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a goldin's @ free times cafe vs. caplansky's tasting

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i was strolling kensington market for an afternoon of grazing when the email about goldin's at the free times cafe came in. what luck! we made our way over and thought this would be the perfect time for me to get in a second go at caplanskys (since the new place opened up) and really have at them side by side. it turned out to be a tasty afternoon.

starting out at free times cafe, the goldin's sandwich hasn't made it onto the menu yet but comes as a combo (with fries, coleslaw or salad) for $10.95. the size of the sandwich doesn't seem to be consistent because it looks to be based on the size of the bread (we invited other CHs out midway though our meal and doubled back so they could try it, their sandwich was larger), i'd say it was about the same size as at caplansky's. the smoked meat was tender, juicy and fell apart nicely (we asked for a fatty cut). the smoke was subtle and the spicing very reminiscent of montreal smoked meat but a bit muted (no spice crusting on the edges which one can keep on or reinsert at home). it was also served with caraway rye. mustard options were limited to honey or yellow. it arrived with a pickle but i didn't focus on it. it was a great sandwich. though i could have had the spicing bumped up a tiny bit, my only real complaint was the tang of salt that i felt nearly immediately after finishing at the back of my tongue. i suspect this is from the cure. i wouldn't suggest the coleslaw side because of the intense sweetness, but it had good texture otherwise.

over at caplanskys they still seem to have some serving snaffoos (fries arriving with the soup order and pretty much devoured before the sandwiches showed up) but nothing truly serious. the sandwiches were less aggressive in smoke than usual but were still smokier than goldin's. the spicing was strong but well integrated. the meat was a bit dry but still moist and tender enough at medium fat (full fat was also tasted). but it just didn't quite fall apart right and held steadfastly together. zane is holding back his personal mustard until he's ready to focus on the production he needs, but several kozlik's along with honey and yellow mustards are available. combos here are $11 and the fries as usual are quite tasty. a nice caplansky's sandwich for sure, but for me and the rest of the table goldin's won out by a small margin.

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  1. Good post, thank you PSP

    A couple oddities though; the Goldin's product has a very nice spicing on the outside normally, it is very visible and apparent. I wonder if the cafe has maybe removed some of it, maybe for the people that aren't used to Montreal Smoked Meat? Odd. Definitely way more spice on the Goldin's product than the Caplanskys

    Also, regarding the salt issue, my first experience with Goldin's was that it was a little bit salty, but after I made some comments and others did, apparently he heeded them and seems to have adjusted the brine or cure.. My last 2 pieces from him were not oversalted.. Maybe it's just a little inconsistent

    Cheers!

    1 Reply
    1. re: duckdown

      All the Goldin's meat I bought a few weeks ago had the spices all over it, and had enough smoke flavour. I gave my parents a brisket and they loved it, my mother commented that she expected it would be salty and was happy to find that it wasn't. She did say that it seemed very pink, and wondered if they should reduce the saltpetre. But as far as taste goes, they enjoyed it. I had a few salty pieces back in April/May, but not since then. But it's subjective, some may be more sensitive to salt than others.

    2. I didn't find the meat too salty, but there was a definite lack of spices on the Goldin's sandwich.

      I'm not a smoked meat aficionado by any stretch, but I preferred the Goldin's sandwich for the tender, juicy meat. However, I preferred Caplansky's for the flavour. We ordered a medium at both places.. The fries at Caplansky's are better, too, though my husband liked the fat fries at Free Times. Goldin's may have won for me if there had been more spice. My Montreal-born hubby preferred Goldin's, mostly for the texture and for the fact that the rye had caraway seeds.

      The bottom line is that both were tasty sandwiches, so I think Toronto wins all around.

      -----
      Free Times Cafe
      320 College St, Toronto, ON M5T1S3, CA

      4 Replies
      1. re: TorontoJo

        the more i think about this the more i realize that the balance of spice and smoke at caplansky's (while different from the monarch days) hit a better middle ground for me. the only problem is that his meat products seem to be changing often and so i'm not sure if this was normal or abnormal.

        but i fully agree and probably didn't mention it properly... both were still very good and i'd be happy to have either.

        1. re: TorontoJo

          "The bottom line is that both were tasty sandwiches, so I think Toronto wins all around."

          HURRAH!

          1. re: mikefly

            "Toronto Chowhounders: spoiled for choice since 2009."

            1. re: Pincus

              "Like"

        2. This is all really excellent. As Embee wrote a while back, as of about a year and a half ago, it was impossible to get a hand-made smoked meat sandwhich in Toronto, and now were are debating the subtle differences between two great options within a couple of blocks of one another! I LOVE IT.

          Both Caplansky's and Goldin's make great smoked meat, but I definitely prefer Goldin's. It may be a tough choice however. I don't know about the other offerings at Free Times Cafe, such as fries, cole slaw, etc. If they are much better at Caplansky's, which I expect they may be, I'll be at Caplansky's for those items, as well as the knishes, kishka, liver 'n onions, etc. etc., but stick to Free Times for Goldin's smoked meat. Also, I'll continue buying uncooked deckles for smoked meat frenzies at home.

          -----
          Free Times Cafe
          320 College St, Toronto, ON M5T1S3, CA

          7 Replies
          1. re: acd123

            Although the Free Times has some good food choices, I wouldn't count the fries among them. I've had the fries a number of times over the past 10 years, usually at a music performance in the evening, and they've always been the frozen variety. These will be two completely different restaurant experiences.

            -----
            Free Times Cafe
            320 College St, Toronto, ON M5T1S3, CA

            1. re: Yongeman

              I read these forums all the time but I don't usually write anything, but since this is such a hot topic and in light of my recent experience at both places, I figured I would post. My friend and I have been to Caplansky's several times, both at the Monarch and at the new location, we both love the sandwich but find that it can be inconsistent from visit to visit.........After reading about Goldin's on these forums we decided we would try a deckle but the other night we decided to go to the Free time's Cafe and we were ecstatic that we did! We both had the smoked meat, one of us with sweet potato fries and one with the slaw. We sat at the bar and I have to say that the bar had a great feel to it, very homey......(and I do feel that Caplansky's felt much more like this at the Monarch), the sandwiches arrived and they were about the same size as Caplansky's 7oz. From the first bite we both noticed the differences in the two meats, this sandwich was more smokey and spiced than Zane's, I was in heaven, I really enjoyed it, we had asked the server for fatty pieces of meat and I really found there was a perfect balance of fat in there. My friend admitted that it was a great sandwich but that he actually prefer's Zane's less smokey version. On a side note I found the sweet potato fries pretty good, very light and fresh tasting with a decent spicy mayo for dipping. After we had finished, to our delight, Judy (owner) came to ask us on our opinions......for the next hour we were engaged in conversation with Judy about smoked meat and other food business, all while she treated us with tests of her latkes (excellent) and their roast beef sandwiches from the same cut of meat that Goldin uses (also very good). Judy told us that Goldin seasons the deckels at Free times and refrigerates them there until bringing them home to smoke. Judy's cook than prepares them as needed. As we left Free Times with heavy stomachs my friend and I couldn't stop talking about how friendly Judy had been and how much we enjoyed the food.....I would strongly recommend any smoked meat lovers to stop by Free Times and give it a shot, and I definitely agree that we are fortunate to now have two great choices merely steps from each other, both offering a great product

              1. re: mwalton11

                very interesting that you say that... for me it's always been caplanskys aggressively smoked and goldin's much more mild in smoke though spicier because you could include the edge spices. the goldin's at free times especially though was a bit... bland. i'm pretty much just repeating myself from above, sorry.

                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  That's what I found too: Caplansky's is smokey with little spice and no visible spice, and Goldin's has less smoke but much more spice, with the spices visible on the surface. Although I've never found Goldin's to be bland (in fact, just the opposite), I haven't tried it at Free Times yet.

                  Is this going to become a Schwart's vs. The Main thing? That debate can get heated and sometimes ends with fists :-) If yes, excellent. Debates like that are exactly what this City needs. Give this another decade and it should get really interesting.

                  1. re: acd123

                    Hah, I should hope not. Schwartz's is the gold standard, while The Main is a sad pretender. It's not even worth hashing over. On the other hand, there's plenty of promise with our two local upstarts. These are good tidings indeed. I would say that in my not-quite-updated exposure (have only bought the briskets from Goldin, and haven't yet been to Cap's new digs), my preference would be for Goldin's deckle. Visually it was a feast, with nice colour, very tender, great fat content interspersed throughout, flavour was on par. I could get behind an even stronger hand with the spicing, and more of a smoke hit. But that is tweakable stuff. Caplansky's, there's been a range there, but the variability and the seeming openness to improve bodes well. There is quite a learning curve to this product. Really looking forward to how this plays out as well, and Toronto is justifiably excited.

                    1. re: Chester Eleganté

                      ah, but see this is where my concern comes in. the majority of people here have so far only eaten goldin's at home, which allows some wiggle room for preference of preparation. a bit too tough, cook it a little longer. not enough spice, just add back in what might have fallen off while cutting. i feel like what the free times is giving us is what goldin most likely intended. i don't see how someone could just sell their meat through a restaurant and never tell them how it should be served.

                      so i encourage people to try it in the restaurant. i know for me it's more hassle to pick up a whole deckle from goldin's than just go to these restaurants where i can get it served up immediately (at the same price point mind you!) and as things get tweaked and changed my favourite will definitely break through, even if it's only by a slight difference.

                      1. re: Chester Eleganté

                        I certainely agree with you about Schwart'zs. It is the gold standard, and the Main doesn't measure up. But the debate is there. Some people swear by the Main's smoked meat, although i don't understand why.

            2. Well, I was tired from yoga tonight, and was gonna bike over to Banjara, but passed the free times and decided to stop in and grab a smoked meat sandwich.

              It is not possible to buy the sandwich without a side - (though my server offered to sell me the sandwich for $10 instead of the combo for $11). I opted to try the chicken soup + matzo ball.

              The broth was okay - if you were being generous. The matzo ball - I took one small bite, and spit it back onto the spoon in disgust. Did not eat soup past this point.
              I thought Caplansky's soup was not very good, but it was definitely edible.

              The sandwich - could not be ordered by cut - which is not the end of the world for me. (This is because they don't slice the brisket there, but open a pre-packaged one-sandwich serving sized portion for each sandwich. Anyhow, it was possibly the most tender smoked meat sandwich I've ever eaten, and looked great. Taste-wise, it was pretty good. I also wasn't blown away by Caplansky's but found it had more flavour.

              I think Goldin must make an amazing brisket or corned beef - but I'm not that keen to drop $15 on a sandwich served with a side I don't want.

              Atmosphere - one is a deli, one is a bar.

              Anyhow, my evaluation - I'll go back to Caplansky's for the atmosphere and the smoked meat poutine. I'll continue going to Montreal for a smoked meat sandwich. From the Main or Schwartz's - whichever has no line.

              6 Replies
              1. re: mikefly

                Caplansky's wins for me, based on taste and texture. The Goldin's at the Free Times seems to be losing something compared to when I've had it off a full brisket.

                BTW I'd hardly describe the Free Times -- longtime bastion of folk music and homey stick-to-your-ribs Jewish cuisine -- as a "dive bar". Judy would plotz.

                1. re: Brennius

                  I certainly agree with you, Brennius, that the Free Times is not a dive. It serves respectable food, in a building where music is the focus.

                  1. re: Brennius

                    I digress. I have edited out the word in question, and will deny it ever existed. I will not be responsible for any plotzing.

                  2. re: mikefly

                    Earlier posts, including one by Goldin, indicate that the meat comes from Corsetti's, is prepared at Free Times, taken to Goldin's for smoking, and now we learn that it is sliced and wrapped (by machine or hand?) back at the restaurant for serving, no option available.
                    Can this be true?

                    1. re: jayt90

                      This was my experience, I cannot comment further than that.

                    2. re: mikefly

                      I finally had my first taste of Goldin's at the Free Times. Agreed on the texture - insanely tender, almost too tender, since I kept losing bits of my sandwich and the bottom slice of bread was almost too soggy from juices (almost). I felt like I had to eat quickly in the interest of avoiding a sandwich malfunction, but it did hold together. Definitely less smoke than Caplansky's, so you taste the spice more, but for some reason, I really started to lose momentum toward the end of the sandwich. I think possibly salt fatigue - it didn't strike me as too salty at first taste at all, but I started to lose interest in it about 3/4 of the way through - I agree with some of the above comments that more spice would be a good thing. This never happens to me at Caplansky's, but the higher smoke levels and better selection of mustard may be just what puts it over the edge for me flavor-wise. That, and the fact that I can order it fatty and taste it for the rest of the day.

                      I wish both would give me a bigger, less limp pickle. I love pickles. Pickles are very important to me. Is something big, crunchy, and garlicky too much to ask for? Really, it's the only thing missing in my book - in and of themselves, they are two dangerously delicious sandwiches.

                    3. I had the opportunity to try Golden's and Zane's back-to-back recently.

                      Golden's/Free Time - Sandwich was excellent - moist, tender yet chewy with nice smoked meat flavor. This is probably the best Montreal style smoked meat I've had in Toronto. I was surprise by the default choice of caraway rye - I was not asked for my preference, and I don't even know if plain rye is a choice. I like caraway, but not everyone does. The slaw (venegar dressing) was interesting - the cabbage was in chunks - and quite tasty. I can't say I like the atmosphere that much.

                      Caplansky's has settled down with quick, efficient service. I was surprised at how quickly my sandwiches arrived the past two visits. I enjoyed the borscht, and the sandwich was excellent. (It had been too salty the last time.) I really like the slaw here as well.

                      I don't think it is valid to compare them directly since Zane's has a very different smoke profile. Both were great. I encourage others to try both, with the expectation that neither should disappoint.

                      1. Having been to Caplansky's a few times now, I thought I would give Free Times a bash as I was in the neighbourhood today. Let me state plainly that as a non-Canadian, I have no dog in this race, I just know what I like.
                        I have mixed feelings about this place. Service was pretty good, provided by a pixie - cute English girl. Soup was great, split pea and vegetable. Great flavour. Now the contentious part.. The bread was not as fresh as it could have been, but okay, it's just a vessel. The meat, however... I have seen smoked meat purists kvetch about hand sliced vs. machine sliced and have dismissed it until now as nit-picking by a few obsessives, but today I got the point. Taste wise, I prefer the Goldins. It has a bolder taste and is slightly saltier, which appeals to my palate. Texturally however, the two products are miles apart. The Goldins is obviously machine sliced and I found it tough going compared to Caplansky's. I was picking bits out of my teeth and my jawbone was working harder than it wanted to. I have always found Caplansky's sandwich to be a sublime textural experience, which is why I return. Free Times sandwich was tasty, but tough. Also, the pickle was limp and lifeless. Finally, there was a deficit of mustard choices. I like a whole seed mustard (love Kozlik's Triple Crunch), but the selections at Free Times were all processed commercial brands.
                        In summary, I would love it if Caplansky's tasted more like Goldin's, but failing that I will still return there regardless. It is just a superior experience all round.