Cured meats are like salted peanuts to me -- once I start eating them I have trouble stopping, which is why one part of me was dreading the visit to Sausage Makers Deli. The other part of me, however, couldn't wait to get there.
For months I'd been clipping their ads from my neighbourhood weekly, with new and tantalizing temptations featured every week, challenging me to buy more than could possibly be good for me. But finally I took the plunge and drove out to just past the Nairn overpass, where the huge cow on the roof makes this house of treasures hard to miss.
I did exhibit self-control in one area at least. Somehow, reluctantly, I managed to leave without succumbing to the packaged pastries from Europe -- the chocolate lebkuchen, the Jamaica rum kugeln, the apricot-filled gingerbread hearts, and even the chocolate covered marzipan. But I have only so much resistance, and although I didn't buy the buckwheat honey (for which I have another source) I couldn't leave without such other rarities as wild flower honey, a jar of sour cherries in syrup, and my beloved gooseberry jam.
Still, the main reason for my visit was the selection of terrific house-cured meats. Out of a sense of self-preservation I skipped the pork cracklings (even though without salt or preservatives), but I still left with a massive sampling of the others, and even at that made barely a dent in the dazzling assortment. The woman who served me was endlessly patient, although my requests for 100 grams of this, and 100 grams of that surely had to be annoying.
Most of them cost from 88 cents to $2.20 per 100 grams. The 88 cents was for the studenetz, and, if anything could convert committed headcheese-haters, it might be this glittering, garlicky, meat-streaked aspic. The $2.20 was for the truly smoky smoked meat, which was part of a trio of house-cured beef classics that included corned beef and pastrami as well -- relatively lean, which is how most people want them.
The same is true of the hams. There are several variations, every one of them marvellous. All are moist and mildly cured, most memorable among them, perhaps, the black forest ham, the pale pink kaiser schinken, and the rouladen -- a kind of rolled ham with a subtle flavour and mere hints of spice.
A world of sausages range from Germany to most of Eastern Europe, from the chewy Polish kabanosy meat sticks to the rings of the great garlicky, coarse-cut Ukrainian kubasa and the slices of ham sausage. There are also scarlet salamis -- all beef or a combination of beef and pork -- as well as the spicier and slightly sweet gypsy salami.
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There are no tables in Myer's Deli -- the food is for take-out only -- and there's no trace of pork in this repertoire. Myer's kitchen may not be certified kosher but the specialties are Jewish, and Jewish dietary laws forbid the use of pork. Of course, one can buy corned beef or salami here, either on their own or in sandwiches, but what sets Myer's apart from many other delis is that it is one of the few sources for some old fashioned Yiddish comfort foods.
There are such savoury starters as chopped liver ($2.20 for 100 grams) and gefilte fish patties ($2.99 for 100 grams). Or, alternately, the clear chicken soup with big fluffy matzo balls ($8.99 for a quart), or a tangy, ruby-red borscht containing little chunks of beef, or the substantial beef and barley soup ($5.49 for 500). There are also several dips that could do double duty as party foods, and include such middle eastern classics as baba gannouj, hummus and the superb, oil-marinated and subtly seasoned Moroccan eggplant slices ($4.49 to $5.59 for half a pound).
Most of the knishes in the cooler have been imported from Gunn's, but a few are housemade, and those filled with meat are delicious ($9.49 for six ). So are the silken ravioli-like kreplach, filled with either minced beef or chicken ($9.99 a dozen). The kasha varnichkes -- i.e. bow tie pasta with buckwheat groats ($1.59 for 100 grams) -- go perfectly with the slices of beef brisket in the oniony roasting juices ($2.69 for 100 grams), or with the meatballs in a tomato-based sweet and sour sauce ($1.55 for 100 grams).
Those who still miss the wieners from the late lamented Norman's Meats should be happy to learn that Myer's wieners are made to Norman's specifications ($1.79 for 100 grams).
Most of the pastries also come from Gunn's, but my dessert of choice -- or breakfast, lunch or snack, for that matter -- would be the beautiful blintzes with a smooth, lightly sweetened cottage cheese filling, and which need only a quick sauté before serving ($8.99 for six). Don't forget to take home some sour cream to go with them -- the jam, I assume, you already have in your pantry.