Maha's is a new Egyptian brunch spot that's been on Greenwood, just north of Gerrard, for a little over a month. It's the kind of space where you almost feel like you've stepped into someone's bright and welcoming home for a meal - and as it happens, it turns out this place really is quite the family affair.
If you peek into the semi-open kitchen, you'll find Maha Barsoom and her daughter/sous-chef Monika Wahba working away, preparing everything fresh and made to order (their freezer is out of commission, but they don't need it anyway).
Helming the front of house is Barsoom's son Mark Wahba, taking orders and preparing drinks. Both siblings used to be baristas at the nearby Grinder , so in addition to the Egyptian theme (furniture and decorative tambourine lights their uncle imported over from Cairo; drawings made by their artist aunt; photographs of their homeland that Monika took), Maha's has a bit of a hip cafe vibe to it as well. There are hanging Edison bulbs as part of the decor and a stream of pleasant tunes play while you dine (The Flaming Lips, John Denver and The Beach Boys are in the mix when I visit).
Mountain View supplies their house blend of organic beans, and a rotating assortment of enticing baked goods displayed on the counter are all made in-house daily. Beverages the Wahba siblings can crank out include Turkish coffee ($3), Egyptian black tea with fresh mint ($2.50/cup, $4/pot) or their signature honey-cardamom latte ($4.25 small, $4.95 large).
Barsoom and her husband moved their family from Cairo to Toronto in 2000 so that their kids could receive better educations, and since Barsoom always loved cooking (she learned how to cook from her grandmother and mother), she started up a catering business. Eventually Barsoom realized she'd rather open a small restaurant so she could interact with and get to know more of the people eating her food, and consequently, they can learn more about what they're eating as well.
I admittedly don't know much about Egyptian cuisine since it's rare to find in this city (the only other place I can think of is Baba Geddo and it's partially Mexican), and Barsoom tells me it has Greek, Turkish and French influences, as they all occupied the country at some point in its history.
The entire menu sounds appealing, and those craving breakfast can't go wrong with the sunny eggs and foole ($10), which comes with a side of house greens. Foole (or ful) is a traditional Egyptian breakfast dish made with mashed fava beans, and here diced tomatoes and onions are mixed in before it's topped with a pair of sunny-side-up eggs. Pieces of charred balady (or baladi) bread, an Egyptian pita-like flatbread made with bran and whole wheat, are meant to be used as utensils to scoop up flavourful bites of the runny yolks and sauce.
On the lunch side of the spectrum is the date grilled cheese ($12). Monika wanted to offer some familiar brunch options with an Egyptian twist, so dates sauteed in butter are added to a blend of Gouda, Havarti and Swiss before they're pressed between slices of egg bread drizzled with honey. Add some of Monika's housemade hot sauce (or her boyfriend's - who also sometimes helps out in the kitchen - they're holding a friendly competition to see whose is better) to each bite, and the sweet-savoury-spicy combo of flavours makes for intensely satisfying comfort food.
The sandwich also comes with a side of cumin home fries, house greens or Maha's award-winning vegan lentil soup that is a point of pride for Barsoom - it won her first prize in a cooking contest when she first moved to Canada.
Another sandwich is Maha's Mind Blowing Chicken ($7), a toasted egg bun filled to overflowing with pieces of marinated chicken tossed with chopped parsley, onions and tomatoes drenched in tomeya (garlic sauce), housemade mayo and tehina. For an extra $3, cumin home fries with parsley and pickled onions sprinkled over top make for a tasty side and ensure you definitely don't leave hungry (in fact, you may well have leftovers).
I wish I could make my way through the whole menu; other tempting-sounding items include the Pharaoh's Po'boy ($9), an authentic Cairo street food of battered and deep-fried baby shrimp in mini balady bread, and the Basturma Scramble ($11), thinly sliced cured beef with Egyptian spices mixed into scrambled eggs - I watch this go out of the kitchen with envy. I would totally eat here all the time if I lived nearby. Maybe it's time to move east...
Photos by Jesse Milns.