Tasty Deli Sandwiches at Rose and Sons

Rose and SonsIf you were lucky enough to try Caplansky’s at its original digs in the Monarch Tavern, then you’ll know that it was truly something special.  One of the things that made their smoked meat stand out was its intensely smoky flavour.  This was greatly diminished once they moved to their permanent location and had to start making the meat in greater quantities (and of course, in a sad turn of events, Caplansky’s is now gone altogether).

Well, it looks like Torontonians craving that unique smokiness now have somewhere to go, because Rose and Sons was recently transformed into an old-school deli, and they’re serving up pastrami with a distinctively smoky flavour.

Rose and Sons

It’s actually quite good — I got the hot pastrami sandwich, and my only real complaint is that the meat should have been a bit fattier (they called it medium, but it was much closer to lean).

Rose and Sons

That’s an easy fix, though: I’ll ask for it fatty the next time I go, because there’s definitely going to be a next time.  It’s a great sandwich, with perfectly thick slices of tender, smoky, nicely spiced pastrami.

Rose and Sons

I also tried the potato and onion knish, which didn’t fare quite as well.  I think this might have been the second or third knish I’ve had in my entire life, so it’s possible that I’m just not a fan — but this was dry pastry encasing bland, crumbly potatoes with a slightly oniony flavour.  It desperately needed a gravy or some kind of sauce, or really anything to give it just a little bit of moisture (not to mention flavour).  I didn’t care for it.

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Zelden’s Deli & Desserts

Zelden's
Location: 1446 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://zeldensdelianddesserts.com/

I’d have a pretty hard time narrowing down a top five list of my favourite dishes, but certainly, deli sandwiches — pastrami, smoked meat, etc. — would be on there.  There are few things in life more satisfying than a really good deli sandwich.

Zelden’s is the new kid in town in the Toronto deli scene (such as it is), so obviously I had to give them a shot.

Zelden's

Their specialty is pastrami, and the sandwich comes piled high with meat.  The mustard’s on the side, which is correct.  It’s always better when you get to apply it yourself, because a lot of places tend to slather it on in gobs, which completely overpowers the meat.

It’s a very good sandwich, but sadly, not great.  The meat has a good proportion of fat, and the spicing is perfect — it has a satisfying peppery kick that doesn’t overwhelm.  But the meat probably needed to cook for another hour or so.  Some slices were okay; others were rubbery.  You know that thing where you can’t quite bite through the meat in a sandwich, and it pulls out from the bread?  Yeah.

Zelden's

I also wish the meat were sliced by hand instead of by machine, because I find that the thicker, slightly irregular slices of hand-cut pastrami tend to be more satisfying.  But then again, in this case the meat was so tough that it really needed to be sliced as thinly as possible.  It probably should have been thinner.

It’s a shame, because it otherwise seemed like top-notch pastrami, so I’ll definitely have to give Zelden’s another shot at some point.

The fries were quite good, at least.

Caplansky’s Delicatessen

Caplansky's - the meatloaf
Location: 356 College Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.caplanskys.com/

I remember the early days of Caplansky’s; before he opened his own place, it was just Zane Caplansky himself at the back of the Monarch, a sketchy old bar in Little Italy. Back then the smoked meat was truly something special: smoky, uniquely spiced, and unctuously tender. It could have easily gone toe-to-toe with the best smoked meat I’ve ever had, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

But then, Caplansky moved to his own place, and things started to very quickly go downhill. The quality of the meat was wildly inconsistent, and they started taking shortcuts — such as curing the meat via chemical injection rather than naturally — that would have been anathema back at the Monarch.

The sandwiches were, at their worst, so dry they sucked all the moisture out of your mouth. The fat was rubbery and unrendered. I got one sandwich with zebra-patterned swathes of uncured gray meat. I stopped going regularly.

Things seem to have evened out recently. The last couple of times I’ve gone, the sandwiches have been much more consistent — but consistently middling. They’re fine. They are perfectly edible sandwiches. They’re better than Druxy’s, but worse than pretty much every other place in the city making good smoked meat sandwiches. The days of smoked meat that was so incredibly amazing it made my knees buckle are long gone, sadly.

But all this time I’ve never bothered trying anything else on the menu. Smoked meat is obviously the specialty, but they do have a fairly decent selection of non-sandwiches. I figured I’d try the meatloaf, which is tantalizingly described on the menu as “10 oz. of fresh ground beef and our famous smoked meat seared top and bottom.”

Oh boy. I’m going to stick with the sandwiches.

Though the meatloaf tasted sort of okay, it had a repulsively mushy, baby-food-like texture that was truly horrifying. It tasted like they took a meatloaf, cooked it, crammed the whole thing into a blender with some liquid, then formed that mush into slices and served it.

As for the smoked meat, it may as well not have even been there. There were tiny little bacon-bit-sized flecks of smoked meat interspersed throughout, but if I hadn’t seen them, I wouldn’t have even known they were there. You couldn’t taste them.

The slices are glazed with a classic ketchup-based sauce, which was basically okay, if a bit cloyingly sweet and one-dimensional.

The meatloaf is served with some sauteed vegetables, which were fine, and your choice for the second side. I went with mashed potatoes, which were actually the highlight. They were creamy and slightly chunky, with a mild garlicky flavour.

Thinking about the food on the way home, I came to the somewhat shocking realization that the meatloaf here was probably the worst I’ve ever had. Cafeteria meatloaf is better. Heck, even the frozen stuff you get at the supermarket is better. The version at Caplansky’s was shockingly bad. I’d feel embarrassed serving food of this caliber to guests in my home, let alone to paying customers in a restaurant.

Caplansky's - the restaurant Caplansky's - the meatloaf