Essen, translated from German means "to eat" - it's the also the latest incarnation of Leor Zimerman's Dundas West restaurant, which was previously open under the name Quinta .
The shift from rustic Portuguese plates to wholesome Jewish cuisine took place over a mere two-week period this summer after a couple of slow nights prompted this redirection. When I had met Zimerman previously, he was intent on offering a reverential take rooted in the neighbourhood's history - now, with this new overhaul, the inspiration draws on a more personal family history.
When it comes to updated aesthetics, we're just talking fresh paint and a scattering of vintage bar mitzvah photos. What struck me previously about this room remains true: it's comfortable and inviting, and the same can be said for the service.
At dinner (which is presented family style) the staff will tell you upfront that "you will leave full or with a doggy bag - otherwise, we haven't done our job". The day menu (which doesn't differentiate between lunch and brunch) is lighter and a la carte, but still promotes a similar mission. This place isn't kosher, but it does stay true to the pillars of Jewish cuisine. Bacon and shellfish are absent on the menu, though the alternatives leave nothing for want.
The brisket hash ($14) for example, is a perfect dish for diners still looking for that classic combo of eggs, potatoes and breakfast-y meats. It's a medley of chunky fried potatoes with peppers, onions, roasted garlic and brisket tips (the best parts reserved from Dr. Pepper-braised roast). Poached eggs sit atop ready to be broken and spill sunny soft yolk over the whole mess.
I'm also happy to see shakshuka ($12) on the menu. Exclusively served on weekends, the dish is based on a stew of peppers, chickpeas, onions, garlic, chili and herbs with eggs baked right into the sauce. A big scoop of the house-made harissa gives the dish some kick, while fresh pita triangles on the side act as a vessel to swipe up every last bit.
The bagel ($12) is my favourite. Crafted with whipped dill cream cheese and layered onto a Gryfe's bagel with supple house-cured salmon and caper berries, it comes with potatoes and a lemon and za'tar dressed salad.
By day, the bar slings Bloody Marys ($6.50) rimmed with pickle brine and celery salts and mixed with habanero hot sauce, worcestershire and lots of freshly grate horseradish. Come by in the evening and you'll find Manischewitz spritzers gracing the tables. L'chaim!
Photos by Jesse Milns