In 2013, a Jewish deli named Tock’s opened up in Shanghai. The city has a remarkable Jewish history of its own, but this place has nothing to do with that. Tock’s is a Montreal-style deli founded by Montrealer Richard Tock. He teamed up with his nephew Brian and partner Mira, who oversaw operations in Shanghai. They smoked their brisket in house and supposedly sourced proper cheese curds. In addition to welcoming homesick North Americans, the smoked meat sandwiches were a surprise hit with the Chinese. The restaurant won many local foodie awards, and our smiling Prime Minister even went there last year to do his feel-good poster boy selfie-and-smile routine.
But then all hell broke loose.
Last year, a family feud broke out, and Brian Tock was locked out of the premises. A bitter message continues to grace the restaurant’s Facebook page. Brian Tock warned patrons that “the love and care and attention that Mira and I have put into the place, the food [and] the staff for the last three and a half years is no longer gonna be the same.”
They went on to open Morty’s Deli in Hong Kong. Morty’s is branded a “New York deli,” but they continue to offer poutine that supposedly has real curds and their reubens are served Montreal-style with smoked meat, sans corned beef. In short, they’re passing off Montreal food as New York food–what’s up with that!? I’m tempted to side with Richard for keeping his loyalty to Montreal.
Given that I was in Shanghai last month, I decided to check out post-meltdown Tock’s. The restaurant was buried beneath bamboo scaffolding a few blocks south of Nanjing Road, the city’s main shopping street.
The place is decked out with Quebec license plates, sport jerseys, flags, and photos of Montreal. It’s nice enough, and pleasantly surreal to stumble upon a Montreal-themed restaurant on the other side of the world.
The staff welcomed us despite the late hour. We ordered the small poutine, and were told they had run out, but the waiter bizarrely added that they could still make a poutine if we also ordered a Reuben. I didn’t quite get what he was saying, which is often the case in China, but this guy spoke fluent English. So we went ahead and ordered the poutine and smoked-meat reuben combo.
The reuben was outstanding. My girlfriend and I both agreed that it was better than Schwartz’s sandwiches but, to be fair, I only went to Schwartz’s once, they don’t do reubens, their cold salami sandwich is crap, and I was pissed off by the default mustard in their smoked meat sandwich. This Shanghai reuben made me want to try smoked meat as something other than a poutine topping, which is how I usually eat it.
The poutine was initially disappointing, given the obvious lack of cheese curds. They were more like tiny grains of hard cheese. After having shrugged off my disappointment, I took a bite and was pleasantly surprised.
Fries: The skin-on fries were great. They were perfectly salted and crispy, and their crispiness did not falter under the gravy. 25/30
Gravy: A wonderfully rich gravy that is leagues ahead of the usual canned crap back home. It reminded me a bit of Ashton’s gravy, but with more umami. 45/50
Cheese: Not sure what this was, but it was sharp, grated, and obviously wrong. There was nary a squeak to be had. It nevertheless paired surprisingly well with the gravy, but there wasn’t enough cheese to go around. 4/20
Verdict: Shanghai has lots of stellar Chinese food that should be sampled before resorting to a Montreal deli, but the Reuben here is a nice change. The so-called “poutine” lacks cheese curds to make it authentic, but it works well enough as a side dish.
Price: 130RMB for a Reuben with poutine upgrade, or approx $26. Poutines are $9-$10.
Location: Tock’s, 221 Henan Zhong Lu, Shanghai, China, two blocks south of Nanjing Road East metro. 河南中路221号, 近福州路.