Adventures in Smoked Meat

In January of 2005 I went to a technology conference in Toronto.  I know this sounds pretty geeky but conferences were basically an excuse to party in another city and well….I am a bit of a geek and think new technology is kind of cool (there was a seminar on nano particles and it was fascinating).  There was a restaurant across the street from the Holiday Inn on King St. (which is where the conference was held) called Reuben S which appeared to specialize in smoked meat sandwiches.  A group of us decided to give it a whirl. Upon entering the shop you could smell the smoked meat in the air.  The sandwich came with a huge pickle and we also ordered a side of cherry peppers.  The pickle was crisp and the cherry peppers were bursting with flavor.  The sandwich itself was also great.  Smokey, peppery, delicious. It was very reminiscent of our trips to Montreal.  We managed to make it back one last time before the conference was over.  On a side note, the conference itself ended a little abruptly.  Let’s just say there was a life size moose statue, a camera, some slow elevators, and an incident that resulted in a couple of us no longer being allowed back to the Holiday Inn on King St…EVER.  The incidence isn’t as gross as you are probably imagining.  In all honesty it wasn’t that bad and I think the security staff overreacted.

A couple months after moving to Toronto in 2007 I was excited to go back to Reuben S and revisit the site of the famous moose picture.  To my dismay, Reuben S was gone but at least the Holiday Inn was no longer a Holiday Inn, lifetime ban…HA!  Ever since I’ve been trying to find a great smoked meat sandwich place in Toronto.  In the summer of 2008, I found it.  Tucked away in the Monarch Tavern, up a dark and sketchy staircase was a small kitchen named Caplansky’s.  I ordered the combo which came with fries, coleslaw, a pickle slice and a 7oz smoked meat sandwich.  The fries were crisp and salted perfectly.  Could be some of the best fries I’ve had to date.  The coleslaw was also crisp with a hint of sweetness.  The sandwich, divine.  Juicy, peppery, smokey, delicious.  I remember thinking to myself, this ranks up there with Montreal and New York…it may even be better. I have gone back many times since and brought friends and family along to savor the flavor of this delicious sandwich.  It seemed like every time I went back, the sandwich got a little better. Mr. Caplansky opened up a new shop on College street last week.  Of course, I had to try it.

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The corner shop was very clean and there was a line-up just outside the door.  The staff were running all over the place and everyone in the place seemed pretty excited to try the new full menu that Caplansky’s now offered.  My buddy and I were just in the mood for a good sandwich so we ordered the basic combo.  The price of the combo had gone down but now it doesn’t come with coleslaw.  I opted for the fries and my buddy tried the Motzah ball soup.  The soup was just okay.  Not too salty but pretty basic.  I guess I’ve been a little spoiled with soup lately after trying this place downtown a few weeks ago (I’ll write about this soon).  The fries were good.  Not as good as I remember but still better than most places.

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The sandwich was a little drier than the last time I had it but it was still great.  I think he probably made a crap-load of brisket to make sure he didn’t sell out of food on the opening weekend (which was a problem with his previous shop).  Maybe it was sitting around and dried out a little.  The service was very friendly but you could tell they still have to work out a LOT of kinks.  I give it a month or so and hopefully the staff will have there act together.  Hopefully by this time too they will have a better sense of the customer flow the smoked meat will be fresher.  After the great sandwich experience I had several months ago with my buddy from Calgary (at which point I was convinced it was better than Schwartz), I’m willing to wait to give his new place another shot soon.  Oh and one more thing, their home made mustard is fantastic!  I usually put on the homemade mustard mixed with the spicy mustard.  The combination mixed with the smoked meat is amazing!

IMAG0100I have been raving about this sandwich for some time now and I always get asked  the same question, “Is it better than Schwartz’s?”  Several months ago I took a trip to Montreal to confirm.  After a night out in Montreal, we made a stop to Schwart’z early in the morning before driving back to Toronto.

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We ordered two smoked meat platters which came with a plate of smoked meat, half a loaf of rye bread and pickles.  First off, the pickle is huge!

IMAG0018I put my glasses in the picture to give a reference for size.  My head is pretty big so needless to say, this pickle was huge!  The platter with the plate of bread was very intimidating but washed down with a cherry cola, we knew we could pound it back and still go out for one last poutine before leaving the city.

IMAG0019-1The make your own sandwich concept was kind of nice since most places packed too much meat in between two small pieces of bread (especially in NYC and even more so at Carnegie Deli).  This way, we could control the meat to bread ratio which I have found is always key in a sandwich.  The mustard is just your standard Heinz mustard but the taste of the meat speaks for itself.

IMAG0020-1Now, the taste.  Walking into the place you can smell the smokiness in the walls.  The sandwich reflects this wonderful smokey flavor mixed with a spicy goodness that has made this sandwich the legend that it is.  The meat is pretty fatty which makes it very juicy and tender.  But the question is, how does this compare to Caplansky’s.  After eating both, I would say it is pretty close.  On a good day, I would say Caplansky’s is better but after the last experience, I would say Schwartz’s is slightly better.  They are both amazing sandwiches so really, the debate is like arguing which is better between sour patch kids or sour soothers.  They are both awesome!

A few months ago I also took a trip to New York and tried the sandwich at 2nd Ave Deli.  Now that is also a great sandwich!  So much meat!  I think it is juicer and fattier than the Canadian counterparts but it isn’t spiced as well.  Their perogies are awesome too.  In the end, I know I can find a good sandwich in NYC, Montreal and now finally Toronto.  It’s awesome living out east!  You can’t find this kind of stuff back west.  Ah, what the hell, here is the picture that got us banned from the Holiday Inn.

CUTC 2005_1 008It was 4 in the morning and riding the moose seemed like a good idea at the time.  It was pretty tough getting up there.  But seriously, getting kicked out for this?!  In all honesty, what is the bigger crime, riding the moose or wearing white socks with black shoes and black pants?  I feel like slapping college me across the face and saying, “If you are going to do something stupid, at least don’t dress like an idiot!”  Man,  I think I even packed black socks for that conference…

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~ by jlowjlow on September 12, 2009.

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