Outstanding Greek Food at Mamakas Taverna

Mamakas TavernaLocation: 80 Ossington Avenue, Toronto
Website: https://mamakas.ca/

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.

Mamakas Taverna

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.

Mamakas Taverna

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.

Mamakas Taverna

There were these keftedes — perfectly-spiced beef and pork meatballs with a delightfully crispy exterior from the fryer.

Mamakas Taverna

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.

Mamakas Taverna

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.

Mamakas Taverna

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.

Mamakas Taverna

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.

Quick Bites: Sweet Jesus, Parka Food Co., and Bakerbots Baking

Sweet Jesus
Apple Fritter Crisp from Sweet Jesus

This was actually pretty tasty.  Here’s how Sweet Jesus describes the Apple Fritter Crisp: “Vanilla soft serve, Apple pie sauce, Apple fritter pieces, Apple fritter crumb, Caramel sauce.”  I enjoyed it, mostly — it pretty much nails the apple pie/crumble element, with a cinnamon-infused flavour, and a nice hit of caramel and apples.  But the “apple fritter crumb” it’s rolled in was more chewy than crispy (there was a disconcerting lack of crispiness for something with “crisp” in its name), and the apple fritter pieces were entirely absent.  Still, the creamy vanilla ice cream and the apple-crumble-infused flavour are a tasty combo.

Parka Food Co.
Caesar Salad at Parka Food Co.

I recently found myself back at Parka Food Co., a place that specializes in vegan eats; on my first visit I had a sandwich and found the bun to be fairly horrifying, so I skipped the sandwiches and went with a Caesar salad instead.  It was fine, I guess?  Caesar dressing traditionally features very non-vegan ingredients like anchovies, egg yolks, and cheese; whatever vegan alternatives they used here were decent enough.  But the dressing was overly vinegary, and the pickled onions on top are a bizarre choice — they only amplify the puckery vinegar flavour.

Blackbird Baking Co.
Lemon Tart and Raspberry Rosewater Tart from Bakerbots Baking

Both of these tarts were absolutely fantastic, particularly the Raspberry Rosewater tart, which featured an ultra-rich custard with a pronounced rosewater flavour that complimented the tart raspberries on top perfectly.  And unlike the last pie I had at this place, the crust was superlative; it was crispy, buttery, and perfect.

More Delicious Pasta at Shiso Tree Cafe

Shiso Tree CafeLocation: 3160 Steeles Avenue East, Markham
Website: https://www.facebook.com/ShisoTree/

I mentioned recently that I generally prefer checking out restaurants I haven’t tried over revisiting ones I have.  There are, however, exceptions to that rule, such as: Shiso Tree Cafe, a restaurant that fuses Japanese and Italian cuisine with some seriously delicious results.

On this visit I had the shoyu mushroom spaghetti: “shimeji, enoki, king oyster mushrooms in mentsuyu butter sauce.”

Shiso Tree Cafe

It’s so good.  It looks a little bit dry in the photo; a lot of the sauce is at the bottom of the bowl, but once you mix it up, it becomes creamy and amazing (and the sauce is rich enough to cling perfectly to the pasta — there wasn’t any left in the bowl when the spaghetti was done).

It has an incredibly satisfying buttery/savoury flavour, and the various types of mushrooms add a nice variety of textures and flavours.  It’s a top-notch bowl of pasta.

Shiso Tree Cafe

It’s also an incredible deal; every pasta on their lunch menu costs twelve bucks and comes with a salad, soup, and a slice of garlic bread.  The salad looks a little sad, but features a sesame-infused dressing that’s a cut above the standard Japanese-inspired salad dressing you’re expecting.  The creamy seafood soup is rich, flavourful, and packed with tasty chunks of seafood — it’s way better than a free soup has any right to be.  The garlic bread is quite tasty, too.

A Decent Sandwich at Flock

FlockLocation: 97 Harbord Street, Toronto
Website: https://flockonharbord.com/

The first time I had the pulled rotisserie chicken sandwich from Flock, I wasn’t a fan.  It had obviously been assembled in advance and put in the fridge, and it was clammy, with a uniformly soft texture.  None of the flavours popped.  It wasn’t great.

Flock

But Toronto Life recently called it one of the 25 best sandwiches in the city, so I figured I’d give it another shot.

It’s still not the best sandwich ever, but it’s tasty enough.  From their menu: “Ace Bakery Bun, Avocado Spread, Crisp Romaine & Horseradish/Beet/Apple Slaw & Crispy Onion”

Flock

This time the sandwich was clearly made to order, which helped a lot.  The chicken was warm, fresh, and tasty, and there’s a pretty generous amount of it.   The sweet slaw adds a welcoming hit of zinginess, and the avocado is nice and creamy.

I’m a little bit baffled that it wound up on a list of the best sandwiches in the city, but it certainly isn’t bad.  It just doesn’t stand out in any particular way.

White Lily Diner Makes a Mean Meatloaf Sandwich

White Lily DinerLocation: 678 Queen Street East, Toronto
Website: http://whitelilydiner.ca/

At this point, I’ve eaten several of the sandwiches from Toronto Life’s list of the best in the city.  That’s a solid list.  And the meatloaf sandwich from White Lily Diner (Toronto Life’s 12th best sandwich) is absolutely outstanding.

White Lily Diner

The sandwich features a thick slice of meatloaf, mayo, a sweet tomato sauce, and pickles.  An egg is an optional surcharge, but of course you need to get the egg.  Every sandwich is improved by the addition of a fried egg with a gooey yolk.  That’s just science.

Oh, and did I mention that it also comes with a bowl of gravy on the side for dipping?  Because it does, and it’s glorious.

White Lily Diner

It’s an incredibly rich sandwich — there’s the butter-laden toast (which they make in house, and which is amazing), the weighty slice of meatloaf, the fried egg, and of course, the gravy.  That sandwich doesn’t take any prisoners.  It’s not kidding around.

It’s also delicious.  The meatloaf is perfectly spiced while still retaining a nice beefy flavour.  It has a great texture, not to mention a nice crispy exterior from the griddle.  The rich gravy only amps up the beefy flavour.

White Lily Diner

But it’s perfectly balanced; the pickles and the sweet tomato sauce ensure that it never feels one-note rich.

It comes with a salad on the side (and trust me, you don’t need anything heavier than that to accompany this sandwich) which is dressed with a simple vinaigrette; it works as a nice counterpoint to the very rich sandwich.