A room of his own: Zane Caplansky moves his deli to old Jewish town

A room of his own: Zane Caplansky moves his deli to old Jewish town

Guardian of the beef: Zane Caplansky lords over a cake version of his famous sandwich (Photo by Renee Suen)  

Zane Caplansky is bringing his celebrated “Toronto smoked meat”—part Schwartz’s, part Hogtown corned beef—to a brand new space in the heart of the city’s old deli town. The new Kensington chop shop is slated to open in August and will feature an expanded menu, a patio, a performance space, and a family legacy close to Caplansky’s meat-loving heart. With many of the city’s charcuterie shops up at Eglinton, Caplansky opened his current Clinton Street spot in the hope of bringing the traditional deli experience back downtown. Almost a year later, he’s garnered praise for his hand-cured, hand-smoked brisket: Joanne Kates called him a “one-man smoked-meat renaissance” selling fare fit for her bubbe, and even the “godfather of deli,” Shopsy’s Yitz Penciner, signed off. Now that the beef buff has curing cred, Caplansky is bringing the deli rejuvenation home to what he calls “the heart of the old Jewish deli soul”: the former Jewish quarter of Kensington Market.

Well before the days of bongo drums and hemp shoes, 356 College Street was a deli (Smith’s or Altman’s), while 352 next door was home to Caplan’s hardware, owned by the chef’s grandfather back in the ’30s. The neighbourhood has been embracing the newcomer with open arms. The first time he looked into the shop window, a passerby approached him and said, “Hey, Caplansky, you gonna move in here? That would be heaven.” The modest foodie (who was floored when Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl made a recent appearance at his shop) was as surprised by the shout-out as he was touched by the reception. Moving here “was bashert,” he says—the Yiddish expression for destiny.

Aside from family and meat market roots, the new digs offer a much larger smoking capacity—it’s unlikely Caplansky will run out of meat, which happened recently—and a host of bubbe-approved delicacies. A breakfast lover, Caplansky will be extending hours to serve such traditional Jewish treats as lox, smoked meat hash and salami and eggs. Also new to the menu will be rib-eye steak and chopped liver. “My mother makes the best chopped liver in the world, and she gave me her secret recipe,” says the chef. Smoked turkey will be a mainstay, for the non–red meat eater, and an all-new Caplansky original will make its debut: beef bacon. “I’m trying to keep it a secret, but I’ll tell you,” he whispers. “It’s cured beef belly, and it tastes delicious. I think it’s going to be a real winner.” The Kensington delicatessen will also offer a lively atmosphere featuring music, comedy and burlesque performances, as well as a 50-person patio that will be open until 11 p.m.

But even with all the change, some traditions are unshakable. When we ask whether it’s acceptable to go lean on a sandwich, Caplansky obliged: “Of course!” Then he paused: “But I do favour my fatty customers, it’s true.”