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Jewish or Chinese? Try Both At Toronto’s People’s Eatery

Smoked fish platter at People’s Eatery // Photo by Adrian Ravinsky

Toronto has become an unlikely mecca for nouveau-Jewish food, from Caplansky’s luscious smoked meat to S. Lefkowitz’s creamy hummus to Fat Pasha’s decadent gribenes.

Now, you can add Jewish-Chinese to the mix. Just-opened Peoples Eatery is drawing on the divergent food culture of Spadina Avenue — once the heart of Jewish Toronto, now a main artery through Chinatown — for its menu, according to partner Adrian Ravinsky.

“The past is the Jewish part of it. We’re resurrecting what Spadina once was with deli and appetizer cultures represented on the menu,” he said. “The present is the Chinese and East Asian food. The future is where anything goes, culturally, and the menu does that too.”

Think oversized platters of Peking Duck or smoked fish, small plates of potato knish, whitefish salad, and “General Tso-Fu” soy, with watermelon salad, dosa, and sabich thrown in for good measure. “It’s definitely an oddball selection,” Ravinsky said. “But it’s never fusion. Those elements never make it onto the same plate. They’re placed alongside one another.”

While the menu may tilt at nostalgia, Peoples Eatery’s provisions sound very now. All fish comes from Hooked, a Toronto purveyor revered for its sustainable-only offerings. “They go out of their way to tell us the provenance of every fish, and they charge us for it,” Ravinsky laughed. Poultry and is sourced from Toronto supplier Off the Bone, which touts its relationships with Ontario farmers.

To research the restaurant’s menu, Ravinsky and his partners — who also own Toronto’s cult-favorite 416 Snack Bar — descended on uber-delis like Barney Greengrass and Russ & Daughters in Manhattan. Peoples Eatery’s whitefish crostini is an homage to the “Super Heebster” sandwich at Russ & Daughters, Ravinsky said.

Ravinsky’s own food memories came into play as well. “My family’s Jewish, and we’d sometimes eat gefilte fish, lox and bagels, that kind of thing,” he said. Most of Toronto’s Jewish delis, he noted, have moved to the heavily Jewish northern suburbs.

“Danny Meyer is a big influence for us,” Ravinsky said. “He always says ‘Why can’t you do this? Who says this can’t be done?’ We’ve done pretty well representing Toronto in a snack-bar setting. We thought, there’s no reason not to put divergent cultures in the same place.”

Next month, Ravinsky and his partners plan to open phase two of the restaurant — a 40-seat upstairs dining room where a prix-fixe menu will offer a multicultural chef’s-choice dinner nightly. “We want to do a tasting menu that’s unique, with serious technique on some dishes, total fun sloppiness on others,” Ravinsky said. “It’ll be all over the map, literally, with delicious, divergent cultural fare that still follows the arc of a traditional tasting menu.”

In the meantime, Ravinsky and his partners are trying to decide which Toronto street they might honor with another restaurant project.

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