Where the owners of Syrian bakery Crown Pastries eat Middle Eastern food in Scarborough
Rasoul and Ismail Alsalha, along with their parents and two other siblings, left Aleppo in 2009 to settle in Scarborough, abandoning a bakery that was family-run for generations. “When we moved here, there wasn’t a Syrian community—we felt like we were the first,” says Rasoul. The two brothers dreamed of continuing the family’s tradition by opening a Syrian bakery.
Ismail took a hotel management course, while Rasoul familiarized himself with Scarborough’s culinary scene. He worked his way through a variety of restaurants and shops along the strip of Lawrence Avenue East between Victoria Park and Birchmount—a stretch of road that has some of the best Middle Eastern spots in the country. The brothers eventually opened Crown Pastries in 2015, quickly developing a cult following for their house-made Syrian sweets.
When they’re not working 12-hour shifts, the two eat at neighbouring restaurants. “We miss the food back home,” says Rasoul. “For us, food is a way to remember our life in Syria, the way things were.” They took us to their favourite Syrian, Armenian, Lebanese and Egyptian spots.
1960 Lawrence Ave E., 416-752-4584, no website
Rasoul’s favourite breakfast spot has been in the neighbourhood for more than 20 years and specializes in savoury pies. “When we first moved to Canada, I saw the sign and had to come in,” he says. “It’s the best Syrian-style breakfast I’ve found.” Customers crowd the small shop every morning to buy pies by the dozen, and the place often sells out by mid-afternoon. The brothers visit this place two or three times a week.
Go-to item: Syrian breakfast.
Tasting notes: A typical Syrian breakfast consists of red tea served with a variety of meat pies, veggie pies and flatbreads topped with things like ground beef, pickles and za’atar.
25 Howden Road, Unit #2., 416-285-7164, no website
Ani Bakery is a family-run operation known for having only one menu item: Armenian lahmajoun, thin pies topped with a mixture of ground meat and vegetables. Ani sells them by the dozen, and the brothers swear they’re the best they’ve ever had.
Go-to item: Lahmajoun
Tasting notes: The made-to-order lahmajoun is covered in ground beef and lamb, savoury herbs, vegetables and lemon. A side of tangy pickles offsets the richness of the dish.
1823 Lawrence Ave E., 416-285-1337, no website
Locals know that when it comes to shawarma and falafel, this place is one of the best in the GTA. Ismail eats here weekly, and thinks it’s the best falafel he’s tried so far. He’s a big fan of their hot sauce, too.
Go-to item: The mixed plate.
Tasting notes: A plate loaded with beef and chicken shawarma, falafel, rice, salad and hummus. The brothers recommend asking for extra hot sauce.
Damas Grill House and Juice Bar
1795 Victoria Park Ave., 647-346-6424, no website
Damas is a fairly new addition to the strip. Like most of the restaurant’s customers, Ismail and Rasoul go to the casual Lebanese restaurant for the grilled meats.
Go-to item: Kebab shish tawook with salad and rice.
Tasting notes: Grilled chicken and beef kebabs (marinated in a secret recipe) on fluffy basmati rice, topped with house-made garlic and hot sauces.
Mermaid Fish and Grill House
1748 Lawrence Ave E., 416-519-9868, mermaidfishandgrillhouse.ca
Mermaid is popular for its coastal Egyptian seafood dishes. A rotating menu lists what’s available, and customers can request how they want their fish (or lobster or mussels or clams) cooked.
Go-to items: Calamari and grilled fish
Tasting notes: Rasoul swears by the calamari here but both brothers love the grilled fish, whether it’s cooked simply with olive oil and lemon, or done Singari-style (split in half, seasoned with Mediterranean spices, then barbecued with tomatoes, onions and bell peppers.)