Two pieces of bread and something in between – as Missy says, what’s the dealio? To prove all sandwiches are not created equal, we’ve scoured the city to find Hogtown’s fiercest falafel and sub supreme.
To narrow the field, we’ve eliminated burgers, wraps, hot dogs, hoagies, tuna melts, muffulettas and Fluffernutters. Our remaining delicious picks run from cheap ’n’ cheerful to outrageously luxe, all without once mentioning the Earl of Sandwich. Hungry yet? You will be NOW!
Wild sockeye salmon
WHERE: The Fish Store, 657 College, at Grace, 416-533-2822
WHY: This nautically themed noshery on the College strip offers some of the freshest takeout seafood in town, whether in wraps, salads or chowders. Grab a bite and a seat on the small curbside terrace and take in the passing parade.
WHAT: A quarter-pound of grilled Pacific salmon – the ethical variety – slathered with secret-recipe garlicky chili pesto on a Portuguese paposecos bun from Golden Wheat Bakery, garnished with tomato, red onion and romaine. $7.95.
Photo By Nic Pouliot
WHERE: Caplansky’s Deli, in the Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton, south of College at Henderson, 416-500-3852
WHY: No fools they, virtually every deli in the GTA imports its precooked smoked meat from Montreal.
Inspired by the long-gone golden days of Switzer’s and Shopsy’s on Spadina, first-time restaurateur Zane Caplansky bucks the trend by curing and smoking his own briskets from scratch, a two-week process. The setting may seem odd – a low-key working-class saloon – but the mouthwatering results live up to the considerable hype.
“I’ve been hooked on Schwartz’s in Montreal since I was 16,” says Caplansky. “Just to be mentioned in the same sentence as them is an incredible honour.”
His motto: “Be the sandwich you want to eat.”
WHAT: Ten ounces of hand-sliced lean or fatty Grace Meat beef brisket piled on Silverstein’s rye ordinaire, sided with nippy coleslaw, Strub’s dill pickle and pub-grub fries. Not your everyday boil-in-a-bag brisket, call it Montreal-style smoked meat by way of southern U.S. barbecue. $11.
WHERE: Pita Break, 565 Yonge, at Wellesley, 416-968-1032
WHY: Though most falafel leaves us feeling awful, the stuffed pita wraps this always busy snack shack whips up stand far above those of its rivals. Not only are they bigger, freshly made and loaded with fixin’s, but the pita itself is whole grain, preservative-free and kosher to boot.
WHAT: So it’s not traditional: four crispy-shelled chickpea patties splashed with tzatziki in a flaxseed pita spread with hummus and stuffed with lettuce, tomato, hot pickled Italian peppers, cucumber, sprouts and parsley, and lashed with Indian-style coriander sauce. $4.87.
WHERE: Uno Mustachio, St. Lawrence Market South, 93 Front East, at Jarvis, 416-367-8325
WHY: Though Carousel’s peameal bacon gets all the press, this lower-level SLM lunch spot deservedly gets the longer lineups.
WHAT: Uno Mustachio, now rebranded and under new management, may have a slightly different name, but the payoff’s exactly the same: over a pound of breaded Italian eggplant piled high on focaccia and optionally dressed with pulpy house tomato sauce, caramelized onion and roasted bell peppers, so much there’s enough for two conventional sandwiches. $5.29.
Spiced Indian chicken
WHERE: Red Tea Box, 696 Queen West, at Euclid, 416-203-8882
WHY: This Pacific Rim bakeshop and tea emporium, with one of Toronto’s loveliest backyard patios and a coach house, is known for its unique card of East-meets-West specialties like this delicious s’wich. “Every time we take it off the menu, our regulars make such a fuss,” laughs RTB’s Mun Wong. “I guess we’re stuck with it!”
WHAT: An addictive mix of roasted free-range chicken that’s been marinated for 24 hours in an Indo-inspired spice paste, buttery avocado and honeyed onion marmalade on Fred’s Breads’ raisin loaf spread with house-made mayo, sided with house greens in a vibrant fig vinaigette. $9.50.
WHERE: Carousel Bakery, St. Lawrence Market South, 93 Front East, at Jarvis, 416-363-4247
WHY: If your Saturday-morning ritual includes a trawl through Toronto’s longest-running farmers’ market, you’ve likely grabbed a bite at downtown’s favourite bakery slash takeaway. Hogtown’s signature dish? Autographed glossies of celebrity endorsers Emeril Lagasse, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Fiddy Cent agree.
WHAT: Crusty house-baked kaisers spread with ballpark mustard or optional hot horseradish stacked with thick slices of tender Canadian-style peameal back bacon. $5.30.
WHERE: Delux, 92 Ossington, at Humbert, 416-537-0134
WHY: Since launching her west-side bistro last winter, owner/chef Corinna Mozo has established herself as one of the hottest new cooks in town. The reason? A reasonably priced and expertly executed card that gives French comfort food an unexpected Latin accent.
WHAT: Super-moist molasses-cured pork shoulder, deli-style Black Forest ham, gooey Gruyère, diced red onion and cornichons on grilled house-baked Cuban-style bread spread with both grainy mustard and chipotle mayo, sided with chunky Idaho frites and watercress salad in a creamy lemon vinaigrette. $12.
Catfish and shrimp po’ boy
WHERE: Cajun Corner, 214 Laird, at Eglinton, 416-703-4477
WHY: Relocated from its original Leslieville storefront home into appreciably fancier digs in Leaside, this Mardi Gras party purveyor and hot sauce stop has evolved into a more than competent full-service restaurant complete with patio. Such the demand, owner/chef Karen Cosburn now serves her wonderful weekend-only beignets for dessert daily.
WHAT: A half-pound of farm-raised catfish fillet and a quartet of plump quality shrimp dusted with a seasoned cornmeal dredge pan-fried and dressed with tomato, lettuce and caper-strewn remoulade on a French-style roll sided with Cajun-spiced Louisiana-style slaw and sweet potato gaufrette “frites.” $9.
Deluxe Saigon sub
WHERE: The Rose Café, 324 Broadview, at First, 416-406-9906
WHY: A true cultural collision, Vietnamese banh mi marry French colonial cuisine with the flavours of Southeast Asia.
WHAT: While they have many local competitors, these superior subs are built on a flaky patisserie-style buttered bun and heaped with what’s euphemistically known as “pâté” (think unidentified pork cold cuts that all taste like ham) as well as lengths of English cucumber, coriander and pickled daikon ’n’ carrot for extra kick. Not a fan of mystery meat? Go vegetarian with a deep-fried tofu version for only $2. Regular price, $2.50.
Vegan barbecued tofu
WHERE: Urban Herbivore, 64 Oxford, at Augusta, 416-927-1231
WHY: This health-conscious Kensington café offshoot of Stephen Gardner’s much-loved Fressen – arguably Toronto’s finest vegetarian resto – features a short salad ’n’ sandwich card that’s completely free of animal products. Don’t miss the muffins – they’ll not only make you a regular, they’ll keep you that way, too!
WHAT: On grilled house-baked whole wheat focaccia spread with miso paste, basil pesto and olive tapenade, oven-roasted organic tofu doused in mildly tangy barbecue sauce dressed with baby spinach, ripe tomato, Spanish onion and alfalfa sprouts. $8.50.
WHERE: Studio Café, in the Four Seasons Hotel, 21 Avenue Road, at Yorkville, 416-964-0411
WHY: A Maritime specialty, lobster rolls are hard to find in landlocked Toronto, and when you do, they’re pricey. But if you can afford to stay at the Four Seasons along with John Mayer and Jennifer Aniston, what’s the problem?
WHAT: Steamed and randomly chopped Nova Scotia lobster in a dazzlingly rich lemon mayo flecked with chives in a pair of miniature hot-dog-style buns, festooned with black nigella onion seedlings and plated next to a side salad of arugula, cherry tomatoes and char-grilled corn. $26.
Lamb satay sub
WHERE: New York Subway, 520 Queen West, at Ryerson, 416-703-4496
WHY: What other city could produce a restaurant as multiculturally diverse as this Indian burrito beanery? And though the digs are decidedly down-market, the explosive culinary rewards soar above the decor.
WHAT: Coriander-kissed Malaysian-style lamb kebabs cooked à point on a greasy-spoon griddle, delivered on an Ital submarine bun splashed with mayo and hot sauce, and dressed with ripe-ish tomato and crisp shredded iceberg lettuce – the lot returned to the griddle for a final fry. $6.95.
Xian-cured pork in bread
Linda Jin Liu shows off Chinese Traditional Buns’ irresistible Mongolian sandwich.
WHERE: Chinese Traditional Buns, 536 Dundas West, at Kensington, 416-299-9011
WHAT: The original galloping gourmet, Genghis Khan is said to have invented this Mongolian precursor to the hamburger back in the 11th century so that he could grab a bite and ransack a village at the same time.
WHY: Pork shoulder slow-stewed to the point of disintegration in more than 20 aromatic spices and served in a grilled, unleavened wheat bun garnished with raw scallion, coriander and optional chopped garlic and/or chili oil. $2.29.
WHERE: The Black Camel, 4 Crescent, at Yonge, 416-929-7518
WHY: Just across from the Rosedale subway, this three-year-old art deco diner is always a mob scene come lunch. The reason? A short card of expertly executed s’wiches that are guaranteed to make as much of a mess as they are to impress. No wonder the house provides moist towelettes!
WHAT: Succulent shredded, slow-cooked Butcher Shop naturally raised pork shoulder with molasses barbecue sauce on a porous mayonnaise-spread Portuguese bun. The addition of cole slaw ($2.20) takes this everything to the next level. $7.
WHERE: The Sandwich Box, 238 Queen West, at John, 416-204-9411; 67 Richmond West, at Bay, 416-913-4444; 37 Eglinton East, at Yonge, 416-488-2300
WHY: When well-regarded chef Abdi Ghotb ditched the fine-dining scene (he’s best known for trendy Goldfish on Bloor) for a gourmet fast food concept five years ago, the industry scoffed. But with three wildly successful Boxes under his belt – and a fourth set for the Royal Bank Plaza – who’s laughing now?
WHAT: From a selection of 14 types of Ace bread, seven spreads, meats and cheeses as well as a garden patch of veggies, we go for nutty honey-sweetened organic Granary bread daubed with vegan curried apple purée piled with turkey breast, roasted red peppers and jalapeño havarti, sided with organic balsmic-dressed mesclun. In a box. $7.35.
WHERE: The House on Parliament, 456 Parliament, at Carlton, 416-925-4074
WHY: Sandwiches don’t come any more basic than charred meat on a bun, but this venerable Cabbagetown pub elevates the simple steak sandwich to a work of art. Friendly service and laid-back patio vibe, too.
WHAT: Six ounces of nicely marbled grilled-to-order triple-A sirloin on a toasted garlic Micaelense Bakery baguette layered with sharp English Stilton and caramelized red onion, sided with better-than-most fries and house greens in cherry vinaigrette. $11.95.
WHERE: Corned Beef House, 303 Adelaide West, at Widmer, 416-977-2333
WHY: The classic deli combo is said to have been created in 1914 at New York City’s long-gone Reuben’s Delicatessen, though an Omaha greengrocer, coincidentally named Reuben, claims he came up with the idea during a poker game in 1925. The Partridge Family’s Reuben Kincaid, however, takes no credit for the dish.
WHAT: Ten ounces of smoked, thinly sliced Lester’s Montreal-style brisket on Silverstein’s marbled rye, topped with sharp Swiss cheese and tangy sauerkraut and sided with a Strub’s dill pickle. $9.25.
WHERE: California Sandwiches, 244 Claremont, at Treford, 416-603-3317; 1603 the Queensway, at East Mall, 416-201-7392; 2700 Dufferin, at Stayner, 416-787-5205, and others
WHY: A favourite of cops, cabbies and the Toronto Maple Leafs, this mom-’n’-pop family-run chain has been dishing up Ital takes on wiener schnitzel on a bun since Little Italy was an Italian neighbourhood.
WHAT: Twenty-four-ounce behemoths built on absorbent Italian Home Bakery buns, piled with lightly breaded and pan-fried sliced veal cutlet in terrific tomato sauce garnished with sliced mushrooms, cheese, heartburn-inducing jalapeños (each $1 extra) and/or eggplant ($2). $6.86.
WHERE: The Ackee Tree, 170 Spadina, at Queen, 416-866-8730
WHY: Caribana’s “official restaurant of 2006” – who knew? – this stylish fast-food joint rocks the house till 4 am on Fridays and Saturdays all summer long. A kitchen with unusual attention to detail makes Ackee rise above most run-of-the-mill roti restos.
WHAT: Assertively spiced and remarkably juicy grilled-then-roasted-then-shredded chicken coupled with thick slices of tomato and baked sweet potato on a grilled Caribbean coco bun slathered with jerked mayo and sided with creamy – and cooling! – cabbage slaw. $5.95.
WHERE: Jim’s Best Western, 897 Queen East, at Logan, 416-463-6535
WHY: Believed to have originated with 19th-century American pioneers, this portable omelette came heavily spiced with onion to mask the taste of eggs that had gone bad. This highly regarded east-side spoon hasn’t been around quite as long, having been founded in 1963.
WHAT: Two scrambled eggs whipped with diced ham and chopped Spanish onion served on brown Texas toast. Don’t dig meat? Substitute sweet green pepper for ham. De rigueur condiment: ketchup! $3.95.