in-your-teeth stringy, and more likely tough than not.

                                      1. re: embee

                                        Katz's is one big tourist attraction (albeit NYers still go) and people come in having heard the stories of its greatness - but very few will actually admit to reality not meeting their expectations - and especially at the prices they charge!

                                        Schwartz meat was very lightly seasoned and on that count Centre St. Deli has them beat hands down.

                                        1. re: Pizza Lover

                                          I'd be curious to hear your comparison between the smoked meat served at Snowdon and the smoked meat at Centre St. (Schwartz is, in reality, a very different kind of product).

                                          1. re: embee

                                            I've never been to Snowdon - it seems if I'm in Montreal the smoked meat gods ordain that it's either Schwartz's or nothing - we parked right infront of Main deli, entered it and turned right around as it was deadly empty and crossed the road to Schwartz's (which was action central). We had planned on going to Lester's however the Jean Talon market kept us noshing for much longer than anticipated.

                                            Embee your question only means one thing - a smoked meat roadtrip to Montreal!!!!

                                2. I really can't believe you don't like Center Street, Maybe I have a soft spot for it because I grew up going there. I will admit I went last week and the corned beef just wasn't as good, although I still love their Matzo ball soup and the french fries are killer. Katz's is my fav for corned beef and I also love their turkey. If you want a really good deli try Pancer's on Bathurst st. http://pancersdeli.sites.toronto.com/

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: thetomatosnob

                                    I grew up with Saturday trips to Shopsy's on Spadina, and did some of my post-secondary years in Montreal, and have a well-oiled sense of nostalgia. As such, I get these insurmountable cravings that leave me putting aside the world's problems to get a good pastrami on an onion bun. As this thread by name contemplates really bad deli, I'll put my two cents in. Pancer's had one of the better sandwiches, moist on fresh bread cut with some care and attention, Wolfie's, not bad, but not in the pantheon. Yitz's, which I am cursed with due to procximity is consistently dried out on stale bread. Marky's should have a warning sign. No fkavour, whatsoever.

                                    346 Eglinton Ave W, Toronto, ON M5N, CA

                                  2. Never had anything beyond extra fat "Old Fashioned" at CSD. It was always good, although I admit that I haven't been there in 1-1/2 years. Caplansky's can be excellent when Zane is there. He is a great guy with a passion for deli. But when Zane isn't there, quality can drop through the floor, service can be non-existent, and the cutter/manager is frequently out of a lot of menu items. On one forgettable visit, they were out of kishke, knishes, smoked meat gravy and regular gravy!! The smoked meat quality at Caplansky's can vary wildly in both strength of seasoning and texture. Contrary to a couple of posters in this thread, the most consistently good deli meat IMHO is at Pancer's. Smoked meat there is not real"Montreal"so I never order it. But the corned beef and roast beef (extra fat) is unsurpassed in flavour. Influenced by another thread, my wife and I tried Wolfies on Sheppard West. My wife said her corned beef was almost inedible and she threw out most of it, pronouncing it very goyishe. It's got to be Pancer's for her. My smoked meat was also bad (unfinished) and previous threads praising it as "very much like Montreal" had me mystified. Katz's on Dufferin has been OK, but as mentioned on another thread, the owner's bullying of his staff makes us very uncomfortable.

                                    356 College Street, Toronto, ON M6J, CA