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.

Untraditional (but Tasty) Sandwiches at Tut’s Egyptian Street Food

Tut's Egyptian Street FoodLocation: 567 King Street West, Toronto
Website: http://tutsrestaurant.com/

Tut’s is a bit of an odd one; the menu features a variety of Egyptian sandwiches, but instead of being served on the pita bread you’re expecting, they’re served on soft, squishy buns that are similar to the potato rolls you’ll find at so many burger joints around the city.

It’s not the most traditional choice, but hey — tasty is tasty, and yes, the sandwiches here are quite good.

Tut's Egyptian Street Food

A combo comes with two sandwiches and a side; I went with soguk (sausage) and kebda (pan-fried beef liver).

Both were really good.  Soguk (more commonly spelled sojuk or sujuk) is a very distinctively-spiced Middle Eastern sausage, and while the one they’re serving here has a much milder flavour than any version I’ve had before, it’s tasty nonetheless.  It comes topped with what they’re calling caramelized onions (they tasted more pickled than caramelized to me) and mustard mint sauce.  That sauce, in particular, is nicely zippy and really brings the sandwich together.

Tut's Egyptian Street Food

The liver comes topped with tahini sauce and a lime wedge for spritzing; like the sausage, it has a surprisingly mild flavour, but it’s tender, meaty, and delicious.  Even if you’re normally iffy on liver, this sandwich might surprise you — it’s really good.

And the soft, fresh, and slightly sweet bun works surprisingly well.  I thought I might miss the pita bread, but I did not.

Tut's Egyptian Street Food

I went with pickles on the side; I think fries are probably the more popular choice, but the occasional pickle slice does a great job of cutting through the richness of the very heavy sandwiches.

Solid Texas BBQ at Adamson Barbecue

Adamson BarbecueLocation: 15195 Yonge Street, Aurora
Website: https://adamsonbarbecue.com/

Though restaurants serving Texas-style BBQ have become a dime a dozen in the GTA, Adamson was among the first in that trend, and if you ask pretty much anybody, they’re the best.

I tried it once a couple of years ago, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t convinced.  I found the food to be tasty enough, but it was hampered by some fairly serious issues (most pressingly: a complete lack of smoky flavour, improperly sliced brisket, and mediocre pulled pork).

Well, I just tried their new Aurora location, and it was (mostly) a much, much better experience.

Adamson Barbecue

I will say that ordering take-out is probably not the best way to go (though it is, for obvious reasons, the only way to go right now).  When you pre-order on their website, all the meats come tightly wrapped in butcher paper, and the whole thing is sealed in a foil take-out container.  You also can’t specify a pick-up time other than before or after 4:00 PM.  This means that the meat effectively continues to cook in the tray, and is a bit more dry than it should be by the time you eat it.

Even still, it was quite tasty.  I tried basically everything on the menu: beef brisket, spare ribs, turkey breast, pulled pork, and a couple of sausages (bratwurst and jalapeno cheddar).

The brisket is their claim to fame, and yeah, it’s very good.  It could have been more tender (see: the aforementioned take-out issue), but it was otherwise top-shelf brisket.  It was quite smoky, it had a good amount of tender fat (the fat wasn’t quite as well rendered as you’d like, but that’s a minor complaint — it was mostly very creamy), and the bark was really tasty.  Texas-style barbecue is traditionally seasoned with just salt and pepper, and while it tasted like there might have been a bit more going on here, it was quite good.

Adamson Barbecue

Everything else was (mostly) really tasty.  The turkey was smoky and tender, the ribs had a great texture and more of that delightful smoke flavour (though they did taste a bit over-brined), and both sausages were top-notch, particularly the jalapeno cheddar.

The pulled pork was even worse than I remembered it, however.  It was incredibly dry, it had zero smoky flavour, and it had that underlying gaminess that you only get from pork that’s been reheated one time too many.  I’d be absolutely shocked if it was cooked the same day I ate it.

I also tried the baked beans and the coleslaw, and while neither was anything to get too excited about (the baked beans tasted more like some kind of bean stew than like traditional baked beans), but they were both tasty enough.

Tasty Turkish Flatbread at Best Istanbul Restaurant

Best Istanbul RestaurantLocation: 235 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
Website: http://bestistanbul.ca/

I recently had a pide at Byblos Uptown that was good but not great; now here comes Best Istanbul Restaurant to show them how it’s really done.

I tried a couple of pides, and they were both seriously delicious.  There was the Sucuk Pide (“Turkish flatbread with mozzarella, sucuk meat and eggs”) and the Veggie Pide (“mozzarella, spinach and feta cheese”).

Best Istanbul Restaurant

Both were quite good, though the sucuk was my favourite of the two.  If you’re unfamiliar with sucuk (which is sometimes spelled sujuk), it’s a really tasty, intensely-spiced sausage that’s kind of like a turbo-charged version of pepperoni.  It’s so good.

Best Istanbul Restaurant

It works perfectly on the pide, with its assertive flavour matching perfectly with the mild, gooey cheese.  The crust is great too, with a nice exterior crispiness and a satisfyingly chewy/fluffy interior.  I didn’t notice the egg, however; either they forgot about it (the picture on the menu shows a full egg yolk on the pide), or they mixed it right in with the cheese (though it didn’t taste like they did).

Best Istanbul Restaurant

The Veggie was quite tasty as well, though the crust was slightly thinner and crispier, which wasn’t quite as satisfying as the other one.  It was also a bit underseasoned, though a spritz from the accompanying lemon wedge easily took care of that problem.

Descendant: Still Some of the Best Pizza in the City

Descendant PizzaLocation: 1168 Queen Street East, Toronto
Website: http://descendantdsp.com/

Though I generally like to visit places I haven’t tried when I eat out, exceptions have to be made.  Especially in the case of a restaurant serving food as great as Descendant, which makes superb Detroit-style pizza.  It’s a strong contender for the best pizza in the city.

And yeah, it’s still great.

I tried a couple of pizzas — the Gatt-Daddy (“house made fennel sausage, Mama Lil’s Peppers, red onion, sauce, basil aioli, fresh parsley & basil”) and the Jaffna (“kothu roti, mango chutney, cilantro cream, green onion, Calabrian chilis, fresh cilantro, coconut sambol”).

Descendant Pizza

Orrdering a pizza as bizarrely topped as the Jaffna might be a dicey proposition at a lesser pizza joint — but Descendant is not a lesser pizza joint.  Aside from making technically superb pizzas, Descendant does an amazing job of taking seemingly bizarre flavour combos and doing something special with them.  The Jaffna is sweet, spicy, savoury, and tangy in all the best ways.

The Gatt-Daddy is more traditional, and of course, they knock it out of the park.

Descendant Pizza

It helps that the pizza itself is so good — the crust is delightfully crispy on the bottom, and dense enough to hold up to the voluminous toppings while still being delightfully fluffy and amazing.  It’s a balancing act, and one that Descendant pulls of beautifully.

And of course, there’s that Detroit-style pizza trademark — the ring of dark, crispy goodness around the pizza where the cheese has come into contact with the square pan.  It’s so good.