Sumac Kebab Kitchen
Sumac Kebab Kitchen recently opened next to OCAD at Dundas and McCaul, specializing in - you guessed it - kebabs. The Middle Eastern restaurant, named after the lemony powdered spice ground from the sumac plant, pairs succulent kebabs with a mix of salads, yogurts, rices and stews, a cozy environment and friendly staff.
Sumac offers a variety of chicken and beef kebab options, plus shrimp, served two ways: on a plate with two of salad, rice or yogurt ($10-14) or in a sandwich ($6-8) sans sides. The beef kebab comes recommended at the counter, with good reason, as the meat is hearty but tender, juicy with big beef flavour; it comes nestled next to fragrant jasmine rice and a meaty roasted tomato.
The chicken mix sandwich, which comes in white or dark meat, is a little more exciting, middle of the road soft bun notwithstanding, topped with tomato, pickle, onions, mayo and parsley. Once again the meat is tender, brimming with spice and a faint but pleasant char, and a deal at seven bucks.
Better than either of these, though, and in fact truly exceptional, is the eggplant stew ($9), served with rice and yogurt (friendly staff are eager to please and, given our food critic-sized portions, we end up with a smaller side of stew served with pita).
It's the kind of dish you would serve an unruly child to trick them into eating their vegetables - meaty eggplant cooked down to a thick, dip-like consistency, then topped with yogurt and herb tapenade and studded with caramelized onion, which lend depth of feel, sweetness and flavour all at once. This dish is worth a visit alone, one of the best things I've eaten so far this year.
The soup of the day ($3) when we visit is a milky barley, not dissimilar to a rice pudding or grits, flecked with bits of parsley and carrot. A hefty vinegary aftertaste may give some pause, but for three dollars it serves as a welcoming start or accompaniment to the meal.
A variety yogurts on offer as sides ($3) will undoubtedly be familiar to anyone who has tried raita, with flavours ranging from cucumber to shallot to eggplant. Side salads include the namesake sumac ($6), unfortunately unavailable on the day of our visit due to a basil shortage, garden and shirazi ($4 each). We try the shirazi, which ends up being a slight disappointment, a mix of cucumber, tomato, onion, mint and lemon with a herby aftertaste that nevertheless doesn't quite connect, a little too plain Jane perhaps as compared to the other offerings.
Seating is limited downstairs at Sumac, though a narrow staircase leads to additional space on the second floor. Whether eating in or taking out though you won't go too wrong, as Sumac adds some pleasant spice to life.
Photos by Miranda Whist. Follow/yell at Anders on Twitter .