Old Avenue Toronto

Old Avenue

Old Avenue Restaurant and Bakery on Avenue Road near Lawrence is a restaurant that's introducing a taste of Azerbaijan and surrounding regions - complete with old-school kitsch - to the city.

Step into the dining room and you might feel like you've stepped into your grandmother's very tastefully decorated apartment.

Old Avenue TorontoAntiques and oddities line the left side of the restaurant where silver spoons, chiming grand clocks and fine china plates hang above black leather booths.

Don't forget to say hi to Old Avenue's mascot, Goldie, a porcelain doll with flowing locks who keeps a watchful eye over clients and staff at the front.

Old Avenue TorontoStep past the bar and bakery section and your eye will follow the narrow line down to the back of the space, where you'll see a solid wood record player, a metal typewriter with a matching case, and many glass ornaments.

Old Avenue TorontoBut you're not coming here to gaze upon antiques that would make a flea market jealous. You've come for home-style cooking that's a fusion of Azerbaijan and Turkish cuisine.

This restaurant has been a long time coming and a dream project between friends Esther Mordecai, chef Mahmud Allahverdiyev and head baker Gulnar Aliyeva. The trio all hail from Azerbaijan, aka the transcontinental country bound by Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

Old Avenue Toronto

Chef Mahmud Allahverdiyev and head baker Gulnar Aliyeva (middle) beside their dedicated Old Avenue staffers, all Ukrainian refugees.

"Azerbaijani cuisine is a hidden treasure of the world," says Mordecai. "It's the combination of the seasonings, the amount of work that you put into it, and one of the most important ingredients, love and passion."

The menu is influenced by each of the owners. Allahverdiyev is a master chef with impressive training and has actually won two gold medals at the Taste of the World 2003 competition for his food. (He's also the official ambassador of the Azerbaijan Culinary Association in Canada.)

Old Avenue Toronto

Old Avenue also sells a number of Azerbaijani food like these jars of tomatoes, chilis and garlic ($5).

Aliyeva has a knack for baking and whips up every baked good in the restaurant herself, with a little help, of course.

"Food is something we are so passionate about," says Mordecai as plates come streaming through the kitchen to our table.

Old Avenue Toronto A steaming-hot and cheesy Turkish pide ($13) is one of the first to arrive. It's composed of made-from-scratch dough, sujuk sausage - a dry, spicy and fermented sausage - and plenty of mozzarella cheese.

This is Aliyeva's own recipe, the details are proprietary. 

Old Avenue TorontoA similar dish, khachapuri megreskiy ($25) follows. The Georgian pie's gooey cheese filling and crunchy baked cheese topping will make you forget your typical cheese pizza slice.
Old Avenue TorontoThough it is similar to the pide in the main ingredients, the dough is not the same and takes around two hours to make.

Old Avenue TorontoThe Azerbaijani Dolma ($24) are made with a painstakingly labourious process: Each grape leaf is hand-rolled around a mix of beef, lamb, mint and dill. They come served in a dish set on an open flame, meaning they'll never get cold on the table.

Old Avenue TorontoMordecai explains that these are different than Middle Eastern dolmas (which have more rice in the filling).
Old Avenue TorontoAliyeva also takes credit for the magic potato ($21), a gigantic spud loaded with beef or chicken, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and herbs that's topped with a garlic sauce.

It is a hefty plate but a million times better than the average baked potato.

Old Avenue Toronto

A trio of husky manti ($14) features large steamed dumplings which come with either pumpkin or meat fillings.

These handmade delicacies have special twisty corners on the dumpling which come from pinching the dough corners and swirling them together. 

The pumpkin filling is the crowd-favourite and isn't too sweet. It has no sugar added and is all natural in flavour which I felt came together as a perfect fall bite.

Old Avenue Toronto The kutab ($18) are stuffed half-moon flatbreads which also come in pumpkin, meat or traditional herb flavouring.

Each side of the flatbread is griddled until crispy. These are very popular for breakfast in Azerbaijan and I found myself leaning towards the pumpkin as my favourite again.

Old Avenue TorontoA show-stopping dish called Shah Plov ($25) is a special plate created by Allahverdiyev and speaks to his years of culinary excellence. 

In its simplest form, it's a baked rice dish that's wrapped in lavash and stuffed with meats, veggies and rice. Its presentation and taste, however, are far from plain.

Old Avenue's take on the classic Azerbaijani dish consists of lamb, chestnuts, basmati rice, dried apricots, plums and raisins, onion, saffron and a number of secret seasonings that are all wrapped in dough.

Old Avenue TorontoAllahverdiyev delivers it to the table himself and cracks it open with a very big knife, which allows a cloud of steam to release from the top.

A big smile spreads across his face and he nods in agreement when I tell him how special the plate feels.

Old Avenue TorontoAnother specially crafted dish is Allahverdiyev's juicy chicken la vagny ($20), which is stuffed with walnuts. It’s very tender and succulent while the onions add a bit of sweetness.

His beef stew served in a clay pot ($25) is also a crowd-pleaser. It's another secret recipe, which means you'll just have to try it to taste the magic.

Old Avenue TorontoYou can't miss when it comes to the gigantic saj plate ($60). Here, the platter is filled with beef, lamb or chicken with onion, potato, eggplant, mushroom and sweet peppers.

Old Avenue TorontoFor dessert, I'd recommend the diamond-shaped 15-layer baklava. Try counting them - I did - and it would be exactly fifteen. 

Old Avenue TorontoThis is a typical Azerbaijani walnut baklava ($10 for 2 pieces), which is another time-consuming (two-plus hours) dish to complete. It's incredibly light for its construction and is perfect with a cup of coffee.
Besides these dishes, there are another 15 or so (including brunch) that the trio is extremely proud of. 
Old Avenue TorontoTaking influence from Mordecai's Jewish heritage you can also find blintzes and many other baked goods like gigantic bread loaves that are all made fresh daily and by hand.Old Avenue Toronto"These are ancient recipes and it’s not something anybody can just start cooking, it takes generational skill to master them," she says.

Besides the A 1 food, Old Avenue hires numerous Ukrainian refugees to help them navigate Toronto, whether that's going back to school or filling out paperwork.

Old Avenue TorontoThe restaurant's hospitality is beyond the warm greeting at the door; Mordechai, Allahverdiyev and Aliyeva are always walking by to make sure you're enjoying yourself and that service is running smoothly. 

Old Avenue TorontoSo, if you're looking for an exceptional dining experience with traditional food and welcoming staff while supporting hard-working players, I'd highly recommend you visit Old Avenue.  

Photos by

Fareen Karim

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