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Anybody remember Switzers on Spadina?

  • k

It must be my age or something. I've been feeling rather nostalgic about my childhood "food" memories. Feeling like this, I have found myself wanting a true old school corn beef sandwich on rye, the kind I use to eat at Switzers on Spadina. Are there any decent places in Toronto that serve the same type of grub? I've heard of Yitzs and Katzs but I've never been to either. Also looking for beef knish and matzoh ball soup.

Any advice would be great! Thanks!

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  1. I recall Switzers and think I went to high school with one of more of their kids. At the southern end of Spadina as I recall and on the west side. As for a current equivalent I only know of United Bakeries but I'm sure there will be many more suggestions coming.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Herne

      You're partly right. Switzers was on the west side of Spadina Ave. but it was several doors north of Dundas St. Across the street was Shopsy's Deli, just north of the Victory Theatre. Shposy's was more popular than Switzers, but the real "fresser mavens" patronized Switzers. Further north and west Spadina on College St. were a number of other Jewish Deli's: Weltz's was next to the Playhouse theatre. At the north-west corner of Brunswick Ave. and College St. was Smith's Tokay, now the site of Caplansky's. On the south side of College St. near Augusta Ave. was a Deli called Shapiro's, I believe. I'm old enough to remember when a corned beef or pastrami sandwich cost 25 cents and a hot dog was a dime. Those were the days, although back then 25cents was an hour's wages.
      United Bakeries is a Dairy Restaurant and doesn't qualify as a Deli.

      1. re: Doctormhl1

        Correct, United Bakers is definitely not a deli. Although it is Jewish comfort food, so the so I guess it's a cousin :)

    2. Of course I remember Switzer's. Back then, Switzer's and Coleman's were the best deli's in the city. Katz's is not even worth mentioning, so I'd cross that right off your list. Right now your best options are Centre Street Deli, Steeles Deli, (possibly) Pancer's, although I haven't been to the new one up North. And opening soon, Ben and Izzy's, which I think will more than satisfy your craving.

      1. Switzer's is before my time in Toronto, but a quick search found this:
        So I guess the same deli had transplanted to Mississauga 30 years ago? Can anyone comment on the Missis. location?

        My favorite matz is from Yitz.

        11 Replies
        1. re: happycamper

          I like the New York Deli at Bay and Yonge.

          1. re: happycamper

            Switzer's franchised back in the 70s. The Mississauga one is the last of them and is run by the Switzer family iirc. Never been.

            1. re: happycamper

              I second Yitz's! I love their fatty corned beef and baked goods to name a few.

              1. re: happycamper

                The Miss. Switzer's is news to me. Deadly location. The old joint on Spadina wasn't always the greatest. United Bakers on Spadina was a pit. The old Shopsy's across the street smoked Switzer's.

                1. re: Kagemusha

                  I remember Switzer's on Spadina quite fondly, though I preferred Shopsy's across the street. My favourite delis nowadays are Centre Street Deli up north and Caplansky's down south. Yitz's is quite acceptable, Katz's not so much. I don't get to Pancer's on Bathurst St. that much anymore since the Pancer family sold it a while back. Something seems to be missing there, though I can't articulate what (possibly the ebullient presence of a Pancer). United Bakery, at Bathurst and Lawrence, is okay (especially the soups), though it doesn't do deli meats. For a pretty good matzoh ball soup, I like the aforementioned Steeles Deli, near Yonge and Steeles - though Steeles Deli is more of a Jewish-style diner (with some deli-style sandwiches on offer) than a classic Jewish deli. As for Ben and Izzy's, should it ever open (as promised), well, we shall see...

                  1. re: juno

                    Can't believe I forgot to mention Caplansky's. What was I thinking!! As for Ben and Izzy's, my bet is that it's going to open mid-April, after Passover.

                2. re: happycamper

                  Switzer's? From undergraduate days at U of T--raw dills [half-sours], the chicken soup [which varied wildly in quality], pastrami--then a gut-ache from eating too much.
                  Those were the days...

                  Yup, United Bakers--the dairy place--was kind of unhygienic, to put it delicately. Occasionally, we'd make a safari up Bathurst for some decent dairy.

                  1. re: happycamper

                    The Mississauga location is still run by the Switzer family and is an old school deli! I am there at least once a month and despite its western 905 location, it ranks as high if not better than Centre Street, Yitz's etc. Worth the trip to Mississauga, but it is more of a lunch place - not sure how late they are open for dinner. My favourite sandwich there is the baby beef (veal), and they have amazing fries.

                    1. re: jono523

                      That's so funny that baby beef is your favourite. It was my Mom's favourite too, so she was devastated when they closed because Switzer's was the only place in the city that made baby beef.

                    2. re: happycamper

                      I ate at the Switzers near the Airport and it is the daughter of the original owner who runs it. The food is the same as the old Spadina location. I would recommend it

                      1. re: Steve66

                        I have to go up to that neighbourhood for work once a week and my boss is Jewish so we go to Switzer's a lot. He loves the matzoh ball soup. I'm not a fan of deli meat so it's pretty much wasted on me. They've got some of the old signage though and that is pretty cool.

                    3. Grew up in the neighbourhood so I remember it reasonably well. IIRC, a lot of Toronto Celebs had pictures on the wall - Wayne and Shuster included.

                      The only old school corned beef place still around is perhaps Shopsy's although not sure current incarnation if owned by the family or not.

                      There's a Shopsy's up in Markham on Woodbine, north of Steeles. Perhaps nostalgia will come back seeing the Shopsy's logo.

                      19 Replies
                      1. re: LUV_TO_EAT

                        Oh man, I'm gonna have to disagree.

                        Shopsy's is old school?? I'm not sure Shopsy's has been a deli since perhaps the 80s? Shopsy's seems as corporate and diversified as the disgusting Pickle Barrel. I mean, it's not really a deli at all in my eyes.

                        What about Yitz's and Pancers for corned beef?? They are still pretty good, and privately owned. I'd think they'd qualify as old school corned beef more than Shopsy's, no?

                        1. re: magic

                          I agree with you magic regarding Shopsy's. I have NEVER considered that to be authentic jewish deli.

                          1. re: kwass

                            We need embee here to straighten all of this out!!

                              1. re: kwass

                                A CH veteran. Doesn't talk much these days.

                                A deli maven who is a superb source of Deli/Jewish/Kosher/Smoking info.

                                1. re: magic

                                  Yeah, where the heck is embee!!!!!

                                  1. re: millygirl

                                    No clue. Hopefully enjoying some smoked meat somewhere :)

                                  2. re: magic

                                    Interesting! Thanks magic :)

                                    "Deli Maven"...too funny!!

                                    1. re: kwass

                                      It's an actual term! :)

                                      Yiddish roots I think....

                                      1. re: magic

                                        "Deli Maven" is an actual term? I know "maven" but I've never heard of deli-maven...lol!! Is maven a yiddish word? I didn't know that. It's funny when you grow up with certain words, you just assume they're english words.

                                        1. re: kwass

                                          Oh yeah! It sure is. Maven certainly. Can apply to many things. Deli among them for sure :)

                            1. re: magic

                              From Wikipedia...not that it's 100% accurate.

                              In 1921, the husband-and-wife team of Harry Shopsowitz and Jenny Shopsowitz opened an 18-seat ice cream parlour at 295 Spadina Avenue at Dundas Street West in Toronto. It became Shopsowitz Delicatessen and by the mid-1940s was selling products under the Shopsy's brand name.

                              That's a fair bit older than 1980's.

                              1. re: LUV_TO_EAT

                                I think you and magic are using the term "old school" differently....that's all.

                                1. re: justsayn

                                  Exactly! I think magic means "authentic" Jewish Deli. The kind that's hard to find these days.

                                  1. re: kwass

                                    Yes, magic is saying not authentic (old school) since at least the 80s, while LTE is saying old school as in one of the originals.

                                    1. re: justsayn

                                      Ahh. I see.

                                      Yes they're certainly one of the Toronto originals, I would never argue that.

                                      I apologize if I misinterpeted LUV_TO_EAT's meaning.

                                2. re: LUV_TO_EAT

                                  Oh I'm not arguing that at one time it was a true deli.

                                  What I was saying was that it stopped being a deli in the 1980s. Perhaps before.

                                  1. re: magic

                                    My father used to take me to Shopsy's on Spadina many, many years ago. I can tell you for sure that it was there in the early 60s.

                                    As I recall, the difference back then between Shopsy's and Switzer's was that at Shopsy's they would hand cut the corned beef ... Switzer's used a machine. My father preferred the hand cut.

                                    Both were great. Shopsy's sold out to corporate interests and was never the same.

                                    1. re: MattB

                                      I think people are misunderstanding what I wrote.

                                      I am well aware that Shopsys has been around for decades. I just meant that it hasn't been a real deli for decades now.


                            2. I preferred Switzers over Shopy's. I loved their kishkas and knishes and always had those with a cream soda. Back in those days I would also get the hot dog on a steamed moon bun or whatever it was called. These days I can't stomach hot dogs.

                              I don't like Yitz's. Free Times has a good smoked meat sandwich that I like better than Caplansky's and I prefer their matzo ball soup too although occasionally it lacks flavour. Prices are just so high these days.

                              1. Wow, I didn't expect to have so many people respond! Thank you! I always thought Switzers was better than Shopsys. There was just something very neat about the atmosphere. My parents use to take me there every Friday night. I'm wondering if anyone remembers the little counter restaurant on Dundas street, around the corner from the Terrace. They made a good corned beef sandwich too. Tops on young street was run by family friends and Aaron made the best Latkes I'd ever had. My Mom also loved his chopped liver. Sadly, I was too young to be able to appreciate the goodness of it. Now I'm much older, I crave such things.

                                As for Caplanskys, they were on hand for a local festival a couple of years ago and I wasn't impressed. The corned beef sandwich was over priced for the serving size. Perhaps, the fare would be better in house. I'm thinking that I'm going to have to visit Colemans very soon. Hopefully I won't be disappointed! :)

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Kellz

                                  Didn't Coleman's close about 5 years ago?

                                2. When I was a teenager, I worked on Spadina Ave at a place called Wright's Trims. They manufactured sewing trims. We went to Switzer's all the time for coffee, sandwiches etc. The potato knishes, to die for. In my memory it is the ultimate in Jewish deli food. I have eaten at Kaplansky's, nothing like. The gravy on their knishes! Eventually the manufacturer I worked for moved to Scarberia near the Wexford Tavern which I recently discovered is actually still there. Not the firm, the restaurant. Nothing I've ever had in Toronto, New York or Montreal compares to Switzers.

                                  1. Friday night with the old gang was Corned Beef and Dills at Switzers, then the Victory Burlesque across the street for the great pit band and comics (not!), then Grossman's for bad beer and Blues and then the Silver Dollar for a nightcap and more good sounds. All within three blocks. Spadina back then really was the real deal.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: TorontoTuna

                                      The good old days, right? I agree but do you now feel old? ;)

                                    2. My dad and I used to go to Switzers :) We like both Yitzs and Katzs but I give the edge to Yitzs!

                                      1. I'd take Meyer's over any of the ones being discussed, not that it matters very much. Jewish deli in Toronto has always been second rate. You still can't even get a decent bagel here after all these years.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: evansl

                                          I couldn't disagree more, about the deli or about the bagels. Nothing beats a kiva's twister! And Steeles Deli makes an awesome corned beef sandwich..or at least it used to.

                                          1. re: kwass

                                            Actually kwass, although I agree with the spirit of your post, IMO, a Bagel World (the originator?) twister beats a Kiva's twister.

                                            Kiva's regular bagels are MUCH better, but for me BW still gets the nod for (an occasional) twister.

                                            Agree re: Steeles deli (nice) and I think Center Street does a great job (cue the haters) certainly not "second rate".

                                            evansl ... have not been to Meyer's but I don't think it's worth the trip to Winnipeg for deli. If you really hate T.O. deli (why?) you can go to MTL (Schwartz) or NYC (Katz) (much closer than the 'peg)

                                            Or do you consider them "second rate" as well? :)

                                            1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                                              I agree with you about Center Street Deli.

                                              I can't comment on Bagel World's twisters, but if you say that they're even better than Kiva's, I might just have to give one a try :)

                                              1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                                                I thought Katz NYC was awful. Schwartz is good as is Main Deli in Montreal. I preferred Switzer's far above Shopsy's and miss the old Spadina. At Switzer's it was always old school Jewish deli for me - knish, kischka and gravy, new dills, cream soda! Rarely got the smoked meat - would get it in the knish - but sometimes got the hot dog which was served on a steamed bun - was it called a steamed moon? Who remembers? I don't like hot dogs usually but those were great.

                                                1. re: Calam1ty

                                                  I grew up down the street from the Beck family (Switzer's owners) and had many meals at the original Switzer's. Agree re: their knucker on a poppy seed roll, which was always great. While I enjoyed the food there more overall, I always liked Shopsy's corned beef better. Probably something to do with the hand slicing. Of course Shopsy's went way downhill and I never really bothered after they left "the Ave." Always ordered corned beef or pastrami. Never bothered with MSM until CSD brought the Snowdon Deli recipe here and started hand slicing.

                                                  Re: "up north", IMO if you want "Jewish deli", you go where the jews are. (generally, up north)

                                                  1. re: Calam1ty

                                                    RE: "Steamed moon". The term "moon" is a rough translation of the Yiddish word "mooen" meaning poppy seed. Thus "steamed moon" means steamed hot dog bun sprinkled with poppy seeds.

                                              2. I haven't tried 'up north' but it's rare to get a consistently good matzo ball soup in downtown Toronto - Free Times is usually better than Caplansky's but that's based on very few tries. I don't keep buying if it's expensive and doesn't perform well often enough. I had a matzo ball soup in the Main Deli, Montreal that was a bit anaemic. I've even had a mediocre one in good old Blum's (London, UK) and a few in Budapest that were so-so. Home made can't be beat so I just make my own. I haven't had a good knish for many years so bring 'em on! For the record, I favour Free Times smoked meat sandwiches over Caplansky's. It's just how it is!