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Sep 7, 2009 05:45 PM

Caplanskys on College St - impressions?

I'm planning on stopping by sometime this week and I'm curious to see how the new location is standing up to scrutiny. Anyone been so far?

Edit: I've done a couple searches on impressions, which seem to be mixed at this point (variable service, new menu items meh, old items faithful), any further insights would be appreciated

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  1. The original comment has been removed
    1. Went there on Sunday and had a delicious and unhealthy brunch.

      First the bad news: the service was simply atrocious and whenever the wait staff had the chance to drop the ball, they did. From forgotten menus (we had to borrow one from our fellow diners), to long delays between ordering something and receiving it (20 mins for OJ), to poorly timed meals (long wait for poutine appetizer followed by mains 2 minutes later), the service was almost amusingly bad. To be fair, the staff made it clear that it was opening weekend and they will screw up and say sorry a lot, and it certainly all came true. As such, I'd like to give them another try in about a month when hopefully they've ironed out their kinks.

      But now to the good news: the food was quite enjoyable. My friend and I split the smoked meat poutine. The fries were golden and crispy and the smoked meat gravy was flavourful, if perhaps too salty. The curds were somewhat mushy and definitely not squeaky. Although certainly not the best poutine I've ever had, it certainly wasn't the worst. The proportions of fries to gravy to cheese were balanced which made the dish tasty from beginning to end.

      I had the 7oz smoked meat sandwich on rye, medium fattiness (rec'd by the server). I'm no Montreal smoked meat expert, but I thought the meat was stellar and would give Schwartz's a run for its money (blasphemy to some). The meat was very flavourful, nice amount of fat, and the texture was utterly melt-in-your-mouth. They have about five different mustards you can slather on - I opted for a blend of the ancient grains plus their hottest one (which wasn't all that hot IMO). I'd definitely return for this sandwich.

      My friend had their breakfast plate consisting of three over-easy eggs, smoked meat, latkes, and challah bread. The eggs were properly prepared, meat delicious as over, but the latkes lacked flavour or interest. The challah bread was drowning in butter, just in case you wanted to raise your cholesterol further.

      All in all, a decent meal, but I'm curious to try out their other dishes once they've worked out their service problems.

      21 Replies
      1. re: vidkid

        I love this place and desperately want it to succeed, but in no way is the smoked meat anywhere near as good as Schwartz's. It's too tough and stringy.

        1. re: Dr. No

          Have you had it more than once? I'm wondering if it was just a bad day. I've found that it's sometimes inconsistent. I've had it once where it was virtually inedible and was given a brand new one.

          1. re: SMOG

            No, so i went back tonight. The meat was wildly different, far superior to my first heartrending visit. While still no Schwartz's, this time it was at least within the same ballpark, and quite good.

            1. re: Dr. No

              It has been discussed almostly endlessly on this board that Caplansky's smoked meat should not be compared to Schwartz's. While Zane did intend to replicate (imitate?) Schwartz's when he started out, he did not realize that Schwartz's does not really smoke with wood, so his was much smokier. Nevertheless, he was happy with the result and to almost universal joy, he has stayed with his version. Many of us don't even call it Montreal Smoked meat, prefering "Toronto Smoked Meat" or "Zane's Smoked Meat"

              1. re: OTFOODIE

                OR just smoked meat.

                The comparison to Schwartz's is inevitable. But it's in Montreal, not Toronto. Appreciate Caplansky's for what it is...a great sandwich. You get some occasional duds...but that even happens at Schwartz's (dang, can't avoid the comparison).

                1. re: grandgourmand

                  i've had some of the most disgusting smoked meat from schwartz's... they are definitely fallible. they do also serve great stuff, just as much as zane and all the other smoked meat options out there.

                  if we're going to make it toronto centric, then from the sounds of it zane and goldin's are making the most comparable products.

                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                    How is Schwartz's smoked? I have heard that their 1920's vintage smoker has withstood multiple changes including ownership over the years. But what is it?
                    Wood fired? or a modernized burner?
                    Zane had to change to a more modern smoker with higher output, at the Monarch, and this seems to have made the transition to College Street.

                    1. re: jayt90

                      I think Schwartz uses gas. There is wood in the process, but it isn't hickory.

                      Caplansky is using two identical, electric Cookshacks. He keeps talking about using logs. That would be nice in principle, but I think it would need more attention, patience, and skill than is feasible. Not that he listens to me very often....

                      1. re: embee

                        Darryl at B.R. uses a Southern Pride with fired wood logs from local orchards.The oven adds a blast of air when the wood temp gets too low. Impressive results, for a price.

                        1. re: embee

                          I just happened to notice this, and it's wrong.

                          Schwartz apparently hasn't used wood in many years. Seems the smoke is from the meat's own drippings.

                          Caplansky did use electric Cookshacks when this was posted, but now has a commercial Southern Pride. It can burn logs, but I believe he is using pellets.

                        2. re: jayt90

                          i don't specifically know how it's smoked but as embee says it's definitely not hickory... it's so mild.

                          personally, my problem with schwartz was that it was insanely salty and badly textured. very chemical. it got trashed.

                          1. re: pinstripeprincess

                            I'm actually surprised that nobody's ever found Caplansky's too be too smokey in flavour. I love it, but most people are overwhelmed by it when they try somethink like that (as in "true" BBQ). The first time I tried it, the smokiness threw me back and shocked me a bit, but I've had good BBQ before.

                            In any case, it's certainly unique and I'm sure the process and technique is different from other smoked meat places. But I wouldn't suggest that it's so far off that it can't be compared. A smoked brisket vs an over braised brisket can't be compared. Caplansky's and Schwart'z aren't that far removed.

                            1. re: SMOG

                              they could be compared, no doubt. but the issue that seems to routinely come up is that people expect a schwartz product from caplanskys and there are actually quite a few differences... spicing, smoke, cure.... so while a comparison is certainly fair i think it's the expectations that we're trying to set appropriately.

                              and i think the smoke intensity did come up before and has just been accepted as part of his product. if i'm not burping up smoke 2 days afterwards, that's just enough smoke.

                              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                                Well of course it's going to be different. That's like going to Libretto and expecting Terroni pizza. Both are thin and use good ingredients, but they're different. Still comparable. But any proper food establishment is going to put its signature on its food. Diversity adds fun!

                                1. re: SMOG

                                  but that's exactly it... there are definitely people out there that aren't celebrating the diversity but very quickly writing caplansky's off as simply just not schwartz. and it isn't... that's fine, but it's more fair to caplansky to identify him as his own product so that he's given a fair shake.

                                  1. re: SMOG

                                    Ahh...semantics are fun. I once got a review back on a paper that said, in reference to our statement that our results were "comparable to" those from another method, "I believe the authors mean to say 'similar.' Any two numbers can be compared, yes?" And, contrary to popular belief, it is, in fact, possible to compare apples to oranges. However, it's not generally all that productive. The only people to whom Schwartz's and Caplansky's are not comparable are those who (like me) have never tried one of the two. Regardless, I'm glad Dr. No gave it another shot, because I've never had tough or stringy meat from Caplansky's. Hopefully my luck will continue now that he's moved, but I'm giving it a little time for them to settle in before I pay them a visit.

                                2. re: SMOG

                                  Before he got the curing under control, he was making (accidentally) some of the best "Texas style" BBQ brisket I've ever tasted. Part of me says put that on the menu, but another part says it doesn't belong (and starts the slippery slope toward Pickle Barrel territory).

                                  Perhaps an occasional special?

                                  1. re: SMOG

                                    I wouldn't say it was too smokey, but to me it tasted like cedarwood smoke, not an appropriate flavour for meat, IMO.

                          2. re: OTFOODIE

                            Toronto Smoked Meat. :-D

                            I was in Montreal back in July and of course visited Schwartz's. I do prefer the smokiness of Zane's sandwich. What I liked about Schwartz's was how much of the spices made it into the sandwich. I do hate the nuclear yellow mustard though. Zane's housemade mustard is far superior. I don't care if it's not traditional. I'd like to see more spices in Zane's sandwiches.

                            For the smoked meat poutine, which I love, I'd like to see fresher & bigger curds and a little more liquid to the gravy.

                            We haven't been to the new location yet but plan on going tonight. Looking forward to having several different good beers with my sandwich and poutine.

                            1. re: lister

                              I don't think he uses enough spice. But it isn't my deli :-(

                              1. re: lister

                                YOu might want to order all your beers at once.

                                I actually love the nuclear yellow mustard. Just the right tang to cut through the fat. Personal preference thing, though.

                                They had 4 of which wasn't available last time I was there. Not sure which it was, though.

                    2. I went there yesterday for lunch. The smoked meat sandwich was just as good as ever, if not better -- flavourful, smoky and just the right amount of fat. The fries were also stellar. Tried the burger as well -- not-so-stellar. It was decent enough, but it was overcooked and somewhat dry. The smoked meat mixed in with the ground chuck was pretty much negligible (if you hadn't told me it was there, I'm not sure if I even would have noticed it). It was fairly mediocre, and a complete waste of time when the smoked meat is so good.

                      As for the service, all the servers seemed pretty frazzled, and I could tell that a lot of the people around me were starting to get a bit frustrated. It was pretty clear that everyone was trying their best, but they just weren't prepared for the amount of customers that they got. I'm sure the service will improve immensely once they get their footing (at least I hope so).

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Michael N

                        On his blog, he emphasized attitude over experience from potential hires. They certainly lacked the experience, but I found them to be good natured staff.

                        Food was good. I'm all about the sandwich. It was as good as ever. The poutine, I think I'm ordering it just because it's poutine. I'm not crazy about it. And they didn't have chopped liver.

                        I'll definitely go back. Hopefully the servers get more comfortable with the job. If he gets it together, Caplansky has a gold mine on his hands.

                        1. re: grandgourmand

                          Went Sunday and loved it.

                          Yes, the service was baaaaaaaaaad, but we knew it would be on opening weekend. Who cares for now, right?

                          Loved the sandwich. Excellent as always. Thought the fries were delicious. Really enjoyed the liver knish with smoked meat gravy.

                          Wanted to try the smoked turkey sandwich but they were out. Wanted to try the matzoh ball soup but they were out.

                          Took a few ruguleh home (chocolate, apricot) -- they were only so so.

                          I love the new place and will go again soon.

                              1. re: EarlyDrive

                                wow, that early and all sold out? would there be anything left at dinner I wonder?

                      2. The original comment has been removed
                        1. i won't go into the food quite yet.... but i had pretty good service considering the lack of experience.

                          right up front i didn't have to wait in the line more than a couple minutes to get greeted and an estimate on wait time for a patio table (which was shorter than estimated). when we were seated we had our menus with us and spent a bit of time perusing while we got some waters after being asked about drinks (there's no drink list posted where we were sitting outside so it was rather difficult to decide on a drink that way). when the server did come over to take our orders she apologized that she didn't tell us upfront what was unavailable and immediately offered some pops on the house and gave us extra time to decide. it took a bit of time for her to come back but nothing ridiculous and when she did she was happy to replace the missing smoked turkey from the meat combo platter with some of the smoked meat burger. periodically we were given apologies for and notice about it taking a bit of extra time.

                          when we did get our food, the poutine was VERY undersauced for my liking and almost more meat topping like. we mentioned that we'd be keen on more sauce and they quickly took it to the kitchen and had an extra large ladle of meat and gravy poured on top. after that they made an effort to clear dishes as soon as they saw them empty and packaged up our left overs for us quite speedy. from my understanding, much of the problems on sunday also stemmed from a finicky computer problem irregardless of opening week issues.

                          it was a long wait for the food, but i was consistently updated. i did notice that those ordering sandwiches tended to get food quickest. i could see improvements but for the casual atmosphere it met my expectations for good service.