It was one of those frigid mid-winter evenings when Pioneer and some friends set out on our culinary adventure to steamy Northern Africa. We were visiting Tunisia, a sliver of a country with a tourist-friendly Mediterranean coastline, stuffed in between Algeria and Libya and a shadowy participant in last year's violent Arab Spring.
Tunisian cuisine, like the country itself, has rarely been in the spotlight, which might be the reason why a lot of neighbours walk right by Taste of Tunisia at 1475 Danforth without blinking. But they shouldn't! Why? Well, sometimes something really special comes along, and its hard to keep it to yourself, and this is one of those instances.
It is unbelievable that we have a gem like this so close to home. It is THE ONLY Tunisian restaurant in Toronto. It seems unbelievable that a country of 10.7 million is rep'd by only one restaurant in our "multi-cultural" city (as opposed to Montreal that has at least five or six) and on the Friday evening we were there, the restaurant was sadly empty.
Peeking into the window street-side does not reveal a glossy, highly designed interior, but never judge a book by its cover. It was definitely love at first bite. The collegial host Hatem brought us plates of delicate Mediterranean appetizers to start - soft calamari simmered in a light and tangy tomato sauce, a plate full of fresh salads, and the winner of them all, the Tunisian 'brik'. Potatoes, egg, tuna, parsley and capers pureed and stuffed into a phyllo roll. Although Hatem admits that real Tunisian brik is not made with phyllo, it doesn't matter because it's the melt-in-your mouth savoury interior that is worth coming back for ($5.95).
The requisite mint tea was poured for Pioneer and friends while we waited for our mains, so we had a chance to chat with Hatem. He took over the restaurant in November 2011, when it used to be called Djerba. He explained that unlike neighbouring Ethiopian and Moroccan restaurants, there isn't a huge Tunisian clientele in Toronto because most expats settle in Montreal due to the French language connection. This means there is no existing customer base to tap into, so he has to work extremely hard to market to the populace. By default, he often has to describe Tunisian cuisine as Moroccan which has some vague similarities.
The main courses when they arrived were worth waiting for. We ordered the Merguez, which is a lamb sausage similar to Italian veal sausage and simmered in a zuchini and eggplant tomato sauce with potatoes. It was so savoury, that Pioneer went back for thirds (sorry guys!!) and so filling that getting around to the chicken couscous was hard. Pioneer began to have serious doubts about being able to walk home with such a full belly.
The three of us ate for under $60, and although a foodie or food writer Pioneer is not, our opinion is that this is a great local gem for an evening out if you're looking for something new and interesting. It will be up to us to keep places like this in our neighbourhood, which in turn keep our neighbourhood interesting and worth living in. So our final word is to take a chance! This place will not disappoint.
P.S. They are family friendly, have booster seats for kids AND do take out - menu on their website. So really, there is no excuse....