It is difficult to find a good delicatessen in downtown Toronto. Full stop. Of course, there are reasons for this: traditions have not always trickled down to the next-gen; commercial leases & rents are at an all time high; eating sensibilities have pivoted; grab-and-go sections of the supermarket are flooded with inferior, cost-effective options.
As an enthusiast of the genre, it’s an absolute breath of fresh air to discover that Irene & Shelley Zelden are serving old-school deli classics right in the heart of Uptown. Turns out that deli has been alive-and-well for the past three years at Yonge & St. Clair. Zelden’s Deli & Desserts is steeped in family tradition and pedigree dating back to the ’80s. I checked them out recently, leaving with both a full stomach and some nostalgic warm fuzzies.
I’ve long had a fascination with matzah. It was a regular snack-of-choice growing up, and I continue to enjoy wherever crackers are required. Matzah Ball Soup is typically front and centre on the menu of any Jewish deli. And while its history is not fully known, this dish is thought to have evolved as the rest of Europe was adding dumplings to their soups and stews… adapted to suit regional, unleavened dietary sensibilities. Zelden’s generous iteration didn’t disappoint. Served in a schmaltzy chicken broth, the veggies are firm, providing a nice textured bite in conjunction with the soft, chewy matzah.
Their oven-baked knishes are made from ground mixed deli meat and potatoes. This ain’t your average appetizer; the portion is easily enough for a full meal. And they know how to pack it… this dish travels particularly well for takeout, served with bread and homemade gravy.
It’s well documented that sandwiches are, perhaps, my favourite item on any lunch menu. Zelden’s offerings are plentiful. Corned beef, smoked meat, turkey, salami or roast beef is all piled high at 7 oz. They also have reubens, elevated grilled cheeses and footlong hot dogs if that’s more your thing. Whatever you decide, don’t sleep on the New York Seltzer. One sip and I’m trippin’ down memory lane.
I have come specifically for the Pastrami. I’m told vague details of their coveted family recipe, perfected by Mama Z (the matriarch of the Zelden family) who made these sandwiches famous at Thornhill’s Zely’s Deli in the ’80s. I have to tell you, this is a great sandwich. The pastrami is very well-spiced and is served with Irene’s homemade spicy mustard. This two-hander has got kick! Sandwich of the year candidate right here! Add homemade coleslaw and/or potato salad; finish with a pickle. Perfection on a plate.
The Toronto Food Blog is aligned in supporting local small business as much as we can right now. Who knows how long it will be before dining rooms open again with this second COVID wave in full effect?
Zelden’s takeout game is on-point. Their food travels really well. Be sure to check them out the next time you’re hungry at Yonge & St. Clair. Their menu is also perfect for catering just as soon as we’re allowed to congregate again.