Robert Manriq (left) works the wood-burning oven while Mohammad (Mo) Abudaddous brings on the shawarma at popular Middle Eastern Paramount.
PARAMOUNT (253 Yonge, at Yonge-Dundas Square, 416-366-3600, paramountfinefoods.com; also at 1290 Crestlawn, at Dixie, 905-282-1600; 56A Lakeshore East, at Stavebank, Mississauga, 905-891-3333; 7315 Yonge, at Glen Cameron, Thornhill, 905-886-4600) Complete dinners for $25 per person (lunches $15), including all taxes, tip and a relatively fresh juice. Average main $12/$8. Open Sunday to Thursday 8 am to midnight, Friday and Saturday 8 am to 1 am. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
It ain't Guu. Or Scarpetta, Origin or either of the Hoofs.
No, the hot new boîte that's got le tout downtown in a full-on feeding frenzy isn't any of those flashy dives, but a falafel franchise imported from the suburbs. Across from the Eaton Centre yet.
Foodies, meet Paramount. You can't miss the joint, as there always seems to be a crowd blocking the sidewalk out front. Once inside, you find another bunch waiting patiently for tables in the former Superior's entryway. Grab a seat at the holding pen's coffee bar during the inevitable 15-minute delay and take full advantage of the 150-year-old heritage building's soaring ceiling and oversized chandelier that looks like it was left behind when The Phantom Of The Opera played the Pantages next door.
Though the upstairs balcony has a more formal atmosphere - exposed brick and beams, a few comfy booths, that humongous chandelier - it's also a lot draftier at this time of year, so we opt for a table amidst the chaos of the resto's buzzing main floor. If you remember Spadina delis of yore - the original Shopsy's or Switzer's - you'll recognize the scene, a sea of hungry customers jockeying for position as an army of white-shirted servers cut through the crowd to the clatter of crashing plates under the glare of hundreds of halogen spots and the surveillance of several CCTVs.
Smiling for the cameras, we start with chill-killing lentil soup ($3.99), finished with freshly chopped parsley, raw carrot threads, a generous squeeze of lemon and a toss of pita crisps. Next up, "hummus with meat ($6.99)" translates as garlicky chickpea purée topped with shreds of tender halal shawarma lashed with chili oil. Puffed-up football-sized pitas straight from Paramount's wood-burning oven convert into convenient scoops.
That fab flatbread becomes Lebanese manakeesh ($3) when spread with creamy thickened labneh yogurt and crushed za'atar, or a kid-friendly veggie pizza ($4) when topped with crunchy green pepper, canned pit-free black olives and lotsa mozza'.
Perhaps we've been spoiled by Akram of Kensington's deep-fried nirvana, but Paramount's signature falafel plate ($7.99) fails to impress, especially since its stars are baked and doughy. Like most mains, mini-makanek sausages ($9.99) get the same sides, a uniform pile of sliced dill and pink turnip pickles, some knife-cut iceberg lettuce and a slice or two of dead-of-winter tomato.
Listed on the laminated menu as a "3-pound whole ($16.99)," we're expecting an intact churrasqueira bird but instead get just over 2 pounds of moist, skinless breast, meaty thighs and attached legs that have been marinated in yogurt, à la tandoori, then chargrilled before being splashed with spicy piri-piri sauce. Sensational stuff, and more than enough to share.
Shame the same can't be said for sides of limp frozen fries and cardboard Uncle Ben's rice. The card also says the Greek salad ($5.99) comes with "yasoo dressing." Tastes like Kraft Zesty Italian to me.
Best stick with the unusually delish chicken and beef shawarma combo plate ($11.99) and the mixed kebab grill ($15.99), one of oregano-kissed strip loin, another of chicken shish taouk and a pair of ground beef kafta, a chargrilled tomato and onion on the side.
Wash them down with plastic kid-proof glasses of strawberry juice ($3.99 small/$4.99 large) or beer mugs of the Paramount Special ($5.99), a mix of strawberry and mango juices swirled with almonds, crushed pistachios and clotted ashta cream. Baklava-esque pastries dripping honey and sugar syrup go for $24 a kilo.
With roots back to the 40s, Superior might have been a tough act to follow. Thankfully, Paramount's even better. Good luck getting in.