Pizza Pide (949 Gerrard East, at Pape, 416-462-9666) Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a fermented yogurt drink. Average main $8. Open daily 11 am to 11 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: three steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
According to culinary lore, Turks eat more onions than anyone else on the planet, reportedly 36 whopping kilos of the heartburn-inducing bulb per person each year.
Perhaps that explains their overabundance at Pizza Pide, the two-year-old Turkish take-away kitty-corner to Gerrard Square. Seeing a chap dragging a 50-pound bag of them through the front door of the east-side pizzeria during my first visit should have tipped me off as well.
Everything on the illustrated menu hanging on the wall behind this rather drab parlour's cash register contains cooked onion in some capacity and is garnished with a hillock of thick, raw white rings alongside a forest of curly leaf parsley, a toss of tiny, mild green chilies, several pale pink tomato sections and a lemon wedge or three. All you have to do is add a cup of cooked bulgur or brown rice and you've got tabouleh.
Pizza Pide's two styles of crust also set the place apart. The first comes cracker thin and blistered like a single- layer pita but about three times its size. The second comes closer to a traditional Italian pizza dough but has an unusual shape. Called "pide," it recalls a 20-inch-long canoe made out of bread. Here's the former under lahmacun ($6.99), the crepe-like street food topped with minced beef scented with cumin and coriander in a light tomato sauce flecked with diced sweet peppers and onion. Bicak arasi ($9.99) rides the same super-thin base, providing at least a dozen good-sized pieces strewn with lean strips of shawarma-style beef instead of spicy ground round.
The latter appears with pepperoni-esque slices of tasty Turkish sucuk sausage kicked with caraway and dressed at the last minute with a pair of runny sunny side up eggs ($8.99). Look like you know what you're doing by ripping off a chunk of the flaky pide crust and dunking it into the yellow yolk like toast soldiers. If that's not enough cholesterol, extra eggs go for 99 cents each.
Pizza Pide's spinach and feta pie topped with leafy greens and crumbly cheese could easily fit on the card of some Danforth taverna, as could kusbasili pide (both $9.99) layered with meaty cubes of lamb mixed with onion, peppers and parsley.
You won't be the first to think that firin kebap ($9.99) involves skewers. No kebabs these. Imagine a fabulous stew thick with extremely lean cubes of lamb that are somehow tender yet dry, cooked on a cast-iron griddle in the pizza oven along with whole button mushrooms, great whacks of green pepper and stewed tomato layered with molten mozzarella. A skateboard-sized grilled pide sops up any leftovers. Finish with honey-drenched baklava dusted with crushed green pistachio ($1.25) while washing it all down with a bottle of ayran ($2), a salty fermented yogurt drink that's a distant cousin to a buttermilk lassi.
To the Danforth to check out Campion Kokorech (980 Danforth, at Donlands, 416-465-1989). Until German fast food franchise Mr. Kumpir opens an outlet round these parts, this low-rent Turkish hole-in-the-wall is the only joint in town that serves kumpir ($4). But what exactly is this elusive Albanian dish? Take a large baked potato and split it open lengthwise. Into the steaming cavity, sprinkle frozen peas and corn kernels. Add watery slices of canned green and black olives, some chopped-up sweet pickle and a diced hot dog. Top with much Miracle Whip and Heinz ketchup. Inhale.
Most would likely consider kumpir, like poutine and instant ramen, an affront to gastronomy. Others, presumably Albanians, claim it's their greatest guilty pleasure. I'm in the middle, giving up half way through the specious spud when its combination of vinegar, sugar and mystery meat has me crying uncle. Different strokes, folks.