Brunch with a Twist at Madame Levant

Madame LevantLocation: 821 Gerrard Street East, Toronto
Website: https://www.madamelevant.com/

Madame Levant is a brunch spot with an interesting gimmick; most of the menu consists of brunch classics “with a Levantine twist.”

Actually, maybe using the word “gimmick” to describe what they’re serving here is unfair.  Based on the two dishes I tried, Madame Levant manages to combine brunch standbys and Middle Eastern ingredients in a way that feels completely organic.

Madame Levant

First up was the Halawa Pancakes, which the menu describes as “GF flour blend pancakes served with orange blossom tahini maple syrup & topped with pistachios and ward (dried flower petals).”

Halawa — a sweet, tahini-based dessert — and pancakes turn out to be a great combo, and the floral notes you get from the orange blossom and flower petals complements it perfectly.  I feel like I need all of my maple syrup to be infused with tahini from now on; it adds a richness and a mildly nutty flavour that really amps up its deliciousness.

The pancakes are gluten free, but aside from a slightly denser texture than the norm, they’re very good.

Madame Levant

I also tried the Sujuk Scrambled: “beef sausages finished with pomegranate molasses, 3 soft scrambled eggs, with a side of hummus, pita, & olives.”

This one’s pretty basic, but when you’re dealing with good ingredients that are well prepared, sometimes simpler is better.  The sausage is tasty and the eggs are nicely creamy.  Hummus and eggs aren’t a combination that I would have thought of, but it works.  Nothing here knocked my socks off, but it’s a solid dish.

Quick Bites: Dairy Queen, Uncle Betty’s, Soul Chocolate

Dairy Queen
Pumpkin Pie Blizzard at Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen brings out the pumpkin pie Blizzard once a year, and come on.  Just put it on the regular menu.  It is the king of Blizzards.  It tastes just like a pumpkin pie, but in Blizzard form.  It’s so good.

Uncle Betty's
Sweet Potato Hash at Uncle Betty’s

This is the type of thing I’d normally write a full post about (I haven’t even written about Uncle Betty’s on this blog, though I did try the burger for Tasty Burgers), but honestly?  I don’t want to.  I mean, look at it.  It’s basically just a pile of cubed sweet potatoes with some onions and a little bit of spinach interspersed throughout.  No particular seasoning that I could taste, no caramelization or crispiness… just a bunch of bland sweet potato topped with a couple of poached eggs, and served with a slightly congealed cup of hollandaise on the side.  It tasted as sad as it looks.

Soul Chocolate
Chocolate Shot at Soul Chocolate

I was actually hoping to get the delicious soft serve from Soul Chocolate, but alas, when I went they had just stopped serving it for the season.  I don’t know who came up with the notion that you can only have ice cream in the summer, but that person is a criminal and deserves to go to jail.  So I got the chocolate shot instead, and it’s very good.  It’s not quite on the level of the version they serve at Soma; it’s got an odd sour note that I found a bit off-putting, but is otherwise deeply chocolatey and thoroughly satisfying.

A Middling Breakfast at Cafe Crepe

Cafe CrepeLocation: 246 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: https://cafecrepe.com/

Cafe Crepe does surprisingly well; I recently showed up at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, expecting it to be mostly empty, and the place was absolutely packed.  People, apparently, love crepes.

And the crepe itself is solid.  Everything else, on the other hand…

I ordered the Cafe Crepe Speciale, which comes with three eggs that are theoretically cooked how you like them, “with bacon or sausage & your choice of crêpe: sugar butter, lemon sugar or cinnamon sugar.”

Cafe Crepe

I went with a lemon sugar crepe, sausage, and eggs cooked over easy.

I briefly considered mentioning something when the waitress plopped down a plate of scrambled eggs, but the prospect of eating in shifts with my dining companion wasn’t particularly compelling.

It was fine?  I guess?  The scrambled eggs were slightly overcooked and completely underseasoned (if they had any salt, I couldn’t taste it), but decent enough.  And the sausage was something resembling chorizo rather than the breakfast sausage you’re expecting, but it’s tasty enough.

Cafe Crepe

As for the crepe, it’s actually very good — it’s nice and fresh, with a texture that does a great job of balancing tenderness and bite.   But it’s absolutely doused in sugar (it’s both on top of and inside the crepe), and the lemon (which was also copiously applied) tasted off; I’m pretty sure it was actually ReaLemon or something similar.

It wasn’t a bad breakfast, but it probably makes more sense to order a crepe that’s harder to mess up, like Nutella and banana.

Unique Brunch at Byblos Uptown

Byblos UptownLocation: 2537 Yonge Street, Toronto
Website: https://byblosuptown.com/

Brunch is great, no doubt about it.  Eggs Benedict, pancakes, French toast — all tasty stuff.  But sometimes you want something a bit different, and if that’s the case, the Middle-Eastern-influenced brunch menu at Byblos fits the bill quite nicely.

Byblos Uptown

We started with the Turkish Manti Dumplings (“eggplant + yogurt sauce + date molasses”), which was easily the weakest dish of the three I tried.  The yogurt/molasses sauce was one-note sweet and tangy, and the dumplings were basically pure mush.  There was almost no distinction in texture between the wrapper and the creamy filling.

Byblos Uptown

Up next was the Eggplant Kibbeh: “zucchini flower + baharat + chickpea batter.”  This was interesting.  Kibbeh is a Middle Eastern dish made from spiced ground beef; it’s essentially a fried meatball stuffed with more meat.

Byblos Uptown

The vegetarian version they serve here has only the most vague kibbeh-like properties, but it’s tasty for what it is; it’s nicely spiced, and the creamy filling contrasts well with the crispy fried exterior.

Byblos Uptown

My main meal was the Bastirma Khachapuri: “manouri cheese + egg + guindilla + urfa chili.”  This was basically a Turkish pide filled with cheese, eggs, and bastirma, a cured meat that’s generally thought to be the precursor to pastrami.

Byblos Uptown

It was pretty tasty — it was freshly baked, with a nice crispy exterior and a chewy interior.  It’s not the best pide you’ll ever eat, but of course, the combo of cheese, eggs, and salty cured meat is a winner.  That’s always going to be a winner.  It’s hard to go wrong there.

Style over Substance at Maha’s

Maha'sLocation: 226 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto
Website: https://www.mahasbrunch.com/

The Mind Blowing Chicken Sandwich at Maha’s is one of those dishes you see and immediately want to eat.  No, scratch that — need to eat.  I mean, look at that thing.

But then, that’s kind of the problem, isn’t it?  It’s a tasty dish, but it also feels very much like something that was created to be a stunner on Instagram, with the actual flavour being secondary.

Maha’s Mind Blowing Chicken, per the menu: “Maha’s sacred marinate, tossed with parsley, onions and tomatoes, served on a toasted egg bun with tomeya, homemade mayo and tehina.”

Maha's

The very generous pile of chicken is nice and moist, with a very unique and distinctive spicing that makes it stand out.  The sauces, too, compliment it quite nicely, and the onions and tomatoes add some welcome freshness and crunch.

But it’s a very assertively-flavoured dish, and I’ll admit that by the end, it was getting to be a bit much.  It really needed something on the side to help round things out and add a little variety.  There’s so much of that chicken; it starts out delightful, but eventually turns one-note and tiresome.

Maha's

It doesn’t help that the bun is all wrong.  Its fluffy lightness is completely lost among the chicken’s very assertive flavours, and the bottom bun (yes, there is a bottom bun underneath that pile) turns into complete mush.

We had ordered some of the balady pita bread on the side, and it worked so much better  — it has a nice chewy texture that holds up to the saucy chicken, and a nutty flavour that complements and helps to mellow out the assertive spicing.  I wish it had come as a wrap in that bread, but then that wouldn’t be quite the showstopper on Instagram, would it?

Maha's

I also tried the falafel, which was unambiguously delicious, and maybe the best falafel in the city.  It’s crispy, fluffy, and delightfully herby.  I couldn’t help but compare it to the stuff I recently had at Paramount, and it was night and day.  It’s almost a completely different dish.