Q&A: Comfort food king Anthony Rose on his new Dupont Street deli
After five-and-a-half years of serving hedonistic diner dishes, Anthony Rose turned his Dupont diner, Rose and Sons, into a back-to-basics delicatessen. We spoke to Toronto’s comfort food king about baby beef, kvetching customers and how nostalgia is shaping his decisions these days.
You recently closed your popular diner Rose and Sons and re-opened it as a deli. I guess you’re not much for the old adage “If it ain’t broke…”
No! In this business you have to constantly reinvent yourself. We had Rose and Sons for five and a half years and it was time for a change. It’s funny that you said I closed my successful brunch restaurant, when it was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the week. We liked what we were doing there. The new place is essentially the same in terms of vibe and atmosphere, just focused on classic deli food like matzoh ball soup, pastrami and some other great noshes.
You could have gone in a lot of directions. Why a deli?
Well, we have Fat Pasha, which is Middle Eastern and an appetizing store called Schmaltz. I love that we’re bringing great Jewish food back to the masses, and a delicatessen is a great way to round that out. I wanted to open the same kind of spot that I went to growing up—Yitz’s, which was just around the corner from my house, and Coleman’s. We would go to either one once a week. My mom would get the baby beef, which is very specific to Toronto. And now that’s what we’re seeing, whole families coming in—and grandparents are scoping it out because they hear there’s a new pastrami in town.
Delis were once a staple in Toronto, and then a lot of the old joints disappeared. What happened?
If you look at a place like Schwartz’s in Montreal, they have five or six things on the menu that they do really well, and that’s it. That’s what delis used to be, but then people started wanting more—a salad or a bagel and cream cheese. That attempt to be something for everyone really watered down the original concept.
Complete this sentence: You can judge a deli by their…
By the customers who are complaining about everything around them! It’s part of the culture. My son and I were just at Second Avenue Deli in New York and we were sitting near these two old women who were kvetching the whole time—about the restaurant, their friends, each other. They each ordered matzoh ball soup, liver and corned beef sandwiches. When the waiter suggested they might split the sandwich—which is huge—they got mad. It was just so classic.
You’re also reopening Big Crow BBQ as Big Crow Grill. I’m sensing a theme here.
With Big Crow it was a bit different. When we opened we meant barbecue in the Canadian sense, but right at the same time the southern barbecue trend was exploding, and suddenly everyone expected us to focus on smoking. The move to a grill is just going back to that original concept—great cuts of meat, done with the classic fixings. It’s not a high end like a Morton’s. More like those old family restaurants that we don’t have any more; the Steak Pit and Senior’s Steak House.
You’re clearly going through a nostalgic period.
Ha! Yeah, that’s right. Good catch.