Zezafoun Syrian Cuisine does staples like fattoush salad, but the bulk of their menu revolves around a hot table where three to five dishes of the day are served.
Made by the mother of the Aleid family that runs this place, there’s typically a beef, chicken and at least one vegan or vegetarian option each day for $11.95.
This means you pretty much have to just walk in here to find out what they’re serving, and it’ll be something different almost every time.
The interior is decorated with vintage personal belongings of the family, the only thing they never owned a set of golf clubs in the corner. Daughter Diala is a fan of collecting vintage items, so much of what’s in here has her stamp on it.
Wraps stuffed with house falafel ($6.40) or chicken shawarma ($8.45) and tahini sauce are a best seller, in soft, thin pita from Cedar Bakery.
Diala also whips up a pocket version of the chicken shawarma, a corner of pita stuffed with paprika-seasoned fries and dripping with tahini as well as sumac and pomegranate sauce. The chicken is warmly spiced and messy, the fries adding heat and texture.
Cauliflower is another best seller and one of the vegan or vegetarian options, depending on whether it’s made with yogurt. Deep-fried, crispy cauliflower is mixed with a simple but creamy tahini and yogurt sauce (the version I try isn’t vegan) and garnished with cilantro, ubiquitous in Syrian cuisine.
Dawood basha is a Middle Eastern meatball dish. Rounded beef patties are seasoned solely with black pepper for a simplistic almost Italian flavour, the red sauce seasoned with seven spice, coriander, salt and pepper. Potato and onion is cooked down in the stew as well, all served over rice which takes the tomato-y dish in a more Indian direction.
Bulgur with tomato is the most basic dish. Bulgur, a cracked wheat ancient grain, is the food of the poor in Syria as rice is more expensive, but its comforting and filling qualities have given it a blessed reputation as a small grain that can feed many.
It’s a vegan Syrian lent dish, the bulgur stewed with little more than tomato and onion, sometimes with bell pepper incorporated and of course with obligatory cilantro.
A small bowl of lentil soup is $6.50, but the lentils are ground extremely finely and it’s spiced with balanced cumin, pepper and salt.
Aleppo Muhumara ($6) is one of several mezza options, a paste/dip of sweet pepper and chili pepper with buttery roasted walnut, breadcrumb, tahini, pomegranate molasses and a little olive oil and cayenne, garnished with raw walnut.
They also do breakfast, and even make Syrian grilled cheeses.