Jala Al Soufi, her parents Husam and Shahnaz, and brother Alaa, weren’t able to find a restaurant in Toronto with authentic food of their homeland Syria, so they decided to open their own.
Toronto’s first Syrian resto-café, Soufi’s, features freshly baked Syrian street food, made daily without preservatives or additives.
Just one bite and you’ll be addicted to the fresh flavours of mana’eesh and knaffeh.
The menu is centered on two Syrian dishes:
The first is Manaeesh, a Levantine flatbread made from scratch using white or whole wheat flour cooked in a brick oven (traditionally a wood fired oven is used). The dough mix, which took a lot of time and practice to perfect (it’s extremely thin and delicate) comes in contact with the oven. Each one is made to order.
The dough is softer and lighter than a pita (whole wheat is thinner and crisps up nicely, and contains no dairy or nuts).
Traditionally, it’s served flat and cut up like pizza slices, but Soufi’s serves it folded. A variety of toppings are available, including Middle Eastern spice za’atar and labneh (a creamy cheese made from yogurt), making it easy to customize a dense meal (meat or cheese) or create a lighter snack (vegetables).
There are two meat options – both beef – but seasoned very differently.
The second dish is Knaffeh, which is on the sweeter side and showcases soft white cheese topped with shredded phyllo pastry or smooth semolina (durum wheat flour) dough, soaked in sweet syrup with a dash of orange blossom. Cheese is baked to order, with cashew cheese and banoffee on display.
Jala contributed the vegan desserts and other options. “I’m really interested in the cuisine and finding meat and dairy alternatives,” she says.
The family has created its own Manaeesh filling combinations including egg and cheese, eggplant, and peanut butter and banana. “Adding avocado is also new,” Jala says. Modern takes on the classic Knaffeh continue with vegan banana caramel filling, and the vegan cheese selection.
Sippers include Toronto’s own Hale coffee and a variety of teas and juices as well as Arabic coffee and traditional Turkish yogurt drink, Ayran.
There’s also brew of another kind available – Heineken and Molson Canadian.
In the works: More Syrian drinks.
Fixtures and Fittings
The former edgy space of Come & Get It got a completely new colour scheme and ambiance.
“We changed basically everything,” says Jala.
The large counter was removed and a newly designed one was put in. Jala and a friend made the blackboards and created a unique light fixture by blending together store-bought lights and a wooden ladder. Jala also made and stained the crate shelves. Chairs were sanded and stools painted.
A new counter at the front garage door window offers great people watching. Tiles were added to the counter and wall, and antiques and artifacts were brought from home. A shipment of treasures sent from Jala’s grandmother lost in the mail was delivered last week.
The atmosphere highlights Syrian culture by way of music and artifacts, in addition to the food. “We were inspired by restaurants and cafés in Syria, but added our own Queen West vibe to it.” The first thing Husam did before anything else – was it choosing the location or name? Neither. He made a playlist.
Off the Menu
Fresh, fragrant thyme, olive oil with a hint of nuttiness topped with veggies is not just healthy, but deeply satisfying – though not heavy in the least. It’s also a great reminder to stock up on za’atar spice for at home. There’s nothing else like it.
Sujuk Manaeesh ($6.75)
Want something a little more substantial? The family’s signature spiced beef is finely ground with medium heat, and with the addition of Provolone (+ $1). The tangle of spicy meat and pulls of cheese are addictive. Warning: you’re going to need extra napkins with this one.
Creamy cheese, pastry and sweet syrup topped with crushed pistachios – what’s not to love?
Soufi’s accommodates 16 guests for dine-in. Takeout, catering, and daily/weekly meal pickup options are also available.
Head Honchos: Jala, Alaa & Husam Al Soufi, and Shahnaz Beirekdar
Map it: 676 Queen St. W. (at Euclid)
Tuesday to Saturday: 10 am - 8 pm
Sunday: 10 am - 7 pm
Phone it in: 647-350-7737
How Cool is This?! Buh-bye greasy pizza and sodium-saturated subs! Manaeesh is a great portable food option: healthy and easy to eat on the go. This made-from-scratch fare is inexpensive too – the priciest item on the menu? $6.25 for Halloumi Manaeesh.
Check out our Facebook page for more photos.