Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Opening Day: An Interview with Ezra Braves

ShalomLife speaks to the founder of Ezra’s Pound about his new restaurant, and Toronto’s first hummusia, S. Lefkowitz

By: Daniel Koren

Published: March 31st, 2014 in Culture » Food » News

I arrived at S. Lefkowitz on Thursday, March 27th. Opening Day.

It would be a ‘soft open,’ I was informed – I was able to find out after contacting the owner and founder Ezra Braves – and looked forward to trying out some delectable and tasty homemade hummus at Toronto’s first official hummusia – a hummus-focused snack bar, inspired by hummus joints in Israel, and other regions of the Middle East.

Needless to say, when I arrived at 5:30pm, I was out of luck.

“We sold out of everything,” the server manning the doors told me. There is such a demand for hummus in this city, and people apparently got word of it somehow, it couldn’t even last for a full day.

‘Soft’ open my tuchas.

But alas, thus is how the true foodies in the city of Toronto operate. There’s no grand celebration, no advertising, no buy one get one free ads at our gastrocentric establishments; real restaurants here are not trying to advertise to the masses, but to those who truly enjoy the hard labour put it into creating that perfect dish.

There’s something refining about sitting in a spot that can only fit 20 other people. And rest assured, hummus lovers from across the city flocked to S. Lefkowitz so they could have the distinct honour of being there first. Also, the fact that Ezra Braves is known as somewhat of a coffee connoisseur in the city – the spot used to be home to the second location of Ezra’s Pound, the first still exists at 238 Dupont Street – many were curious to how his skills would translate from artisan espresso to hummus.

I managed to get a phone interview with Braves so we could discuss his latest project. Though the BlogTO and Toronto star ads, not to mention our own feverish anticipation of Toronto’s first hummusia, may have appeared over the last month, this, he tells me, was a project many, many years in the making.

“I’ve been working on my hummus recipes for fifteen years,” Braves tells me. “When I went to some of the hummusias in Israel specifically, I was blown away by Humus Said (proncounced Sayeed) in Akko. It was one of the best food experiences I’ve had in my life.”

“It’s not that it was simple per say,” he continues, “it was so focused, so delicious, and so unusual to have such a focus strictly on hummus. Let’s face it, we can politicize hummus in a sense, but really, it’s quite ubiquitous. You can go to any grocery store in Ontario and buy hummus. So what really occurs to me is that it is simply an amazing food.”

Braves proceeds to discuss his involvement in the city’s cafe scene, and his infamous coffee spot, Ezra’s Pound. “When people come to Ezra’s Pound, its like they’re having coffee in my living room,” he tells me. “With the hummusia, now you’re coming to my dining room to eat with me. The standard of care and quality is the same to any guest that would come to my house, whether family members or friends.”

S. Lefkowitz, named after Braves’ grandfather, is his ‘vision of breaking bread’, a place you can come and eat that is not pretentious, but where you know precisely what you’re looking for. “When you come to S. Lefkowitz, you’re coming to have hummus and you know exactly what’s on the menu, save for maybe the variations and distinctions of what goes on top of the hummus. I feel that people sometimes are paralyzed by choice [this is him being philosophical, he tells me]. People don’t always want to have choice, so if you’re coming to S. Lefkowitz, there’s a reason.”

There sure is. Hummus, as Braves points out, has exploded in popularity over the past few years, particularly in Canada and the United States. In the States, the NFL have labelled it as their official dip, and the chick pea has been creating wonders for the farming and agriculture industry. In Canada, as aforementioned, it’s pretty much available anywhere, and has been somewhat of a fad in the Greater Toronto Area. Me Va Me just opened up a downtown spot, Saluf the Hummus Place has been catering to those outside the city, and Anthony Rose is opening up his own Middle Eastern joint, Fat Pasha, in a few weeks. Looks like hummus is all the rage this year.

“As soon as I discovered hummus and tahini, I’ve pretty much been obsessed with,” says Braves. “The chickpea is such an incredible and nutritious food, and you’re not killing animals to make it. It’s very versatile.”

Braves proceeds to tell me about the real S. Lefkowitz, his New York-based grandfather, who he would visit often when he was younger. “We’d listen to his old radio as they discussed JFK, have these amazing bagels, and take the dough out of the centres, and put on cottage cheese and raw onion,” he recalls with fondness. “That is a memory that sticks with me, eating with my grandfather, and something I’m honouring by naming the hummusia after him.”

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