The Accordion Jam
With all the travelling I’d been doing in the fall, my birthday party back on November 7th was a last-minute affair, but it was a great one. I managed to snag a spot for fifteen people at Caplansky’s Delicatessen. Caplansky’s has been open merely half a year, but in that short span of time, it’s won the loyalty of local deli fans, foodies and celebrities as well as my in-laws, who’ve forgotten more about deli than I will ever learn. The Ginger Ninja and I took them there over the holidays and not only did they enjoy their meal, they also enjoyed meeting the proprietor, Zane Caplansky.
I was enjoying a birthday beer while waiting for the appetizers to arrive when Wendy pointed out that a young guy with an accordion had entered the restaurant. Two accordionists meeting at random in a restaurant is a rare and precious phenomenon, so I introduced myself and told him that I too had an accordion – the little red number that I’d purchased on the very afternoon I signed my offer letter from Microsoft.
His name was Ronen Segall, and in addition to playing at parties and other functions, he plays at Caplansky’s. “I think I’ve read your blog before,” he said as we conversed. “Would you like to do a couple of numbers with me?”
I find invitations like that just about impossible to refuse, and the result – a performance of Que Sera, Sera, Should I Stay or Should I Go and Don’t You Want Me — is shown in the video below. My thanks to Pavel Zaitsev for doing the camerawork!
Here’s a shot of Caplansky’s taken from near the front of the restaurant on my phone back in September. Get a good look, because the place’s word-of-mouth has grown over the past few months and I doubt we’ll see it this empty for a good long time.
“We may be witnessing the birth of an institution,” gushes Toronto Life (the magazine for the local Lexus set) about Caplansky’s, and I concur. These days, the place is buzzing even during most other restaurant’s off-peak hours and the queue waiting for a table often goes out the door.
This is the second incarnation of the restaurant, the first one being a little shop operating symbiotically within the Monarch Tavern. With a brand new smoker and a new front-of-house and back-of-house staff, Zane’s raised the quality of his stuff from good to great, added items to the menu and taking on increasingly large crowds.
Here’s a shot of the tasty pickle plate that Wendy and I shared as an appetizer back in September. I’ve made it black and white because my mobile phone camera has a tendency to colour pictures of food in that unappetizing, 1950s drive-in movie theatre snack bar menu way:
For my main, I had the Caplansky’s Combo, a nice plate with a selection of their deli meats served along with a few slices of rye, tomato slices and onion. Back then, it comprised smoked meat, thick slices of grilled versht (beef salami), smoked turkey and chopped liver. I had to hit the gym a little harder the next day, but it was worth it.
Here’s a photo of the Combo, once again converted to black and white thanks to my mobile phone’s inability to take a decent food photo:
The question always comes up when I talk about the place: “How does it compare to Schwartz’s?” For those of you not familiar with the establishment, Schwartz’s is Montreal’s legendary charcuterie hebraique, who’ve been doing smoked meat since the Great Depression and their excellent product is considered to be the gold standard. I try to get in a meal there every time I’m in Montreal, and plan to do so again when I’m there later this month for the CUSEC conference.
I like both; Caplansky’s smoked meat has a smokier flavour to it, which I think is a good thing. I’d rather see Zane put his own touch on it rather than slavishly attempt to ape Schwartz’s. It’s the sort of deviation that gets the Montreal smoked meat purists up in arms, but they’re chauvinistic food grognards (who can shove Lucien Bouchard’s missing leg up their collective arses, if you want my honest opinion).
When I took the in-laws there over the holidays, I started with the split pea soup – simple and hearty – and followed that with the salami and eggs, which turned out to be one of the best renditions of this deli classic that I’ve ever had. Wendy had one of my silver dollar pancake-sized latkes that came with the dish and swooned. They’re quite good.
A lot of delis fall down when it comes to dessert, but not Caplansky’s. I believe they get their desserts from somewhere else, but that other place is great! The chocolate cake that I got for my birthday party was so good that I got another slice, and I plan to return for another serving of their dark chocolate bread pudding, which I had during my visit last week.
To sum it up: the food’s great. You should go.
Being someone who’s very passionate about his work and his field, I find it gratifying when I encounter someone who feels the same way about his. That’s what I like about Zane – he cares intensely about the food he serves and the restaurant in which he serves it. He obsesses about getting things just right – just read some entries in his blog to see just how much – and he also works the crowd at the restaurant, chatting up the tables and even doing a little order-taking and serving. This is no mere job for him – it’s a calling, and it shows.
If this article has enticed you to give Caplansky’s a try, I’d say go for it – but they’re taking this Monday through Friday off. Caplansky’s will be back open for business on Saturday, January 9th.
Caplansky’s Delicatessen is located at 356 College Street (at the corner of College and Brunswick, a few blocks west of Spadina). They’re open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. the rest of the week.