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.

A Top Notch Sandwich at Otto’s Berlin Doner

Otto's Berlin DonerLocation: 256 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
Website: http://ottosdoner.com/

I tried Otto’s Berlin Doner around when it first opened and quite enjoyed it; I’m happy to report that not only has the place not missed a step, I think they’ve actually gotten better.  I just had the veal and lamb doner, and I was pretty blown away by how good it was.

Otto's Berlin Doner

Every element works so well — it’s got that great bread, which is delightfully crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and it’s got the perfect balance between tasty meat and fresh veggies, with the sauces all complementing it so well.

You can choose between garlic, yogurt, and hot sauce — or you can do what I did and get all three, which is definitely what you should do because it’s a very tasty combo (the hot sauce isn’t hot at all, but it’s hard to complain when it’s all this tasty).

Otto's Berlin Doner

But it’s the veal and lamb that really makes the sandwich sing.  It’s super tender, with a great meaty flavour from the lamb and a punch of rosemary-tinged herbiness.  And it’s absolutely crammed with the crispy bits that make a sandwich like this so addictive.

I mean, look at this picture.  Look at the crispy bits.  That’s a thing of beauty.

Otto's Berlin Doner

You can also add feta cheese and/or fries to your sandwich for a buck a piece, and again, you should definitely do that.  The fries add more delightful savoury crispiness, and the feta brings creamy pops of saltiness that really rounds out the sandwich.

A Decent Falafel Sandwich at The Haifa Room

The Haifa RoomLocation: 224 Ossington Avenue, Toronto
Website: https://www.instagram.com/thehaifaroom/

The Haifa Room has been up and running for a bit more than a month, and while the dining room isn’t open quite yet, they do have a take-out window where you can get a variety of sandwiches.

I went with the falafel sandwich: “Falafel, tahina, hummus, z’hug, cucumber and tomato salad, marinated red cabbage, parsley, onions, and pickles.”

I asked them to hold the onion, but otherwise got it as is.

It’s a solid sandwich, though nothing about it particularly blew me away.  The falafel itself is crispy and flavourful, with a nice fluffy interior that’s almost creamy (it might have been a tad undercooked, but it was tasty regardless).  And the healthy amount of parsley they top it with is a nice touch, adding a herby punch that complements the falafel quite well.

The Haifa Room

None of the other toppings particularly stand out, however, and I missed the red pickled turnips that you typically find in a sandwich like this; there were copious amounts of tahini and hummus, and in the absence of something with some zip, it felt overly rich and a bit one-note in its flavour.  It did have pickle slices, but they weren’t assertive enough to add much of anything.

(The menu also says the sandwich is topped with z’hug, a herby Yemenite hot sauce, but I didn’t see or taste anything even remotely hot-sauce-like in the sandwich.)

The vaguely stale pita bread probably didn’t help, which came out of a bag and tasted like it came out of a bag.

I feel like I’m complaining a lot for something I actually quite enjoyed, but pretty much everything here is one small step away from being very good, so it’s easy to notice the flaws that are holding it back.

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.

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.