Smoked meat, matzo, bagels and blintz: June's serves comfort food classics
This daytime dining joint does not disappoint
A 107-year-old brick building in a quaint neighbourhood seems the right home for a place like June's Delicatessen.
Nate Box and Mike Forgie of Black Box Hospitality Group named the deli after Mike's mom, who, like the space is vibrant, welcoming and cool.
Like other restaurants in the Black Box portfolio, June's is all about detail and quality. Judging by the lineups, I suspect the deli will be a hit — especially for residents of the Highlands neighbourhood where it's located.
June's is a daytime dining joint: breakfast, lunch and drinks are served until 4 p.m. The restaurant is closed Mondays.
For people desperately seeking Jewish comfort foods — meaty sandwiches, earthy soups, bagels, blintzes and the like — take heart, you'll find both Ashkenazi (eastern Europe) and Sephardic (Middle Eastern, north African and Mediterranean) offerings here.
Israeli couscous, the chewy, pea-sized pasta, is the main feature in the Levant salad, named for the region that comprises Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and parts of Turkey.
The pasta is mixed with marinated cucumbers, mint leaves and pieces of orange and is presented on a thick swathe of strained yogurt called labneh. Earthy and toasty notes are added with a scattering of za'atar, a mix of spices and sesame seeds.
With Allan Suddaby in the kitchen, it should come as no surprise the dishes at June's are thoughtful and meticulously executed. They're also unpretentious and wholly satisfying.
The heady broth in the matzo ball soup is layered with thyme and oregano. The dumplings, which fall into the sinker — as opposed to floater — category, taste of matzo meal and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat flavoured with onion).
The soup is pleasing on all counts and, importantly, it meets the approval of my dining companion, a Toronto-born Jewish chef, who makes a mean matzo ball soup himself.
I learned from Suddaby that his matzo ball recipe is that of the late chef Gail Hall, who was an integral part of the Edmonton food scene for decades. It's this type of thoughtfulness that I've long admired in Suddaby, who approaches recipes and cooking from the standpoints of both historian and scientist.
What's more, Suddaby has never been a chef to insert ego into recipes. You won't find his foods deconstructed, finished with foams or made to look like something they're not.
He does take some creative licence, though, with the "Wilensky," the legendary sandwich from Wilensky's Light Lunch in Montreal. Suddaby uses marble rye instead of a white roll, adds American cheese and, shockingly, cuts the sandwich in half rather than leaving it whole.
He stays true to legend by using all beef salami and all beef bologna and, like the original, the sandwich arrives so hot you'll need to let it cool before digging in.
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If ever there was someone to loose a mountainous smoked meat sandwich in this city, I was hoping it would be the crew at June's.
But the Reuben sandwich, tasty as it is with tender, tangy made in-house corned beef topped with sauerkraut and gruyere, needs to double in size before it is truly something to exalt.
A mark of a good smoked meat sandwich, after all, is the challenge of fitting it into one's mouth.
That shortcoming is not enough to make me stay away, though. The blintz, a buckwheat crepe filled with a mix of cottage and cream cheese and served with silky apple butter and fresh fruit, is reason alone to return, as is the delightful setting and the helpful staff.
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Now that winter has arrived, access to June's is from the main entry of the Gibbard Block facing 112th Avenue. The two main doors to the restaurant that were used up until last month are now locked to prevent cold blasts from cooling both customer and food.
At least now, if there is a lineup, you can stay warm in the building's beautifully renovated lobby.
Find June's Delicatessen at 6427 112 Ave.