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By BERNIE BELLAN
You may have read Bartley Kives’s tantalizing piece about delis, which appeared in a March issue of the Free Press. That article spoke of the revived popularity of traditional Ashkenazi Jewish foods in a number of local eateries, including Bernstein’s Deli and the Tallest Poppie, but the primary focus was on a brand new deli: Sherbrook Street Delicatessen.


Open since the middle of March, Sherbrook Street Delicatessen has been eliciting rave reviews from patrons – as well as Bartley Kives. I’ve been asked more than a few times whether I had been there yet. In fact, I was there a couple of weeks before Passover and saw for myself how busy the place was. (I was there as a guest of the deli, which is a disclaimer I should add before I write about how great the food was.)
But, rather than talk about how various dishes tasted - I only had the chopped liver platter, which was terrific, so anything else I might write about other items on the menu would be based on what I was told by others – I thought it might be more interesting to describe how this particular deli came into being.
Recently I sat down with 29-year-old owner Jon Hochman one morning shortly after the deli opened its doors (at 10 a.m. – which is the opening time every day of the week) and asked Jon what got him into the deli business in the first place.
Hochman noted that his “earliest memories of his grandfathers – both of them” (Saul Hochman on his father Gerry’s side, and Irv Katz on his mother Arlene’s side), “there’s very much a deli influence”.
For instance, he says that his grandfather Saul Hochman was especially fond of such staples as Smith’s corned beef and salami, along with chopped liver, as well as Elman’s pickles. Jon fondly recalls visiting his grandfather Saturday afternoons in his Wellington Crescent condo and going to the north end to pick up some of those foods, as well as rye bread from City Bread, before driving out to Lockport for some fishing.
“As I got older I really got into cooking,” Hochman explains. “By the time I was 12 years old I had created ‘Saul’s Deli’ ” in the family kitchen, he adds. “It’s really quite funny because the menu is quite similar to what this is” (pointing to the Sherbrook Street Delicatessen menu).
“Over the years I got involved working in the kitchen at BB Camp and other kitchens in the city, taking culinary arts at Red River. I always wanted to open a deli. Whenever I had days off I was going to Bernstein’s.”
Hochman explains that he learned about other traditional dishes from his grandparents on his mother’s side, Irv and Florence Katz. “My bubbie Florence was the one who introduced me to gizzards and farfel,” he notes.
Yet, as much as he still loves the “comfort foods” with which he grew up – corned beef, salami, and chopped liver being his favourites, Hochman admits that making those foods is very “labour intensive”. Notwithstanding the time and effort it takes to make traditional Jewish dishes, however, he says that practically everything served at Sherbrook Street is made from scratch. “It’s a real labour of love,” Hochman adds.
He explains that the deli actually has two kitchens: the serving kitchen on site and a production kitchen located on the 29th floor of Fort Garry Place. The Fort Garry Place connection comes from Hochman’s association with prominent restauranteur Noel Bernier. Among the seven restaurants Bernier operates, one of them, “Prairie 360”, is situated on the 30th floor of Fort Garry Place. “He (Bernier) had an extra kitchen so it works out quite well”, although he notes that none of the Prairie 360 staff is involved in his kitchen.
“We have two chefs there full time,” Hochman explains. “We make our salami, our corned beef there. We make our turkey, our lox, our cole slaw, the salads. The only thing we’re not making there is our bread because we could never make anything as good as City Bread rye bread.”
I note that the wood tables and the long counter are very reminiscent of Schwartz’s Deli in Montreal and New York style delis. Hochman explains that when he opened his first restaurant, Fitzroy, which was also at the same location, “the beauty was that subconsciously I was also designing a deli”. Sherbrook Street Delicatessen, he notes, is “exactly the same. The only thing different,” he says, “is that we’ve hung up these pictures”, pointing to the gallery of photographs on the wall that are reminiscent of the late, lamented Kelekis Restaurant.
Another connection Hochman has to the food business is through his grandfather Saul’s cousins, Ben and Sam Hochman, who used to operate the Oasis Delicatessen on Main Street. The cole slaw recipe, he says, comes from Sam – “who’s helped me out a great deal here”, he adds.
I ask Hochman about the menu, which features a number of sandwiches named for various individuals, including his two grandfathers, along with Jim Pappas (of Kelekis’s), Earl Barish, and the late Izzy Asper. (Each of those sandwiches is a favourite or was a favourite of the person for whom it’s named.)
In addition to being able to order sandwich platters, diners can order individual sandwiches in 100 gram increments. Sandwiches include: corned beef, salami, chopped liver, smoked meat, pickled tongue, turkey breast, and lox. There are all the usual side dishes, soups, and salads that you would expect to find in any typical Jewish deli. Hochman adds that they also make their own bagels. (The bagels, he says, are Montreal style: “boiled in honey water, baked, crusted in poppy seeds or sesame seeds – and a little bit of salt.”)
If you’re looking for a fuller meal, the deli also serves different entrées, including short ribs, liver and onions, chicken schnitzel, rib eye steak, and roast chicken.
Sherbrook Street Delicatessen is also licensed and sells beer and wine.
One of the problems that almost any restaurant encounters is trying to keep up with customer demand when things get really busy. Naturally, Hochman isn’t about to complain about the tremendous reception his deli has received thus far, but he says that he’s taken steps to insure that customers receive their food in a timely manner no matter how busy it gets.
“Our kitchen staff is sitting at 18 right now,” he notes. At times though, demand for certain dishes has been running so high that he has to approach certain tables and explain that they’re sold out of some foods. One Saturday morning, Hochman says, “between 10 and 11:30 we were selling nothing but lox and bagels. We basically ran out of our entire supply of lox” for the rest of the day.
While business has been great thus far, Hochman anticipates that things will get even busier as the weather gets warmer – and Sherbrook Street becomes even more popular than it already is. (What with Stella’s Bakery situated next door and the Tallest Poppie now relocated to a spot across the street, all at the corner of Sherbrook and Westminster, this is now one very busy area for diners.)
Quite soon the deli will also be operating a food truck, which will serve as a sort of “pop-up second location” – not on Broadway, however, Hochman says.
Sherbrook Street Delicatessen is open every day of the week, from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.