Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Caplansky’s Delicatessen: The Perfect Place to Meet a Nice Jewish Sandwich

Shalom Life chats with head honcho Zane Caplansky on his Jewish roots, his trendy deli restaurant in the heart of downtown Toronto, and his new summer cocktail, the ‘Jewmosa’

By: Daniel Koren

Published: August 16th, 2013 in Business » World

Zane Caplansky is a character.

Have a conversation with him for longer than five minutes and you’d think you were talking to the token Jew from a hilarious new sitcom broadcasted on FX.

Behind the counter of irresistibly salty meats – arguably the best in Toronto – behind his quirks, jokes, and inexplicably straightforward demeanour, stands a man very passionate about food, service, and his Jewish lineage.

Sitting with Caplansky – he changed his name from ‘Caplan’ a few years ago in honour of his grandparents, and also, because Caplan ‘just doesn’t sound Jewish enough’ – he proudly asked me to take a look around his restaurant, gesturing to the walls of Jewish paraphernalia and his heritage-soaked photographs.

Mind you, you’d be blind not to have noticed them the moment you step into the celebrated deli located at Toronto’s College and Spadina streets, just north of Kensington Market.

As he stirs up his latest concoction for me to try, a ‘refreshing summer cocktail’ that goes by the name ‘Jewmosa‘ (“not too boozy, not too sweet”), Caplansky tells me the origins of this community staple, which he started a mere five years ago.

“We actually started in another location just ten minutes from here, at a dive bar in Little Italy,” he tells me. “At first, we only served smoked meat sandwiches, knish, cabbage borscht, fries, and poutine.”

Seems he has no reservations about the audience he’s been catering to.

“When I was a little boy, my grandfather was in the was in a shmata business on Richmond,” he continues. “He used to pay me five cents to sharpen pencils for him, and after we’d head down to Switzer’s Deli. We’d have corn beef sandwiches, french fries and cream sodas. This is where my love for deli began. Delis are very special, because they are more than just restaurants; when someone is born, you call a deli, when someone dies, you call a deli, for a bar mitzvah, wedding, or daily event, we’re life’s caterers. We’re here for you for all of life’s ups and downs.”

“And we celebrate that here at Caplansky’s,” he adds, “in a way that welcomes everyone, not just Jewish people. Here at Kensington Market, arguably the crossroads of Toronto, every wave of migration has passed through here, and through this restaurant. Take a look around,” he tells me, waving to the various satisfied patrons seated at tables around us. “Caplansky’s is the kind of place you build an emotional attachment to, the kind of place you bring your out-of-town relatives.”

As I take my first sip of the ‘Jewmosa’ – made up of lillet (a french aperitif), Manischewitz wine, an orange slice and a splash of soda – Caplansky continues his passionate address on food, and the cultural influence his deli has had on Toronto.

“My passion for what I do is more than just food, and the ‘Jewmosa’ is representative of this. We have a love for Jewish food culture here: the food we grew up with, the celebrations around that food, the people who made and taught us how to make that food. With our food truck and catering business to top it off, I believe we’ve really been able to build something special here. Where other delis are thought of as ‘Jewish restaurants,’ I wanted to do it different here at Kensington, making this the kind of place where absolutely everybody would want to try the food that I loved so much growing up.”

Meanwhile, the ‘Jewmosa’ was tantalizing my taste buds, a light, refreshing summer drink that was vaguely reminiscent of last year’s Pesach seder – because, really, when else would you drink Manischewitz?

“The ‘Jewmosa’ is really thanks to our head server Elaine Gold. When I invited her, and our general manager Tenzin, to become investors in the restaurant, Elaine jumped at the idea, and we later went out to celebrate. We came back to her place to continue the party, and Elaine, whose favourite alcohol is lillet – perfect for a hot summer’s day – had only that and a bottle of Manischewitz lying around. And even though it’s really a terrible tasting wine,” he clears his throat, “with the lillet and club soda, it was actually quite delightful,” Caplansky explains to me.

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