As any kosher foodie will tell you, Toronto’s kosher food scene has been on the rise of late. In fact, for enthusiasts of kosher food who prefer to dine out, May marked Kosher Restaurant Month throughout the city, with 23 eateries participating by offering patrons a 10 per cent discount.
But what about a culinary experience that isn’t necessarily kosher, but still has Jewish roots? Where would culturally Jewish Torontonians go for some culinary classics that feel close to home?
Well, there are actually several options.
If you’re in Thornhill, Centre Street Deli is great for classic deli fare, while Meron To Go is the place for Israeli staples, and What A Bagel offers kosher-style breakfast and brunch.
In the downtown core, some chefs offer slightly modified versions of the Jewish classics they grew up with, were influenced by, or both.
At Rione XI on St. Clair West, chefs Danilo and Sandrelle Scimo serve food inspired by Rome’s historic Jewish quarter. Here you’ll find authentic Italian dishes one wouldn’t normally consider Jewish: wood fire-baked pizza, cornish hen, and carbonara that uses bresaola (air-dried salted beef) instead of pancetta (Italian bacon). Many of the pizzas also don’t mix meat and cheese. The restaurant also pays tribute to Rome’s Jewish quarter with two murals painted on its walls: one of the Great Synagogue of Rome, the other a map of the Jewish quarter.
If you head south and then east on Dupont Street, you’ll eventually run into two of three Jewish-themed eateries within one kilometre of each other, all owned and operated by chef Anthony Rose: Schmaltz Appetizing (purveyors of fine fish), Fat Pasha (Rose’s take on Israeli and Middle Eastern fare) and his flagship restaurant Rose & Sons (gluttonous Jewish-inspired brunch). At any of these spots you’ll find new takes on Jewish or Israeli classics you grew up with. The Chubb Chubb sandwich at Schmaltz, for example, is Rose’s take on lox and cream cheese, and features smoked whitefish salad, gravlax, horseradish cream cheese and dill cucumbers.
Rose also serves a sandwich called Farshtunken, which in Yiddish means “stinky.” The sandwich consists of three types of herring, raw red onion, and a well-buttered bagel. It may live up to its name, but oy vey is it ever delicious.
At Caplansky’s Deli on College Street, celebrity chef Zane Caplansky offers an entire menu’s worth of his takes on classic Jewish delicatessen, from the Leaning Tower of Caplansky (thick-cut challah french toast with layers of cream cheese, blueberry jam and beef bacon) to the smoked meat knish pocket. There’s also a latke poutine and a drink called the Jewmosa. While none of it is kosher, it’s all deeply rooted in Jewish cuisine, Caplansky says. Furthermore, the restaurant’s walls are clad with Jewish paraphernalia. Employees even wear shirts that read, “Kickin’ it Old Shul.”
Only a few minutes away you’ll find People’s Eatery in Chinatown on Spadina Avenue. Known for merging diverse cuisines, it serves a latke topped with trout, sour cream and roe (fish eggs). At Free Times Cafe, a staple in Toronto’s downtown Jewish community, there’s a range of Jewish and Israeli items, from chicken shish kebobs to smoked salmon platters, but also Canadian classics like nachos, chicken fingers and peameal bacon burgers. The result is a diverse crowd that appreciates good food, Jewish or not.
If you head further south, and are in the mood for brunch, Noah Goldberg, executive chef of Peter Pan Bistro on Queen Street West, makes a mean shakshuka made from in-house ingredients. Goldberg first tried shakshuka in Israel, adored it, and decided to make his version using cumin, coriander, spices, and a medley of tomatoes, roasted red peppers and onions. He also adds za’atar, a dollop of labneh (a strained yogurt cheese that’s quite popular in Israel) and recommends adding sausage made of lamb, not pork.
Kosher-style sausage is much more popular now anyways, he says.