The Sad Decline of Paramount

ParamountLocation: 1290 Crestlawn Drive, Mississauga
Website: http://www.paramountfinefoods.com/

You’ll notice that I only have the one photo from Paramount, of a partially eaten take-out box of a dozen falafel.  I wasn’t planning on blogging about this one, but I think I kinda have to?

Paramount makes me sad.  The one I visited, in an industrial area of Mississauga, is actually the first location of the now omnipresent chain.  Back before they started expanding, it was a fantastic restaurant — easily some of the best Middle Eastern food in the GTA.  Every time I went there, the place was absolutely slammed.  It was so good, and people couldn’t get enough of it.

Then, of course, they started expanding, and the quality started to go downhill.  Slowly at first, but the decline was unmistakable.  The crowds thinned out, but it was still popular enough.

The last time I was there, maybe about a year ago, the food was clearly inferior to its highs in the pre-expansion days, but it was still pretty decent.

I just went to pick up an order of a dozen falafel, and the place was an absolute ghost town.  It’s easy enough to see why; it was quite possibly the worst falafel that I’ve ever had.  It was dense and dry, with an unpleasantly crumbly texture that sucks all the moisture out of your mouth.  It tasted wrong and stale despite being fresh from the fryer.

As for the weirdly sour tahini sauce and the bland pita bread, the less said the better.

I think I’m done with Paramount, and considering how good it used to be, that makes me sad.

Amazing Shawarma at Shawarma Frenzy

Shawarma FrenzyLocation: 1011 Pape Avenue, Toronto
Website: None

I think the shawarma wrap at Shawarma Frenzy might just be the best deal in the city (it’s in the top five, that’s for sure).  It costs a mere $6.75, it’s the approximate size and heft of a small baby, and it’s crazy delicious.  There’s no downside.

Shawarma Frenzy

The chicken shawarma itself is absolutely outstanding; it nails every element.  Most importantly, it’s got a surfeit of the dark crispy bits that makes great shawarma so satisfying, but it’s not dried out at all, with tender, juicy meat.  And it’s really nicely seasoned.  It’s amazing.

Shawarma Frenzy

And the wrap features a very, very generous amount of meat, not to mention a good balance of fresh veggies, zingy pickles, and tasty sauces.  It has a nice garlicky hit, but it’s not so aggressive that you’ll be tasting garlic for the rest of the day.  I wish it were a little bit spicier (it’s just barely spicy), but that’s a very minor complaint.

The pita bread is great too — it’s fresh, a little bit chewy, and nicely crisped up in a sandwich press.  It’s a top notch shawarma wrap.  And it’s $6.75!  That’s ridiculous.

Tasty Middle Eastern Food at Azkadenya

AzkadenyaLocation: 235 Queen Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.azkadenya.ca/

I’ll admit that I didn’t have particularly high expectations for Azkadenya, a “mezza diner” with locations all over the Middle East.  Aside from the fact that it’s a chain restaurant, the slick decor and quirky dishes made me think it would be style over substance.

Azkadenya

Well, don’t judge a book by its cover, I guess?  This place was actually quite good, though the restaurant is clearly at its best when it sticks with the classics and doesn’t mess around too much.

Azkadenya

We started with the hummus, which is creamy and tasty.  It didn’t quite knock my socks off, but it’s a solid bowl of hummus.  It helps that it comes topped with healthy amount of good quality olive oil, with a bottle available on the table to top it up (which you should absolutely do — hummus and EVOO are best friends and should never be apart).

Azkadenya

Actually, I should mention the multiple bottles at the table — there’s olive oil, a couple of tasty hot sauces, a tahini sauce, and something labeled “sour but sweet” that I completely forgot to try (I know, what’s wrong with me?).

Servers are constantly walking around to replenish your supply of pita bread — they bake these things fresh in what appears to be a wood-burning oven, so yeah, they’re quite good.

Azkadenya

Next up was the falafel, which comes in an order of eight.  This was easily the highlight of the meal.  They’re nicely spiced and not too big, which gives you the perfect ratio of crispy exterior to fluffy interior (too many places make huge, almost tennis-ball-sized falafel, and the crisp-to-fluffy ratio is all wrong).  They’re also not dry in the middle, which is another common issue with falafel in the GTA.  They’re really good.

Azkadenya

Then there was the beef “shawarma.”  I’m putting that in quotes because, I’m sorry, but this isn’t shawarma.  It comes essentially looking like a kabob (though the beef is sliced, even if it doesn’t look that way).  It’s a fun gimmick, and the presentation is certainly striking, but it’s not shawarma.  It tastes nothing like shawarma.

Azkadenya

Still, it’s tasty enough for what it is.  The meat is tender and nicely marinated.  Once you put it in a pita with some of the condiments (it comes with pickles, tahini sauce, garlic sauce, and tomatoes) it’s quite satisfying.

Azkadenya

Last up was the kunafah pops, which takes the traditional Middle Eastern dessert and turns it into little deep-fried balls.  Like the shawarma, this was the restaurant being a bit too clever for their own good.  All of the textures are wrong — the exterior is a bit too crunchy, the cheesy interior doesn’t quite have the gooeyness you’re looking for, and it has a mild oily flavour from the fryer.  It certainly wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, but traditional kunafah would have been vastly superior.

Kebab 49: Still Great

Kebab 49Location: 5308 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://kebab49.com/

I’ve actually already written about Kebab 49, so I’m going to keep this post brief.  That was a couple of years ago, and the place is still chugging along, serving some of the best doner in the city.

Yes: Kebab 49 is still great.  On this particular visit I got the durum wrap with lamb and veal (durum is a Turkish flatbread; Kebab 49 makes it in-house in their wood-burning oven, and it’s chewy and fresh and amazing).

Kebab 49

The lamb and veal doner is outstanding.  A lot of shawarama/doner tends to be a bit dry, but not here — there’s just enough fat mixed in to keep things from drying out.  It’s perfectly seasoned, and the distinctive lamby flavour really shines through.

But the best part are all the crispy bits from where the rotating stack of meat has come into contact with the fire.  This is how you know you’re dealing with a place that knows what’s what.  Way too many restaurants start carving too soon, and you end up with sad, soggy meat.  Not Kebab 49.  You can’t really tell from the photo, but there were delicious crispy bits interspersed throughout the entire wrap.  It was glorious.

Lousy food at the Livelihood Cafe

Livelihood CafeLocation: 254 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.livelihoodproject.org/

The Livelihood Cafe is a laudable endeavor — it’s part of a non-profit organization that helps new immigrants build a career in Canada.

So maybe I’m a jerk for saying this (okay, I’m definitely a jerk for saying this), but the food was actually pretty bad.

Livelihood Cafe

I tried a few things.  The first dish featured multigrain toast topped with some kind of pepper spread, cucumber, and cheese (I forgot to take a picture of the menu and I couldn’t find one online, so I’m a bit fuzzy on the specifics).  This was the best of the three dishes I tried.  The grainy bread was a little bit too rustic, overwhelming the mild pepper spread, and the whole thing had an overriding bitterness, but it wasn’t horrible.

Livelihood Cafe

Up next was the baba ganoush, which came with a side of over-toasted pita bread that was halfway between crunchy and chewy.  Baba ganoush is a spread that’s made primarily with roasted eggplant and tahini, so how this managed to taste of neither of those things is a complete mystery.  It was just kind of salty and pasty and unpleasant.

Livelihood Cafe

The last (and worst) dish was the mana’eesh, which is a flatbread topped with a mix of za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix) and olive oil.  Only there barely seemed to be any olive oil; the za’atar was overly dry and grainy, and the bread was off-puttingly thick and rubbery.  I could barely eat more than a couple of bites of this.

Also: it was a bagel-sized piece of bread for nine bucks, which is gallingly expensive — though if you think of it as a charitable donation, it takes some of the sting away.

This is going to sound harsh, but everything was so bad I would have rather just flat-out donated money to charity without having to eat the food.