The Reuben at Maker Pizza

Maker PizzaLocation: 59 Cameron Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.makerpizza.com/

A Reuben pizza is one of those things that’s simultaneously ridiculous and oddly compelling.  It probably shouldn’t work, and yet… as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to eat it.

Here’s how Maker’s menu describes it: “Montreal smoked meat, mustard béchamel, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, everything bagel crust.”

It sounds absurd (and amazing).  It looks absurd (and amazing).

Alas, it’s just absurd — it’s not particularly amazing.

Maker Pizza

I will say that the (non-absurd) pizza at Maker is some of the best in the city.  Even in this particular pie, that’s fairly apparent; the crust is outstanding.  It has an amazing flavour, a good amount of char, and an absolutely irresistible crispy/chewy/bready texture.  I was afraid that the everything bagel elements would overwhelm the crust, but they actually work quite well.

The crust also manages to not completely collapse under the deluge of meat, sauerkraut, cheese, and sauce, and it manages to do that without feeling overly substantial.  That’s no small feat; certainly, it’s a testament to how good the crust is here.

Maker Pizza

And while the Reuben elements are all tasty (the thinly-sliced smoked meat is a little bit tough, but the Reuben flavours are otherwise perfect: it’s meaty, cheesy, salty, sweet, and vinegary, with everything balanced really well), it never quite coheres as a pizza.

It just feels like too much stuff.  It needed more bread to balance out the voluminous ingredients, like… oh, I don’t know, a sandwich??  It probably would have worked better as a calzone, but then that wouldn’t have been nearly as Instagrammable, which I imagine is half of the point of this thing.

And that’s the problem — even though all of the elements are really good, it’s a food mashup that never should have been mashed up.  It’s a gimmick.  I would have rather eaten a Reuben sandwich or a regular pizza.  This takes two great things and makes both of them less great by combining them.

Mind-blowing Smoked Meat at SumiLicious

SumiLiciousLocation: 5631 Steeles Avenue East, Scarborough
Websitehttps://sumilicious.ca/

Holy crap, SumiLicious.  Holy.  Crap.

I knew I’d have to check the place out as soon as I read this thread on Chowhound.  A new smoked meat place?  Yes please.  Started by someone who worked at the legendary Schwartz’s in Montreal for 18 years?  You had me at “new smoked meat place,” but now I’m really sold.  And it’s delicious?  Buddy, I’m sold already, you can stop.  I’m there.

SumiLicious

I’m kind of glad this place is such a trek from where I live, because if it were nearby, I’d be there every single day.  It’s smoked meat perfection.

I can’t emphasize this enough: the smoked meat sandwich at SumiLicious is absolutely magnificent.  It’s the best smoked meat sandwich that I’ve had in ages.  Certainly, it’s the best smoked meat in the city, and it stands side-by-side with any sandwich I’ve had in Montreal or New York.  It’s ridiculously good.

SumiLicious

The sandwich is a heaping tower of intensely flavourful, ultra-tender, hand-sliced goodness.  It’s quite fatty, but that fat is so perfectly cooked it’ll make your knees buckle.  It just melts in your mouth like unctuous, luxurious meat butter.

And the meat itself is almost absurdly tender, but retains enough texture that it never feels mushy.  It’s perfect.

SumiLicious

The flavour is really unique, too.  It’s got enough of the classic smoked meat seasoning to be pleasantly familiar, but it’s also got its own thing going on; they’re obviously doing something a little bit different with the spice blend (but don’t ask me specifically what — I’m terrible at identifying spices).

It’s a bit less salty than your typical smoked meat, which lets the beef’s natural flavour shine through more than you’d expect.  It’s something special, that’s for sure.

But I mean, don’t take my word for it.  Just look at this close-up:

SumiLicious

Sexy AF.  Downright NSFW.  And it’s just as good as it looks.

I also tried the coleslaw, which is a tad too sweet, but otherwise has a nice vinegary bite and is a good foil for the heavy sandwich.

Oh, and it’s delightfully affordable, too: it’s nine bucks (not including the coleslaw), and considering the quality and the sheer size of the sandwich, that’s a crazy deal.

SumiLicious

Of course, the question is whether or not they can keep up this insane level of quality.  The last couple of high-profile smoked meat joints in the city — Caplansky’s and Ben & Izzy’s — both started out great and then slowly (or not-so-slowly in the case of Ben & Izzy’s) went downhill.

I’m very, very curious to see if SumiLicious can continue to pump out smoked meat of this calibre in the coming months and years.  I hope they do, but I’d advise you to go there now so that you don’t lose out on basking in its magnificence.

Reliably Great Smoked Meat at Centre Street Deli

Centre Street DeliLocation: 1136 Centre Street, Thornhill
Websitehttp://www.centrestreetdeli.com/

Ah, Centre Street Deli.  Other delis have come and gone over the years, but Centre Street has always been around, quietly and consistently pumping out some of the best smoked meat in the city.

A couple of years ago, some of the employees got together and bought the place out.  I was afraid the quality might take a hit, but nope — still delicious.

Centre Street Deli

They have a couple of types of smoked meat: mild smoked meat, and old fashioned.  One has a bit more spicing than the other, and I don’t know why but I can never remember which is which.  I have to ask every time.  I just ate this and I’ve already forgotten again.  I think the old fashioned is the more aggressively spiced one, and the most popular.

The platter is a great deal — a generous sandwich, a heaping mound of fries, coleslaw, and a pickle for $16.50.  Hard to go wrong there, especially when the food is this good.

Centre Street Deli

I got the old fashioned (I think?), and it was quite tasty, as usual.  It was, however, a bit too lean, and the meat was slightly tougher than it should have been.

I’m starting to think that I should be ordering my smoked meat sandwiches fatty instead of medium.  Ordering your sandwich fatty feels weirdly indulgent, but hey: I like what I like.  I think I need to own it.

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.

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.