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Spanakopita, baklava soft serve and a glorious view of Trinity-Bellwoods
Agora (921 Queen West, at Strachan, theagora.ca), the fast-casual answer to Ossington taverna Mamakas, is ready to sate west-enders’ seemingly bottomless appetite for kopanisti and spanakopita.
“We had a lot of demand from our clients to offer our stuff for lunch and take-home – dips, baklava and pita bread,” says Thanos Tripi, who opened Mamakas in 2014. Two years ago, he set about making plans for a grab-and-go cafe located a short stroll away at the foot of Trinity-Bellwoods.
“Originally, the agora was a place where philosophers and politicians would get together and discuss the affairs of the city. They had to be fed, so food came, then wine came, and then an open-air market developed,” Tripi says.
“It’s very European. I wanted to bring the outside in and the inside out.”
The menu casts a wide net – from hot foods, salads to fresh breads, desserts and coffee – but hews largely to classic Greek recipes. Two weeks into opening, the top sellers are classic savoury pies like spanakopita and tiropita, made with a sturdy house-made phyllo tzatziki and kopanisti, sold in handy pre-packaged tubs (with bags of fresh pita available on the side) and koulouri, a bagel-soft pretzel hybrid perfect for munching on the go.
Imported pantry goods like olive oil line shelves, tubs of house granola and sealed bags of salted olives occupy a shelf up front, and a fridge in the back is well-stocked with trays of roast chicken and moussaka for takeaway.
On top of the existing offerings, they’ll be rolling out a sandwich program in the coming days, featuring roasted meats, grilled veggies, and house breads flavoured with feta, sundried tomatoes and olives.
“The essence is Greek-flavoured sandwiches, but we’re not doing a gyro, souvlaki, any of that stuff,” Tripi says. “I just wanted to take Greek flavors and modernize them, or do them in a more uncommon way.” Also on the way is baklava frozen yogurt, which made its debut at Taste Of Toronto to rave reviews a couple summers ago.
It’s a lot for one tiny shop – but Tripi says he’s eager to test-drive new recipes and ideas for he hopes will become a series of Agoras around the city.
“This is more of a scaleable concept (than Mamakas),” he says. “It can grow, and it can shrink. Depending on the location, we can add a liquor license, we can add seats – or you can just do pies and dip out of a 600-square-foot location in the PATH.”
Catering is also in the works, and Tripi plans to eventually introduce delivery. Of course, that’s all set for after summer rush – which, given Bellwoods’ annual parade of picnickers and passers-by, seems inevitable.
“In Toronto terms, it’s the centre of the universe. It’s our Central Park,” Tripi says.
“Can you imagine? The window’s open, the stoop’s there, you’re sitting with your caffe, you have a spanakopita. You’re talking with your friends, watching people going by. That’s so Greece to me. To me, that’s Athens.”
Here’s a closer look at a few of the dishes.
Pirnerli ($10.50) is a cheesy boat-shaped bread. “Normally in the Baltic states they fold in tons and tons of butter, and it’s just way too heavy. We made it a little more approachable,” Tripi says. A veggie version features caramelized onions and fingerling potatoes, while meat-eaters can grab a ground lamb with lemon version.
Rosewater bougatsa pastries are usually served in slices, like a spanakopita, but Agora’s version is dumpling-shaped for better portability.
The ekmek kataifi parfaits ($8) are adapted from pastry chef Cora James’ recipe at Mamakas. Traditionally, they’re made with clotted cream this version has white chocolate ganache, vanilla yogurt crema and a sour cherry compote, built on shredded kataifi pastry soaked in honey-citrus syrup. Picture a cheesecake you can eat on the go.
Koulouri ($2), available plain or rolled in sesame seeds, are a crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. They’re a popular Greek street food Tripi likes to eat his with dip, “‘cause it’s got the structure”.
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