It was the Tweet that sparked a virtual feeding frenzy: “For good Jew food, call 647-340-6142.”
That’s the phone number for Fat Pasha, the new 50-seat restaurant from bad-boy Toronto restaurateur Anthony Rose. And with its down-and-dirty takes on old-school Semitic staples — and a healthy dose of humor — it’s become the city’s hottest table since opening last month.
“Some people love us, some people hate us,” say Rose, whose other perpetually packed Toronto eateries include nouveau-diner Rose & Sons and BBQ joint Big Crow. “The ones who didn’t get ‘good Jew food’ said we were self-hating. They can’t take a joke. All of our restaurants have a little piece of Jew going on, whether it’s the schmaltz matzo ball soup at Rose or the versht at Big Crow.”
Clearly, Rose — who sports a “Polite as F*ck” t-shirt in a recent promo pic — doesn’t take himself too seriously. But his casual attitude belies a laser focus when it comes to food.
On Fat Pasha’s gleefully irreverent menu (“Show some love to the chefs, buy the kitchen a round, $16”, it goads): Updated classics like flanken ($24), gribenes ($12), latkes with pastrami salmon ($22), and schmaltz-fried rice ($14); Middle Eastern favorites like fattoush ($16), labneh ($5), couscous ($14), and spicy carrot salad (part of a huge $22 platter); and a few crowd-pleasers, like whole grilled fish (market price) and Cornish hen ($25). And when was the last time you saw halvah at a sit-down restaurant?
“We love Israeli and Middle Eastern food, but it’s foreign. Throw in the Ashkenazi stuff and it makes sense to me — it’s familiar,” Rose says. “We saw what Ottolenghi and Zahav were doing, and we thought ‘Let’s do that, and just dumb it down.’”
But it’s hard to take that statement seriously with carefully executed entrees like flanken with sweet peas, mint, dill, labneh, and pomegranate ($24) and a decadent Sammie’s Roumanian-inspired chopped liver ($16) with schmaltz, gribenes, onions, radish, and egg, served with pillowy challah from Toronto’s Grateful Bread.
“When I lived on the Lower East Side, I went to Sammy’s quite a bit,” says Rose, who cooked at New York hotspot Alias and for a short stint. “We tried to make the chopped liver as close as possible to Sammy’s, which has possibly even less decorum than we do. We use as many chicken bits as possible, and mix it table-side with schmaltz.”
Rose grew up in the heavily Jewish North York suburbs of Toronto, where his grandmother would cook the dishes whose reincarnations make up much of Fat Pasha’s menu. “It was fantastic — chopped liver, brisket, flanken,” he says. “My mother’s an amazing cook, too.”
His own favorite from Fat Pasha’s menu is a dish he didn’t grow up with: Schmaltz-fried rice with lentils, pistachios, and vermicelli ($14) that’s “a hearty mix of textures,” Rose says.
“I think it was really a ripe time for this to happen,” Rose says of his Hebraic hotspot. “There’s not a lot of this food downtown, other than falafel and shawarma places. We’re having fun and making it appealing to everyone. Especially to Israelis. There’s very little decorum there. We’re fun, a little rude, and a little obnoxious.” And what about that name?
“Pasha is a Turkish word that has very little to do with what we’re doing,” Rose laughs. “My brother-in-law came up with it. We loved it. And that was it.”
Photos courtesy of Fat Pasha