Classic Jewish deli foods
While there are lots of classic Jewish deli foods, arguably the most iconic is the dry-spiced, salt-cured and smoked beef brisket (a.k.a. smoked meat). Montreal butchers make the finest in the land, so everyone calls their cured beef “Montreal smoked meat” (whether it hails from Quebec or not).
The other things you’d expect on a good deli menu include potato latkes (pancakes), knishes (a mashed potato-stuffed pastry), chicken soup with matzo balls and cured salmon (lox).
And, of course, bagels. Montreal-style bagels are quite different from the bready bagels you get at the supermarket. They’re usually hand-formed and dipped in honey-infused water before being baked in a hot, wood-fired oven. The result is a bagel that’s crisp and slightly sweet on the outside, smoky and dense on the inside.
The roots of smoked meat, brined and smoked beef brisket (sometimes called pastrami) go back to Eastern Europe, especially Romania, so there’s lots of crossover between traditional Jewish and Eastern European food. If you can’t find a Jewish deli in your area, look for Romanian or Polish spots.
Jewish (and Jewish-inspired) delis in Calgary
Grumans Catering and Delicatessen is the only full-service, Jewish-inspired (it’s not kosher) deli in town, where you can sit down for your smoked meat sandwich or matzo ball soup, or get the cured meat (and anything else on the menu) to takeout by the pound or the piece.
Peter Fraiberg reopened Grumans this year (an earlier incarnation was in the west end of downtown) with a comfy deli and takeout counter out front, and a massive catering kitchen in back to provide food for company parties and big bar mitzvahs. It opens at 10 a.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. weekends for breakfast, but closes by late afternoon.
What’s unique on this menu is the breadth of traditional offerings. Whether you want an authentic 14-inch kosher hot dog, a big scoop of homestyle chopped chicken liver with bagel chips to share, warm knishes or rugelah, just like Bubby makes, it’s here to eat in or take out. It also does slow-roasted brisket on Fridays, real potato latkes and cures its own Atlantic salmon in-house, simply with sugar, salt and dill, which is the authentic way to make lox. The Montreal smoked meat is sliced as thin as possible by hand and the Reuben, slathered with Russian dressing, is stellar.
There are several other sandwich spots in town where you’ll find a classic Montreal smoked meat sandwich. Some, like Alberta King of Subs, even serve that other Montreal specialty, poutine, complete with squeaky cheese curds and gravy made from the drippings of the smoked brisket. Kickers Smoked Meat and Deli serves a great sandwich, piled high with smoked meat from Lesters in Montreal, and also serves a smoked salmon sandwich. When in Canmore, check out La Belle Patate – it specializes in gooey Quebec poutine, but serves Montreal smoked meat, too.
Grumans Deli in Calgary is new, but it has an old-fashioned feel with exposed concrete floors, booths and a deli counter for takeout sandwiches. Enjoy Montreal smoked meat, housemade lox, knishes,14-inch kosher hot dogs and other Jewish specialties.
At Myhre’s Deli (and sister shop Avenue Deli in Marda Loop) the smoked brisket, from Quebec Smoked Meats in Montreal, is steamed, sliced and served teetering thickly between sliced rye, with coleslaw, kosher dill pickles and a selection of mustards. And you can buy sliced Montreal smoked meat to take home, too, for $12 per pound.
At Redheads Bagel Cafe, the Montreal smoked meat is piled high on Alberta land rye or Angel Bakery’s light rye bread. The Montreal-style bagels are served slathered with the caf’s own flavoured cream cheeses, or topped with Scottish-cured smoked Atlantic salmon flown in from New Brunswick.
As with bagels – I like Wayne’s Bagels, but others prefer Montreal Bagels – everyone has their own opinion when it comes to smoked meat.
Polish butcher Jan’s Meat & Deli sells dill pickles from Ontario (the kind slowly fermented in a barrel) and have homemade perogies, and other deli specialties from horseradish with beets, to imported mustard, along with smoked pastrami from Freybe’s in Vancouver. Maria Market specializes in Romanian and Eastern European foods, with a selection of good deli meats, too.
While none of these delis are kosher, you’ll find kosher foods in some city supermarkets. Safeway at Glenmore Landing has a kosher foods aisle, as well as kosher meats and dairy. You can also buy Dunn’s Famous smoked meat (sliced in pouches or whole two-pound smoked briskets) at Costco. Costco also serves a Dunn’s smoked meat sandwich in its fast food court.
Deli food is made to takeout. Get a big smoked meat or Rueben sandwich to go, and enjoy it at your desk or in the park, or just take away lox, bagels and cream cheese for a casual breakfast in bed.
Where to find Jewish deli food in Calgary
7196 Temple Dr. N.E. 403-293-5809 albertakingofsubs.com
230 11 Ave. S.E. 403-261-9003 grumans.ca
Jan’s Meat & Deli
2436 2 Ave. N.W. 403-270-8334
1215 1 St. S.W. 403-288-8860 kickersdeli.ca
102 Boulder Cres., Canmore 403-678-0077 labellepatate.com
42, 2770 32 Ave. N.E. 403-291-6828
5858 Elbow Dr. S.W. 403-212-4060
1411 11 St. S.W. 403-244-6602 myhresdeli.ca
Redheads Bagel Cafe
683 11 Ave. S.W. 403-532-0600
Wayne’s Bagels 4515 Macleod Tr. S.W. 403-270-7090