Balkan Bistro - on McCaul, just north of Dundas
So I went for dinner at the Balkan Bistro finally. I must say that the atmosphere is much more suited for lunch. The space is a glorified cafeteria, really, but the food holds somewhat more promise than the space.
The menu is a hodge podge of items. About 1/3 of the menu is Turkish fare, which I guess is the "Balkan" part, but the "Bistro" part still alludes me. The remainder of the menu is simple: grilled paninis, salads, schnitzel, and the like. All very reasonably priced ($3-11).
I had the hunker begendi, which is an entree of eggplant puree topped with stewed veal or lamb. The Balkan Bistro version is made with veal and as with all Ottoman style cooking, very rich. It's not the best I've ever had, but it was tasty for what it was. It came with quite a generous salad to start, vegetable pilaf (it should have come with pita bread instead of pilaf) and steamed veggies on the side, all for about $9. The salad itself was very fresh, the pilaf was kind of clumpy (too much water in the rice maker?), and the steamed veggies were the frozen variety.
My dining partner had the kadinbudu kofte (literally: lady's thighs meatballs). These were actually quite good (right size, shape, very thin coating of egg, not dry at all) and came with the same salad, pilaf, and veggies that my hunker begendi did. This dish was $8 if I remember correctly.
Other Turkish menu options included fish kebabs (the owners described it as sole, but that can't be right since sole would never stay on a skewer), biber dolmasi (stuffed peppers), tost (garlic sausage and cheese grilled sandwich), tavuk sis (chicken kebabs), izgara kofte (grilled meatballs), and others. I would guess they all come with the same salad/sides, and nothing on the menu cost more than $11.
The dolmas looked quite good. The owner hunts down and sources the small sweet peppers with thin walls as they exist in Turkey, unlike the giant thick-walled peppers we're used to here in North America. He says that when he can't find the thin-walled peppers, he painstakingly carves each pepper down to his preferred thickness before stuffing them. All this work for a $9 dish??
They also serve baklava (we were too full to have any), which when they spoke to us, they said they made themselves. However, I overheard them talking to another couple and they told them they got the baklava from a store on the Danforth?? By looking at the baklava I wouldn't guess they made it themselves. Homemade baklava is easy to spot, generally.
Anyway, the business plan for this place isn't perfect. They try to be too many things at once (a cafeteria, a sit-down service restaurant - choose one or the other, not both; Ottoman cuisine, Turkish home cooking - again, choose one or the other, not both). While I enjoyed the Turkish food, it's really a shame it was all accompanied by generic sides instead of some truly Turkish sides (like a proper Turkish pilaf, pressed yogurt, and grilled peppers and tomatoes, for example).
All of that said, I will make repeat trips to Balkan Bistro to try out the rest of their Turkish menu items, and perhaps drop a strong hint to the owners about the unfortunately generic sides.
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