Levant is a Middle Eastern restaurant that stays well outside the box of your usual shawarma shop serving Sicilian-Levantine pizzas and unique flavours of kunafa when it comes to dessert.
The Bloor West spot still undergoing renovations has just a few tables inside. Colourful tiles covering the wall and floor inspire feelings of the Middle East and contrast with a mural by Toronto artist Vanessa Spizzirri. While local treats of both the Persian and Italian variety are sold by the counter.
Owners Nader Quwasmi and Tamer Agha are both from the Levant. Quwasmi has a Palestine background and was born in Canada while Agha is originally from Lebanon and came to Toronto by way of Dubai and Calgary.
Quwasmi gave up a job in real estate to open here with his friend, finally pursuing a longtime love of cooking. Although he hasn't spent much time in kitchens, he did grow up in his family's Middle Eastern restaurant, The Highland, in Keswick, just an hour north of Toronto.
Levant brings something new to the table in a city packed full of shawarma spots with their square mix-and-match pizzas of Sicilian-style dough and Middle Eastern toppings. Though there is a slow-roasted lamb shawarma pizza if that's what you're craving.
The fluffy dough, similar to focaccia, is made with 00 flour and aged for four days to make it airy and light. The option to mix-and-match means you can pick any two styles for a small (9x9: $20) and three when it comes to the large (14x14: $38). Or you can just pop in for a slice.
The crispy and creme (slice: $7, small: $19, large: $35) gets homemade red sauce, kofta meatballs, mozzarella, provolone, crispy fried onions, hot peppers and a dollop of seven-spice creme.
The musakhan (slice: $7, small: $19, large: $35) puts a bit of a twist on a classic Palestinian comfort food with sumac caramelized onions, seven-spice chicken confit, saffron and lemon ricotta for a hit of floral.
They also have your standard pep and cheese on the menu (slice: $6, small: $18, large: $32), which is about the only one I'd pair with one of the homemade dipping sauces.
Besides the pies, there are a few starters like the sweet and smokey harissa honey butter cauliflower ($8) served with a seven-spice creamy dip on the side.
Three different types of vegan hummus are made in-house and served with fresh baked zaatar and garlic sprinkled focaccia every time. We go for the hummus Rossa ($8) topped with muhammara (a hot red pepper dip) and walnuts, and it doesn't disappoint.
The tabouleh Caesar salad ($7) has parmesan, lemon pomegranate seeds and zaatar pita croutons.
For those with a dessert stomach, the tiramisu kunafa ($8) is an epic fusion, though it could've been slightly more cheesy and creamy. It's prepared with akawie cheese, mozzarella, mascarpone, espresso syrup and dusted with cocoa.
Or there's the not really kunafa kunafa ($8) with walnut, sugar, cinnamon and honey syrup that's delicious, albeit straying from the traditional recipe.