Location: 80 Ossington Avenue, Toronto
I had an idea that Mamakas Taverna was probably something special when I tried their pork souvlaki at the recent OssFest street festival and was completely blown away. I was finally able to visit the restaurant itself, and yeah. Yeah. That souvlaki wasn’t a fluke. Everything is so good.
It’s the type of place where you order a bunch of stuff and share, which works out well because everything is so incredibly delicious that you want to try the whole menu.
There’s the spanakopita, which is basically the platonic ideal of that dish, with a crispy, buttery exterior and an intensely flavourful spinach filling. The filling was actually quite unique, with a mildly sweet, citrusy tang that does a great job of balancing out the richness of the dish.
There were these keftedes — perfectly-spiced beef and pork meatballs with a delightfully crispy exterior from the fryer.
This looks like a pretty standard salad, but the meaty lentils combined with the fresh herbs and the nice pops of sweetness and crunch from the pomegranate — not to mention a dressing that complements it perfectly and isn’t over-applied — made it just as memorable as any of the other dishes.
The octopus was probably the simplest dish I tried, and proof that if you’re working with great quality ingredients and preparing them well, further ornamentation is unnecessary. The meat had a great amount of char from the grill, with a mild sweetness and nice meaty bite. If you’re queasy about eating octopus, you need to get over yourself; you don’t know what you’re missing. Bad octopus can be rubbery and horrible, but good octopus is like the delicious love-child between a scallop and a pork chop.
My favourite dish of the night was also easily the least photogenic. No, this braised short rib doesn’t look like much, but holy moly it was ridiculously good. Insanely tender (but not mushy) with just the right amount of perfectly creamy fat and an intensely beefy flavour, it was basically like the best pot roast you’ve ever had.
The dessert — a walnut spice cake with yogurt mousse — was just as delicious as everything else, because of course it was. The cake was nutty and rich, and the tartness of the creamy mousse complemented it perfectly.