Before it opened this month, Ben and Izzy’s was already fending off lines. During construction, religious Jews and their culinary sympathizers actually banged on windows, and for good reason: The city hasn’t had a kosher deli since Marky’s closed last year. We asked chef and co-owner Dino “Ben” Venasio what goes into Bathurst and Lawrence’s most anticipated sandwiches.
1. Beef bacon
Back in Venasio’s non-kosher days (when he cooked at uptown restaurants Spacco and Alleycatz), his bacon was a mainstay among friends and family. For this kosher version, he dry-cures a fatty navel for 21 days in a salt and sugar rub. It’s then double-smoked for nine to 12 hours, cut thick, and baked to produce the salty, smoky centrepiece of the deli’s rabinically approved BLT.
2. Corned beef
Ben and Izzy’s beef comes from A.D. Rosenblatt, a boutique kosher ranch in Coke County, Texas. “It’s a full, full, full brisket, from 20 to 25 pounds,” says Venasio, who brines the briskets in a cure that includes bay leaf, clove, salt, sugar, and even cinnamon for up to two weeks. They’re then steamed for three to five hours before being sliced to order.
Ben and Izzy’s makes its pastrami from the navel cut (the belly of beef) instead of brisket (the lower chest)—the typical approach in New York, but unique among Canadian delis. The pastrami is cured in salt and sugar for a week to 10 days, then rubbed with peppercorn and coriander. “We really lay the smoke on thick,” says Venasio, who uses a Southern Pride Smoke Chef, which looks like a giant metal refrigerator. It’s filled with oak, maple, pecan, or other available woods (“they’re all
good,” he insists), and the meat is slow-smoked for nine hours to get the signature deep flavour and dark crust.
4. Smoked meat
“I’ve been working on my smoked-meat spice mix for five years,” Venasio says, noting that he only really mastered it last month. The blend contains 11 different seasonings, including garlic, clove, thyme, and rosemary—it’s both spicy and aromatic, like an Indian herb garden—and is rubbed on cured briskets that are smoked for nine hours.
Bonus Meat: Tongue
Every week (usually on Thursdays), Ben and Izzy’s will offer a tongue special alongside their meats. Whole tongues are cured in the same pickling solution as the corned beef, then boiled, cleaned (the outer membrane is removed), and steamed until soft, almost like tender corned-beef sashimi. “Surprisingly, the younger generation has shown tremendous interest in tongue,” Venasio says. “They had it with their Bubbie and want to take a stab at it.”
Ben and Izzy’s, 3513 Bathurst St., 416-787-3354.