Another place that I used to just simply walk by as I went about my business in Montreal was Avesta. However, it always left an impression on me as there was always a lady sitting by the window, kneading and rolling out dough with a long wooden rod as she made lavash. I don't know what kept me from going inside - time and money are always my fallback excuses, but I think part of it too was the fact that I was intimidated by my lack of knowledge of Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine, and didn't want to head into a restaurant alone with no idea what I was ordering.
So I was quite excited when Jessica told me that she had been there a few times with another friend, and suggested that we go there for an early supper before I boarded my plane back to Calgary.
It turns out that there was no need to be intimidated - Avesta has a more casual, café-like atmosphere as opposed to being a formal sit-down restaurant. There's a large selection of mezze on the menu, including well-known ones like hummus, baba ghanoush dolmas and muhammara. For larger appetites, heartier fare like sandwiches and stirfries are also available. Almost all of the items on the menu come with or feature hot, fresh-off-the-grill lavash, which the aforementioned lady rolls out and grills to order and personally delivers to your table.
We started our meal off with Turkish Tea ($1.00), which is essentially strong black tea. Avesta serves up Turkish Coffee ($2.75) also, but we thought it was a little too late in the day for such a strong drink.
On Jessica's suggestion we shared two orders of the "two mezze + one borek" combo ($7.99). For her mezze, she chose hummus and cacik, a tzatziki-like dip with large chunks of cucumber, mint, pistachios, walnuts and raisins in yogurt. I chose the Avesta Special, a roasted eggplant and red pepper dip, and the Mezze of the Day, which on that day was a dip made with cucumber, pistachios, walnuts, dill, parsley and yogurt. Unlike the cacik, however, the cucumber was chopped very finely. Finally, we ordered one each of the börek available - beef with potato and spinach with feta.
Börek is like Middle Eastern lasagna, with the pasta substituted by puffy phyllo pastry. The börek at Avesta was warm and flaky, with flavourful fillings. I did prefer the beef and potato börek, which had a bit of a tomato flavour and was heavier and heartier, whereas the spinach and feta börek was a little dry.
Even though they were filled, the börek were also good for dipping into the mezze, especially since the lavash unfortunately did not stay warm for very long and quickly became cold and chewy.
The cacik reminded me of a chunky tzatziki, with the mint, pistachio, walnut and raisin barely discernable in the mixture. Strangely, there also seemed to be less of it than the other mezze.
The hummus was not as thick as most of the hummus I have had in the past. I generally prefer my hummus with more garlic, but this was still good.
I really liked the two mezze that I ordered - the Avesta Special/Spécial Avesta was very smoky, with a bit of a tomatoey tang.
I thought that the Mezze of the Day/Mezze du Jour would be very much like tzatziki, especially with the dill. However, the finely chopped nuts gave it a richer, deeper flavour as well as a pesto-like texture and it ended up being my favourite mezze of the four.
The whole environment at Avesta is very casual, so it's not one of those places where the waitress rushes to your table right away. Still, she was very helpful and informative and I was surprised by the quality and variety of dishes that were churned out at the café. This was probably my favourite meal of the trip, and I'll certainly try to be back to eat my way through the rest of the menu.
2077 Rue Ste-Catherine O
Montreal QC H3H 1M6
Open Daily 11 AM-11 PM.