A good restaurant does more than just provide you with good food, it also offers an experience. Walking into Sumac, you could be easily transported into a modern, bright falafel shop in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, the smell of lemon and parsley wafting through the air, and a mélange of languages and laughter all around you. From the untreated, blond wood to the straightforward, bright flavours, this is Middle Eastern food at its best —uncluttered, fulfilling, and wholly delicious.
In the Middle East, falafel stands have traditionally been casual, thrifty affairs with little regard for aesthetic, but a high emphasis on flavour. In recent years, the food revolution has swept even this casual eatery by storm, elevating the ingredients and the atmosphere to international standards.
So when David Bloom and Raquel Zagury decided to partner together on a restaurant, their choice of a Middle Eastern eatery couldn’t have been more natural. With family in the Middle East and a lot of knowledge about this diverse cuisine, Zagury and Bloom dove headfirst into putting together their dream restaurant. After a few long months of building permits, research and menu planning, Zagury and Bloom were ready to don their chef and restaurant manager hats, respectively.
“It’s food that touches the soul,” Bloom explains.
The result is a bright, airy place with a lot of space and an easy-going, affable charm. Zagury and Bloom, who both live in the area, are proud to take part in the revitalization of St. Henri, opening on a block that in years past has mostly been full of dépanneurs and fast food joints. Bloom reports that Sumac has been enjoying a lot of food traffic and support from other St. Henri businesses and restaurants. “There are a lot of new business owners and people who are trying stuff out and taking risks [in St. Henri],” he said. “A lot of people are very supportive.”
It’s not hard to see why: Sumac takes no reservations, but welcomes take away orders and walk-ins at all hours. Passersby are invited to pick a table, and come order at the counter. There are no stuffy waiters or linen napkins here.
In Sumac, falafel is truly the food of the people: a cheap, filling bite that can be eaten on the go in a pita, or shared with family and friends alongside an array of colourful salads. But unlike a typical stall at the souk, here, the attention to detail is palpable throughout – from the house-made spice mixes to the room’s custom-designed light fixtures and vintage-inspired chairs.
The menu is comprised of family-style plates to share, dips and salads, or individual plates centred around a main dish – falafel, chicken shwarma, beef kefta or sabich (a delicious sandwich of fried eggplant, pickles and hard-boiled egg) – and the choice of two salads. Falafel, chicken shwarma and sabich are some of the more popular choices.
On my visit, the falafel was warm and fresh, speckled with parsley and sesame seeds. It was elevated by s’rug, a house-made take on Yemanese hot sauce that is truly eye-watering. The turnip pickles were tangy, and a perfect accompaniment when nestled with hummus and falafel balls in a warm pita. The hummus in question resonated with lemon and had a welcome texture that offered a bit of resistance in a dish that is often milled to death.
The two salads I tried were eggplant salad in tomato sauce, one of my all-time favourites in the Middle East, and spiced carrot salad. Sumac’s eggplant salad was lush and full-bodied, and dotted with fragrant preserved lemon. The carrot salad was mild and earthy, sprinkled with cumin and currants. All the dishes came together in one stellar meal that truly did justice to the cuisine it represents.
Sumac is open Tuesday-Friday from 11:30 a.m. until 9 p.m., until 10 p.m. on Fridays, and from 3 p.m. until 10 p.m. on Saturdays. Check out their Facebook page for more updates.
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