Country 059 – Egypt (Maha’s)


Location
: 226 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.mahasbrunch.com/

Maha’s is fairly well known for having very long lines, and very leisurely service.  And indeed, the line was long, and service was leisurely (we spent forty minutes in line, and another half hour waiting for our food to arrive).

Maha’s is also fairly well known for having amazing food; again, it lives up to its reputation.  There’s clearly a reason people are willing to wait through the lines and the slow service.

It’s a brunch place, though if you’re looking for the old standards like eggs benedict and pancakes, you won’t find them here.  What you will find is a nice selection of Egyptian-inspired plates and sandwiches; we started with hummus with charred balady bread (an Egyptian version of pita bread made with whole wheat flour), and I ordered the Cairo Classic.

The hummus was so good.  It was super creamy, with an amazing depth of flavour and a nice lemony zing.  It was a definite contender for the best hummus I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten quite a bit of hummus in my lifetime.

That’s not to mention the balady bread, still warm from the oven and just about as perfect as you can imagine pita bread to be.  It had just the right amount of char, with a subtly crispy exterior and an amazingly fluffy interior.  Combined with the silky hummus, I could have eaten it all day.

The Cairo classic consisted of a heaping portion of foole (a spread consisting mainly of fava beans), a sliced hard boiled egg, a falafel, a tomato and feta spread, more of that amazing balady bread, and a salad.

I mean, after that mind-blowing hummus, would it surprise you to hear that the main meal was quite good as well?  Because yeah, it was pretty amazing.

The combination of the creamy foole, the eggs, and the zippy tomato and feta spread was seriously addictive.

And holy crap, that falafel.  I really wish I had more than just the one; it was perfectly spiced and delightfully fluffy, with lightly crispy exterior.  Like the hummus, this was a best-ever contender.

Maha's - the line Maha's - the hummus Maha's - the Cairo Classic

Country 056 – Norway (Karelia Kitchen)


Location
: 1194 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://kareliakitchen.com/

I feel like ordering cured fish at a Nordic restaurant  might be a bit on the nose, but I suppose there’s a reason why we so closely associate that stuff with Scandinavian countries.

Karelia Kitchen has a pretty bustling brunch crowd — the only reason my dining companion and I were able to get a table is that someone had skipped out on their reservation.  They were about to flat-out turn us away, without even the option to wait.  Suffice it to say, reservations are advised.

I ordered the potato pancakes, which come with hot-smoked trout, beet and horseradish cured gravlax, and a poached duck egg.

The highlight was easily the gravlax.  I’ve certainly had a pretty healthy amount of smoked salmon over my lifetime, but gravlax has eluded me.  It’s similar, but instead of being smoked, it’s cured in a mixture of sugar and salt (and in this case, beet juice and horseradish).

It was fantastic — the texture was silkier and more melt-in-your-mouth tender than any smoked salmon I’ve had before, and without any strong smoky flavours to get in the way, the flavour of the fish itself was much more pronounced.  It also had a really subtle sweetness that complimented the fish perfectly without overwhelming.

I don’t think I tasted any horseradish, which is a shame — it would have been a nice addition, but the gravlax was so good on its own that it’s hard to complain too vigorously.

The trout was pleasant, but nowhere nearly as transcendent as the gravlax.  It had a pleasantly smoky flavour, but it was a bit dry.

The potato pancakes were about on par with the trout — they were crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, but nothing about them stood out.

The poached duck egg had a pleasantly runny yolk, and a richer flavour than the typical chicken variety.  It all comes together quite well — and of course, that gravlax.  It’s so good.

Country 030 – New Zealand (Hemingway’s)

newzealand
Location
: 142 Cumberland Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://hemingways.to/

Quick: name three dishes that come to mind when you think of food from New Zealand.

Yeah, me neither.

Suffice it to say, whatever New Zealand is known for, it’s probably not food (other than, of course, the ubiquitous New Zealand lamb).

Hemingway’s seems to be one of the only restaurants in the city representing Kiwi cuisine, with that representation being loose at best — its menu is dedicated almost entirely to generic pub staples like nachos, chicken wings, and burgers.  The brunch menu, however, does have one dish of interest: the New Zealand Bacon and Egg Pie, which is described as “a New Zealand favourite.”

The pie is filled with bacon, eggs, onion, and peas, and wrapped in a flaky puff pastry crust.  It reminded me a lot of the pies from the Pie Commission — but those pies are always delicious, so it’s like a bizzaro-world version of the Pie Commission, where the Pie Commission is lousy.

Yeah, it’s not great, unfortunately.  The pie has two separate layers — a bottom layer of meat, and a top layer of egg.  The egg is disastrously overcooked, with a rubbery white and a chalky, desiccated yolk.  That alone is enough to sink the pie, but even the meat layer is underwhelming.  Despite being crammed with bacon, the flavour is muddled, underseasoned and bland.  It also had an underlying funkiness that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  It’s kind of unpleasant.

The crust was quite nice, though, with a good balance between substance and flakiness.  It made an amiable attempt to save the pie, but alas, it was DOA.

Hemingway's - the New Zealand Bacon and Egg Pie Hemingway's - the New Zealand Bacon and Egg Pie

Country 025 – United Kingdom (House on Parliament)

house
Location
: 454 Parliament Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.houseonparliament.com/

I remember, as a kid, scotch eggs were a special treat that I always looked forward to.  But I haven’t had one in many, many years, and I’m not sure why.  It’s one of those dishes where it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong.  Take an egg, ensconce it in delicious sausage, cover it in breading and then deep fry it?  You’d have to work pretty hard to mess that up.

House on Parliament does not mess it up.

First, there’s the perfect egg, hard boiled but not overcooked, with a creamy — not crumbly — yolk.  It’s surrounded by a really tasty sausage (wild boar, pheasant and cognac) that has an almost pate-like richness of flavour that suits the dish perfectly.  The fried breadcrumb layer is light and crispy, and just in case it’s not quite indulgent enough for you yet, they top the whole thing with a generous helping of rich, creamy hollandaise sauce.

It comes with a side of delightfully crispy homefries that were a touch underdone in the middle, but otherwise very close to perfect.

The restaurant was absolutely packed — we were able to get seated right away at just after 11:30 on a Sunday, but by the time we left the entrance was crammed with hungry diners waiting to get their brunch on.  Eating the food, it’s easy enough to see why.

Country 023 – Finland (Fanny Chadwick’s)

fanny
Location
: 268 Howland Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.fannychadwicks.ca/

I’ll bet you didn’t know how multicultural pancakes are.  Check out their entry on Wikipedia; apparently about half of the countries in the world have their own variation on pancakes, which have been a staple at least since the time of the ancient Greeks.

And, yes, apparently Finland is one of the many pancake-loving countries out there.  Their take — at least based on what Fanny Chadwick’s is serving up — is kind of like a crepe, only thicker and with a more substantial chew.  Topped with a mango passion fruit compote, lightly sweetened ricotta and a bit of honey, and rolled up into dense, multi-layered rolls, they make for a hearty, satisfying breakfast.

The compote adds a nice balance of sweet and tart, with the blob of creamy ricotta on top rounding things out.  The honey is sparingly applied, so if you like your breakfast to be closer to dessert, you’d be best advised to look elsewhere.

I found it a bit too eggy both in texture and taste, but then I’m not crazy about things that are eggy that aren’t eggs (I’m indifferent to French toast for the same reason).  Despite that, however, I still quite enjoyed these pancakes.

You have a few choices for the side, but I went with the smoked fish, thinking that it was probably the most authentically Finnish.  I think it was salmon, but don’t quote me on that.  It was really, really good — perfectly tender, with a pronounced smoky flavour that didn’t overwhelm.  It was hot smoked rather than cold, so it had the flavour of traditional smoked salmon, but the texture of perfectly cooked fish.  It was great.

Fanny Chadwick's - Finnish Pancakes Fanny Chadwick's - Finnish Pancakes