Maha’s Fine Egyptian Cuisine in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood is what I imagine walking into a bonafide Egyptian café would be like. Located at 226 Greenwood Avenue (at Gerrard Street) this bustling eatery is owned and run by Egyptian-born Maha Barsoom and her adult children Monika and Mark. Maha is the head chef, while her daughter is the sous-chef, and Mark mans the front of the house, as barista and cashier. Seeking a better education for the kids was the reason the whole family came from Cairo back in 2000. Working as a catering manager at a school in Egypt, she worked as a freelance interpreter and translator when she came to Canada. She also operated a booming catering business, made donations of her food to Access Point on Danforth, and taught Egyptian cooking at several Loblaws locations. Maha opened her restaurant in the autumn of 2014, and it has become a huge success.
I’m greeted warmly by the servers, Michelle and Alice, who direct me to a table by the enormous front window. They bring along a drink and food menu and provide some great suggestions as to what to order. I choose the Honey Cardamom latte and the Maha’s Mind Blowing Chicken sandwich. Alice brings over a carafe of water with lemon and sprigs of mint floating in it. What a unique taste and very refreshing.
The marble tables and wooden chairs with papyrus designs on them are quite comfortable and the entire place is light and airy. Plants and artwork cover the walls and the front counter is dominated by the state of the art espresso machine, being used to full effect by Mark. An ornate brass Egyptian chandelier hangs over the counter. A variety of beautiful knickknacks and plants are placed meticulously on the shelf behind the counter that quasi separates the kitchen from the front of house. Maha, Monika and a couple of other kitchen staff work diligently in the background, preparing the food. The aromas that waft out from their labours are out of this world, and certainly pique your appetite.
Being the coffee lover I am, I couldn’t wait to sample the fine roasts on offer here at Maha’s. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Egyptian coffee has long had a reputation for being excellent, and it is certainly well-deserved. Maha’s organic beans are supplied by Mountain View. The Honey and Cardamom latte I ordered is their signature coffee drink, and a bonafide delight to the taste buds. It also looks delightful with an intricate leaf drawn on the foam.
The Maha’s Mind Blowing Chicken sandwich certainly lived up to its name, made up of marinated chicken, parsley, onion, tomato, tehina and tomeya all served on an egg bun. At $8 it’s a steal and well worth every nickel. Many of their menu items have been getting rave reviews since they opened. A few months ago, BlogTO endorsed what they called the “Best Shakshuka in Toronto” and named their vegan Lentil Soup one of the “Top 25 Soups in Toronto.” No surprise, since this was the same soup that won Maha Barsoom a cooking contest when she first came to our shores back at the turn of the century.
Bread forms the backbone of Egyptian cuisine, providing not only sustenance but a practical usage as a kind of utensil. The local bread is a pita bread called Eish Masri, while a flatbread called Aish Merahrah is also popular. Bread is so important in Egyptian society that the government has subsidized bread for its populace since the Nasser era (1956-70). Two of the most popular dishes, and indeed contenders for the national dish of Egypt, are Ful Medames (mashed fava beans) and Koshari (a mix of lentils, rice, pasta and other ingredients). Other well-known items include Baba Ghanoush (a condiment made from eggplant), falafel (a deep fried ball made from fava beans or chickpeas) and Hummus (a chickpea dip). While I didn’t have the chance to try these delicacies, they’re available on the menu, and definitely something I’ll be sampling when I come back very soon.
Closed on Wednesdays, Maha’s is open every other day of the week; Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 8am to 7pm, and on weekends from 8am to 5pm. While the food and drinks are above reproach, the serving time is a little slow, especially on weekends, their busiest time of the week. You’ll want to make sure you go when you comfortably have a good hour to two to enjoy this Leslieville quasi-hidden gem. Having said that, the delectable food and drink is well worth waiting for. So take a trip downtown to Maha’s, and as they might say in Egypt as you sit down to enjoy such a fine meal; Bil hana wish shifa (bon appetit)!