First Look: Mana’eesh and knaffeh are the Syrian-style specialties at Soufi’s on Queen West


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Image: Yvonne Tsui

Soufi’s is a new café specializing in Syrian-style mana’eesh, a Levantine flatbread that comes in a variety of toppings, and knaffeh, a cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup. It has taken over the old Come and Get It space just west of Bathurst on Queen West.

The venture is a family affair run by the Alsoufis who moved to Toronto a year and a half ago and actively looked for places that offered Syrian-style fare but couldn't find what they wanted. While most of the Middle Eastern quick service joints in town specialize in kebabs and shawarma, Soufi’s is looking to be a much more vegetarian-friendly kind of eatery.


Akawi cheese and za’atar mana’eesh (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Mana’eesh, a sort of Syrian pizza, is a flatbread topped with an array of toppings that range from muhammara (a red pepper spread), za’atar (an herb mixture), Akkawi cheese, sfeeha (minced spiced lamb), sujuk (sausage) to labneh (strained yogurt). And just like a pizza, it can be eaten sliced or folded and is also standard breakfast or lunch fare.

“It was one of my favourite foods growing up,” says Jala Alsoufi, the general manager, adding that her favourite topping is the muhammara. 

Chef Elias Mousa tested a dozen or so recipes for the mana’eesh before they “got the dough right.” While the ingredients here are “not the same as back home” the Alsoufis think they have come up with the “best mana’eesh dough using local ingredients.”


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

And for dessert they offer knaffeh, a sort of “Middle Eastern cheesecake”, which comes in regular and fine. Both are made from akawi cheese, topped with phyllo and soaked in orange blossom syrup with pistachios. The fine version sees the addition of semolina to bind the cake together. The dessert also comes in vegan format, subbing a cashew-based cheese and vegetarian ghee for cheese. The Banoffeh (also vegan) is a play on an English favourite with banana and caramel.

There will be a selection of coffee from Hale Coffee and teas from Genuine Tea. The fridge is stocked with non-caffeinated beverages — juices and coconut water — and also dips like hummus, tabouleh, fattoush and mutabbal (an eggplant dip akin to babba ghanoush but similar in texture to hummus and is made with yogurt). A local, craft beer menu is also in the works.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The decor can be described as a collision of Middle Eastern and modern. Taqiyah hats, Iranian coffee pots, and various clay pots that contrast an exposed brick wall. For added spaced there’s also a patio in the back.

Soufi’s, 676 Queen St. W., 416-708-3173


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


Akawi and muhammara mana’eesh (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


Regular knaffeh, a Middle Eastern cheesecake with phyllo and orange blossom syrup, topped with pistachio (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


Za’atar mana’eesh (IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

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Yvonne lives to eat. She’s known to her friends as the “Ask Alexa” for the best restaurants in cities all over North America. When she's not doing on-the-ground, scrappy PR for TouchBistro, she's a freelance food and drink writer and tells the origin stories, struggles, and successes of restaurateurs – veteran and new.

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