Journalist Sarah Efron explores strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best ethnic food

Monday, February 10, 2014

Lebanese lunch, loaded with flavour

Hidden in the back of a plaza at Dufferin and Finch is the perfect place to sample the wonderful ingredients that make up Lebanese breakfast and lunch. Haddad's Mid-East Bakeries consists of a small restaurant and retail shop, plus a kitchen in the back where the fresh bread is made. The 20-year-old restaurant is mainly frequented by Lebanese and Armenian immigrants seeking out the tastes of home. 

Strangely, the restaurant is named Thyme & Sesame on its website, although the signage on site calls it Haddad's. "They're going to change the name on the sign, but they haven't done it yet," explains Nadine Hajjar, a communications student who works part time at the restaurant. 

A couple of Lebanese origin order the kashkaval ($6), a sandwich with melted kashkaval Bulgarian cheese and tomatoes. It's served on kaak, a bib-shaped flatbread with a hole in it, which makes it easy for mobile vendors in the Middle East to display pieces for sale. The sesame-studded bread is perfectly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. 

The couple also ordered the ful ($7.99), a stew of mashed fava beans with a surprising kick. Ful can sometimes be bland, but this version is oozing with olive oil and lemon juice, and packed with hefty chunks of garlic and hot chilis. The result is an intense, tasty spread that you can stuff into a giant flatbread, inflated with warm air and fresh from the oven. The sandwich is garnished with mint leaves, tomatoes, olives and green onion, a fresh yet comforting combination.

Other popular items include the manakeesh—a sort of flatbread pizza. The version with zaatar—a spice blend of thyme, sumac, sesame and other spices—is popular, as is the one with akawi, a milder version of halloumi cheese.

Haddad's also has a broad selection of savoury pastries, such as the spinach pie, which has a generous amount of spinach and a sour kick. The pies need to be purchased by the half dozen or dozen, with 12 costing between $8 and $12.

While you're waiting for your food, check out the groceries. There's a good selection of olives and spice blends, and other interesting items like grape molasses. I recently tried grape molasses at Tavoos, and discovered that when blended with tahini, it's one of the most delicious combinations I've tasted, a lip-smacking Arabic sibling of peanut butter and jam.

Haddad's Mid-East Bakeries/Thyme and Sesame is located at 4610 Dufferin Street Unit 19B, Toronto. Telephone 416 661 8998. Hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm, Saturday 8am to 4pm, Sunday 8am to 2pm. 

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