M&B YUMMY (1263 Queen West, at Brock, 416-516-2798) Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a spiced Ethiopian tea. Average main $5. Open daily 10 am to 10 pm. Unlicensed. Access: two steps at door, three to washrooms. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
To succeed in the resto biz, it helps to have a gimmick. If the 360 at the CN Tower (301 Front West, at Blue Jays Way, 416-362-5411) didn't rotate once an hour at the top of a space needle, it would be just another overpriced trat serving forgettable food instead of one of Toronto's most popular tourist destinations.
Take away the costumed servers dressed as anime-inspired French maids at Scarborough's iMaid (1883 McNiccol, at Kennedy, 416-335-6243) and all that's left is a very average Taiwanese bubble tea parlour, albeit one with luncheon meat and macaroni soup on the menu.
First-time restaurateur Zani Ashine certainly didn't intend to launch the only Ethiopian vegetarian eatery in town when she opened Parkdale's M&B Yummy six months ago. Her exceptionally modest storefront (M&B Yummy Cakes, Desserts and Sandwiches, to give it its full due) began as a neighbourhood bake shop specializing in those photo birthday cakes.
As her business grew, customers suggested she add a few East African dishes to the lineup, and very shortly thereafter Ashine was selling more fiery East African food than Black Forrest cake, most of it vegetarian. Good-bye, shoe-leather beef, hello samosas!
No, the joint's not much to look at, with its barred windows, fluorescent lighting and low-rent donut-shop ambience. Scaramouche this ain't. A plasma TV hooked up to rabbit ears drones the news over a half-dozen café tables set up at the back. But the welcome's genuine, the rattan chairs comfortable and the food all of it now vegan often dazzling.
From the card's all-day breakfast section, start with foul, a bracing bowl of smooth fava bean purée dressed with raw chopped tomato 'n' onion as well as a light dusting of paprika-like berbere spice powder. Butucha gets listed as "vegan scrambled eggs," an intriguing dairy-free mix of chickpea flour and onion that definitely looks and tastes like the real thing.
Shiro Fit Fit (all $4.39) could easily pass for turkey stuffing, a potent porridge laced with olive oil, onion, tomato and enough sliced raw jalapeño to kill any winter chill.
Ashine's take on potato salad ($3) recalls British bubble and squeak, all softly mashed spuds and carrot detonated with incendiary green chili. Her delicious multiculti minestrone a huge bowl of lentils, carrot, zucchini and pasta in berbere-blasted broth (Defne Missir, $4.39) combines old-school Italian with aggressive African spicing.
Not only are Yummy's prices absurdly low, but the portions are huge, most mains easily shared by two. The house vegetarian combo (a whopping $6.14) comes to table on a huge sheet of sour injera flatbread. Tear off a little and tuck forkless into a number of vibrantly flavoured Ethiopian wats, or stews: garlicky curried cabbage, crisp string beans with carrot, an aromatic tangle of chopped collard greens and comfort-food-style yellow lentil dahl. There'll be leftovers.
Finish with a respectable take on cheescake tiramisu ($2.50) Ethiopia was once an Italian colony, so it's not unusual to see things like spaghetti and meatballs on the menu there and pineapple tricoloured turnovers, flaky and thick with fruit, and a steaming mug of Indo-spiced Ethiopian tea ($1.25).
Spicing, though definitely not watered down for novices, strikes a balance between mellow and meltdown. But be aware that the kitchen seems to use as much salt in its cooking as it does on its icy front steps. And a request for additional heat results in a diminutive thimbleful of jalapeño hot sauce that could strip paint. More, please!
M&B Yummy isn't just the only exclusively Ethiopian vegetarian restaurant in the GTA; it's also the only one I've come across, other than the late lamented Chef Wondiy in High Park, that makes its dishes to order. Tradition dictates that most African fare be cooked to death.
To find Ethiopian food this fresh and this good is revelatory, but it comes at a cost. Regulars know to order ahead by phone and show up late. Even then, supper likely won't be ready. And you thought El Sol was slow".