The last hurrah for Marky’s Delicatessen

Toronto’s oldest strictly kosher restaurant is closing after 43 years of business

Jews don’t really do nostalgia. That’s to say, you don’t see them spending much time reminiscing about the good old days, because those don’t really exist, or they’re so far in the past—the Davidic Dynasty, for example, ended in 586 BCE—as to be bereft of any useful memories. When Jews think of the past, it is generally couched within the narrative of persecution and death, not reruns of Leave It To Beaver.

Nonetheless, there was a heavy air of sentimentality at Marky’s Delicatessen on Saturday night. The oldest strictly kosher restaurant in Toronto—an icon for Toronto’s Orthodox Jewish community—is closing shop Wednesday after 43 years in business. Young people—it was a mostly high school and university crowd—lined up at a strip mall on the northwest corner of Bathurst St. and Wilson Ave., waiting as long as 45 minutes for one last chance to sample chicken fingers, burgers, hot corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, maybe with a side order of kishka and a beef knish, both slathered in Marky’s gelatinous (sans gelatin, which is not kosher) house gravy.

It had been some time since this restaurant received such wide adoration. Ten years ago, lineups here were de rigueur—Jewish moms and dads, with requisite kids in tow, frequented on Sunday nights, and the aforementioned teens and twentysomethings made Marky’s the de facto Orthodox Jewish hangout Thursday and Saturday nights, when it would stay open till two in the morning, hours after all the other kosher establishments closed for the night. (Each Friday evening, of course, the restaurant would close, reopening Saturday night, in accordance with the laws of the Sabbath.)

In recent years, though, business died down, the result, owner Erez Karp, 53, posits, of tough economic times. “You have Jewish families making $200,000 a year, but because of the high tuition of private Jewish schools (which runs into the tens of thousands a year per child), people are going out less and less.” Five Kosher meat restaurants (kosher restaurants serve either meat or dairy menus, but not both, because of dietary laws) have closed in Toronto in the last nine months.

But this was not a night for gloom and doom. The scene at Marky’s was jovial—and diners, in the midst of one, so to speak last supper, were happy to reflect on what this place meant to them. The Yiddish word “heymish,” meaning homey, unpretentious, came up over and over again. So did that favourite Jewish theme—tradition! Sitting with a group of five friends, Ari Brodsky, 36, said, “What I like best about this place is my memories of coming here with my grandparents when I was a little kid.”

What was missing from many of these holy consecrations was any mention of Marky’s food. If you’ve eaten there, the shtetl-inspired kishka in particular, you surely know about the restaurant’s other tradition: The—how to say this with grace?—resultant protestations of the gut. While polishing off his meal, David Levine, 30, told me he was already counting the minutes until the burger now in his stomach would begin searching for a means of escape. He was only half-joking. (After encountering a shard of animal bone in a Marky’s burger sometime around 2006 or 2007, I myself stopped ordering that particular dish.)

Marky’s had other idiosyncrasies, too—like the pastel-themed menu, or the mysterious shuttered party room in the basement that seemingly never, ever hosted a party. It was a licensed establishment, but no one drank there. It was open for breakfast on weekdays, but no one I know ever ate there before lunchtime.

Marky’s, the last of the kosher delis in Toronto, had more character than every other kosher restaurants in Toronto combined. And it bore the unique quality of attracting a broad cross-section of Orthodox Jews—no small feat since that segment of the Semites seems to get off on internal division. They wouldn’t be caught dead in each other’s synagogues on Saturday morning, but they were perfectly content to occupy neighbouring tables at Marky’s on Saturday night. Ironically, it took what was, basically, a goyish greasy spoon to bring them together.

 




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The last hurrah for Marky’s Delicatessen

  1. YOUR FOOD IS BAD
    AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD

  2. Yeah, maybe it’s because people don’t have the money to go out anymore.

    Or maybe it’s because your restaurant is terrible.

    • @ Joseph – either or…. but why pee on a corpse?

  3. @ Sally – your comment is dumb; and you are dumb

  4. Good Riddance to Marky’s and especially to Erez Karp….the following is my most recent Marky’s dining experience:

    On the evening of May 16, 2012 (last
    night) at approximately 8:00PM, my 84 year old mother and I had the
    misfortune of choosing to dine at this establishment.

    My
    mother ordered a meal of chicken wings. I ordered a lean
    corned beef sandwich plate, that includes potato salad, coleslaw and
    a pickle. As it turned out the meat on the sandwich was full of fat
    and gristle and was loaded with pepper, it was inedible. I kept
    having to spit pieces out and pull pieces out of the sandwich
    and ended up eating mainly just the bread from the first half of the
    sandwich. In the hope that the second half of the sandwich would be
    better, I took 2 small bites from it and then realized that it was a
    lost cause. Furthermore the potato salad was also full of pepper and
    inedible. The pickle was approximately an 1/8 of a pickle. By this
    time I had completely lost my appetite.

    I took my plate up to
    owner Erez Karp and showed him the fat and gristle piled on the side
    of my plate. I also asked him to taste the potato salad that was
    laden with pepper. He suggested that he would replace the sandwich
    with a different one. I told him that I had lost my appetite and did
    not want a replacement. I rejoined my mother who was eating the
    chicken wings that were served to her with cold rice.

    When I
    asked the waitress for the bill, she brought a bill for nearly
    $30.00, it included the dish that I had ordered and barely eaten. I
    approached the owner and advised that I did not intend to pay for my
    meal which was inedible and that I only intended to pay for my
    mother’s meal. He immediately insisted that I must pay for
    everything. I suggested that he phone the police, as I had no
    intention of paying. I took pictures of the “meat” fat and
    gristle on my plate of food along with a picture of Mr. Karp standing
    behind the plate of food at his counter.

    While waiting an hour
    and a half for the police (who never arrived). Mr. Karp sat staring
    me in the eye and smirking and making nasty comments. I advised him
    that he should be ashamed, I am a lung cancer patient and my 84 year
    old mother has been a patron of his restaurant since it was first
    established. (She now resides in Israel and is visiting here and
    insisted on going to eat there).

    After waiting an hour and a
    half for the police, I decided that enough was enough, I approached
    Mr. Karp at his cash register and put down $16.00 which more than
    covered my mother’s meal and I told him that we were leaving. He then
    called me a “Ganev” in Yiddish which means a thief. He came
    around the counter and began to physically push my 84 year old mother
    and I out the door while screaming verbal abuse at us the whole time.
    Mr. Karp yelled the following:

    “Get the f**k out of my
    restaurant you f*****g b****h. F**k you, I hope you get your fat ass
    run over by a bus. I hope you drop dead from your cancer, you f*****g
    b***h. I pity your husband, if you even have one.”

    Once
    we were in my car, I phoned the police and they told me that he had
    cancelled the call for them to come out. They told me that I can
    lodge a complaint with them in the morning as he had no right to
    touch either one of us. They also suggested that I write to the
    Better Business Bureau, as I am doing now.

    My mother is a
    religious woman, the daughter of a Rabbi. She is 84 years old and I
    have never in my life heard a swear word come out of her mouth. She
    was shaken to the core and had to take two Valium pills to calm down
    in order to sleep.

    I reported the above incident to the Better Business Bureau. Mr. Karp should be grateful that I didn’t press charges as the police suggested that I could.

    • It’s unfortunate that, as a granddaughter of a rabbi, you were never taught the laws of lashon hara — evil talk. Whether or not your story is true, and I highly doubt it is, you’ve done great harm by slandering Mr. Karp, a man I know to be kind and friendly. Please do yourself and the Jewish people a favour by begging his forgiveness for the great harm you have done. You might also wish to consult the “Chofetz Chaim: A Lesson a Day” book (http://www.artscroll.com/Books/ladh.html) on the laws of proper speech.

      Shabbat Shalom

  5. Very sad as Marky’s was a very important link in the community. I know for a fact that Mr. Karp frequently and without publicity would provide free meals to those in need or going through difficult times.

    I would never wish to be the manager of a restaurant which caters to my community. You can never please everyone and it takes a tough skin to put up with that. That’s why the Karps were found success all these years.

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