GHALI (238 Queen West, at John, 416-466-5140) Complete dinners for $20 per person (lunches $10), including all taxes, tip and a juice. Average main $8. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 9 pm, Saturday 5 to 10 pm. Delivery Monday to Thursday 5 to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday 5 pm to midnight (downtown and west side), Thursday to Saturday 5 to 9 pm (east side). Closed Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free, no washrooms. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The Ghali kitchen is dead; long live the Ghali!
Leslieville has been in a lather ever since George Ghali closed up shop and stopped delivering his Jamaican-inspired pizza to the recently gentrified nabe last June.
But, lovers of Rasta Pasta, all is not lost. The iconoclastic cook has resurfaced with an abridged name in the Queen West fast food court opposite Citytv that houses Sandwich Box. Better yet, he still delivers.
Ghali's multiculti mix of old-school Italian and New World Caribbean cooking may have put his offbeat eatery on the local foodie map initially, but it's his latest culinary creation that will win him a legion of new fans. He calls it the burroti, a sensational mash-up of Mexican burrito and Trinidadian roti.
Starting with a whole wheat tortilla, he stuffs it with assertively jerked boneless chicken and sweet onion stewed in his curried house tomato sauce along with sweet potato, cabbage, bell pepper, chickpeas, kidney beans and spinach, then grills the lot. The veggie version (both $6.75, all tax-inclusive) chucks the chicken for grilled zucchini and eggplant.
Ghali's sensational saltfish and ackee penne ($10 eat-in/$12 delivered) comes doused in so much addictive chili-charged olive oil and cream, you might as well mainline it directly into your hardening arteries. Kicked into overdrive, his latest take on Rasta Pasta ($8 eat-in/$10 delivered) adds al dente strips of calamari splashed with hot sauce to the already appetizing mix.
Pizzas ($4 slice/$19 whole) are just as unconventional. Built on Middle Eastern lavash brushed with quality olive oil and dressed with house sauce, Italian parsley and spinach, they get optioned with tissue-thin sheets of salty prosciutto or gently jerked pork spritzed with Australian shiraz, the only dairy a light dusting of last-minute Parmesan. The same fabulous flatbread shows up in the Ghali's grilled turkey sandwich ($6), a dynamite deli combo of smoked bird, provolone, house sauce, iceberg lettuce and plump roasted red peppers.
Besides the burroti, Ghali has also introduced a lineup of relatively health-conscious salads (all $4 small/$8 large) that includes red diced beets in minty vinaigrette, and an outstanding mess of roasted organic broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts caramelized in balsamic vinegar. Ghali stumbles only with his daily soup specials ($4), which taste an awful lot like his burroti filling, only watered down and swimming with more oil and salt than an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet.
Located at the back of the mall, toward the parkette, the new Ghali retains its eclectic, kitschy decor. When I first visited last week, the joint looked like it was still under construction even though it's been open since November, its disorganized counters displaying more souvenir T-shirts than takeout. Why, George had yet to get around to posting a menu. But Ghali has bigger plans than going mano-a-mano with Sandwich Box; he's got his sights set on late-night kings Burrito Boyz.
"Come summer, we're going to stay open till 4 am on the weekend," the part-time character actor says. "We'll have a DJ, dancing and everything!"
But what about starving Leslieville?
"I haven't forgotten my original customers," says Ghali, who's held onto his east-side storefront since moving downtown. "We've just started delivering out there again, but now it's strictly Thursday through Saturday night."