Ben & Izzy's Deli
Ben & Izzy's Deli is Toronto's only truly Kosher deli. Located on the aging corridor of Bathurst north of Lawrence that caters mainly to Toronto's Orthodox Jewish community. Notable neighbours include Dr. Laffa and Gryfe's bagel bakery.
The three month old sandwich shop from co-owners Ben Venasio and Izzy Bernath takes over the stripmall address that was formerly the longtime home to the Negev Bookstore. Inside is bright and casual; knotty pine paneling wraps around the walls and comfortable seating is offered at tables or the lunch counter.
While most delis like Caplansky's and Pancer's are 'Jewish-styled', Ben & Izzy's is strictly kosher – Glatt kosher that is, which means the menu is dairy free. There's no butter, no cheese, or even milk for a coffee, though I'd argue that these are not things essential to a good delicatessen anyway. If anything, the house-butchered, brined and smoked meats benefit deliciously from the high quality and extra care that their preparation requires.
Served with a pickle, the Pastrami Sandwich ($9.95, lead photo) is crafted onto the type of soft rye bread that sticks to the roof of your mouth. The thin machine-sliced smoked meat is so moist it hardly needs even the obligatory squirt of yellow mustard. Hand-carved meat is available upon request.
Loaded onto a pillowy challah bun, the Chicken Club ($10.95) is a tasty introduction to the housemade beef bacon served over juicy grilled chicken thighs with lettuce, tomato and mayo. The beef bacon (or rather beef fry) surprisingly tastes and looks similar to the real thing; it's ribboned with fat, sliced super thin, par cook in an oven, and then, fried to order. Bernath admits he has no basis for comparison, but I certainly do and it's pretty impressive; the texture totally nails it.
The Babke French Toast ($11.95) offers a sweet and salty breakfast option. Babke, a chocolate swirled bread with pudding centre is drenched in egg and fried before being piled with beef bacon and served with real maple syrup on the side.
At just over three months old, Venasio and Bernath have already been questioned on plans to expand. Bernath seems reluctant, noting that the oldest and most successful delis are marked by always-present owners, schmoozing with the clientele.
The sandwich shop is open most days from 11am until 8pm, on Fridays they close at 2pm for the Sabbath and reopen for brunch Sunday mornings. Weekly specials vary but are known to include pickled tongue. Take-out and catering orders are welcome.
NOTE: Ben & Izzy's will be closed until July 17th in observance of the Nine Days.
Photos by Natta Summerky