Flavors Cafe in Pickering
Located in Pickering just East of Toronto is Flavors Cafe, only two weeks new and already making waves. They’re situated in a busy strip plaza right next door to Affy’s Premium Grill and across the street from Masjid Usman.
A few weeks before I started Halalfoodie.ca, I had my own rendition of Martin Luther King’s, I have a dream speech. My version was very obviously centred on halal food. My dream was that halal food restaurateurs would crack out of their shawarma and biryani mould and delve into the foodie culture of today’s very astute clientèle.
Fast forward to just about a year later and I am taken aback at just how much we’ve grown as a city with our halal offerings. Flavors Cafe has tipped that scale from nice food, to; I can’t believe this is halal. They’ve pushed the envelope and they have very obviously put a lot of thought into their entire concept from brand, interior space, menu selection and exactly what type of customer they want to seduce.
Flavors Cafe is first and foremost and cafe and hookah joint. This is what I immediately gathered when I first came to know about them. Their Chai flavoured latte ($4.25) is a must try if you love mild and milky specialty coffee. There was no after-taste and the spices were subtle yet enough to taste the distinct hit of cardamom.
Their food menu however, came as a total surprise. They offer sandwiches, a few sides, some snacks to share, desserts and various hot and cold drinks. At first glance most items are seemingly typical with nachos, cheese steak and chicken parmesan sandwiches. But then you see some unique options such as po’boy, BBQ brisket, fried green tomato and gumbo sandwiches.
The menu is minimal and clean. They also have a hookah menu and even though my focus on visiting is solely for their food, I’m glad to see that it’s all herbal.
Going back to their food, I love how their menu is dominantly Southern staples. They could easily add seasonal specials down the road like sweet tea and peach cobbler (with a scoop of their amazing house made ice cream).
When it came time to ordering, our waitress was prompt and courteous. She made some recommendations for us and guided is through the menu, answering our questions along the way. The only thing I was certain on ordering was hushpuppies ($4), I’ve been trying to find an opportunity (with no success) to make Paula Deen’s version recently at home so I was looking forward to try the Flavors Cafe rendition.
Hushpuppies are essentially a seasoned batter made from cornmeal and deep-fried. I believe they added chunks of jalapeño as there was quite an obvious kick to them. They came with a great spicy mustard dipping sauce as well, also very enjoyable.
Brisket Bánh Mì ($8.50). Bánh mì is a Vietnamese style sandwich which was born out of the French colonial rule in Vietnam. Most versions will feature pork, but there are many variations that chefs have adapted from the original recipe. Flavors Cafe version features smoked beef brisket, a southern favourite, topped on a baguette with spicy aioli (type of French spread) pickled carrots, cilantro and jalapeño (description on their website). Overall it was a great sandwich. The applewood smoked flavour of the brisket was very distinct and the meat itself dense (brisket is a very heavy cut from the breast of a cow) and rich, slow cooked likely for a minimum of ten hours to be able to pull apart into shreds as seen in the picture above. Only two things threw me off slightly; it wasn’t served on a baguette and I didn’t taste the spicy aioli or jalapeño making it a bit on the bland side. Since the meat was so tender, a crisp baguette would give balance alongside the sharp flavouring of the crunchy pickled carrots. The bun I received was more of a sub bun. Despite this, I still really liked my sandwich. It was very well made and the choice to add it on the menu was a good one and complimented the menu quite nicely.
Cheese steak sandwich ($8). Classic comfort food with deep smoked flavour topped with gooey cheese sauce on a soft sub bun. Quality and distinct flavouring will likely make this a popular choice amongst the crowd at Flavors Cafe, but it was a little too heavy for my personal choice. It was packed with meat making it suitable for extreme carnivores! Tip: keep napkins close by or better yet, wear a bib 😀
Poutine ($4.50). I’m torn with this one and perhaps what sways me from an almost perfect review is that all the meals we selected had the same smoked flavour. Maybe if we chose differently my opinion would change. The poutine I’m used to usually has the gravy poured on top of a layer of cheese curds. However the chef at Flavors Cafe chose to flip the order and top the gravy with a very minimal amount of curd. Shoe string fries for poutine is not a typical choice either. Even though I didn’t mind the poutine, I’m not sure I would order it again, especially as a side.
Dessert was by far the most enjoyable part of the whole experience (dessert and their chai latte actually). We tried their recommended bread pudding ($4.50), pictured above and trio of cheesecakes ($5.50). I will be craving the bread pudding for days I’m sure, it was THAT good. Trio of cheesecakes was nice but I will definitely opt to try their crème brule and Nutella crepe next time instead.
The practical: This is a great hang out spot for casual gatherings with friends. I had my children with me and found the aisles to be spacious enough to allow them to move around without causing disruption but we saw that one of the two lounge areas by the entrance were vacant and decided to move there. I was so glad we did because it was perfect. We were out-of-the-way and my kids had enough space to move around and get cozy on any of the three plush leather sofas. However, I’m not sure this is a great place for kids at all because after about 9-10pm you’ll notice a shift in crowd that are coming in just to smoke. Luckily, while we were there (around 7:30pm) there was not a lit pipe in sight so we were ok but wouldn’t take the chance next time.
As a designer by profession, I was impressed with the quality of their branding and entire space itself. It was fresh, earthy and clean — very different from what I was expecting when I heard “hookah lounge”. They tend to be dark and a little shady both in atmosphere and actual lighting, Flavors Cafe was neither.
I would hands down visit again in the near future — but without my kids. Next to try on my list are their beef sliders, crème brule and Nutella crepe.
The only mystery left to unravel about Flavors Cafe is why they chose American spelling?
Flavors Cafe and Eatery
2200 Brock Road, Pickering