Latkes in the Sky with Diamonds

Happiness is a warm latka. As Chanukah fast approaches I am reminded of that fact. So how can I only eat latkes eight days a year? What if I want a latka with brunch in the spring? Where can I go? My family’s designated latkateer is Auntie Essie. I know I’m not going to find anything comparable outside of Essie’s own kitchen, but today: I try!

Together with my intrepid latka maven we set out to find Toronto’s best latkes. Research and recommendations took us north and south. Most delis serve latkes, as do a few other restaurants, here are three of Toronto’s best:

Morton’s Steak House
(4 Avenue Road/416-925-0648)
Served on a dinner plate, it’s the size of a Frisbee. Hardly a side dish, it comes with three sides of its own: sour cream, butter, and bacon pieces. Grated potato is spun together like a ball of yarn and flattened to a crisp crunch. The centre is soft, not too oily, and has just the right touch of salt. Listed as “Hashbrown Potato”, we consider it a latka, and joyfully devour it as such. ($10.50)

Free Times Café
(320 College Street/416-967-1078)
As live Klezmer music plays, we have the option of a traditional Sunday brunch. Our latka order comes with five cookie-sized grated and pureed potato pancakes, with sides of sour cream and apple sauce. While they are crunchy and not too thick, it’s the old European character of this restaurant that really charms us. ($5.95)

Caplansky’s
(356 College Street/416-500-3852)
This is a deli with a pulse. Four cookie-sized grated latkes that are crunchy and light are best enjoyed by dunking them in homemade cinnamon and sugar spiked apple sauce. It makes for a good snack to nosh on—the apple sauce itself has enough panache to be eaten on its own. ($5)

Technically not a latke, honourable mention must be given to the rösti at Richtree (42 Yonge Street, Brookfield Place, Heritage Square/416-366-8986). Served with a dollop of sour cream, and fresh snipped chives, this is a scrumptious plate to share. Crisp, and not too oily, a large wedge of shredded and seasoned potato is served alone, or with sausage, mackerel, smoked salmon, smoked turkey, or schnitzel. (Reg. $3.98/ add sour cream $0.59)

Potato latkes are a staple food in many Eastern European cultures—it is the national dish of Belarus—and versions of the potato pancake are ubiquitous. There is the Swiss rösti, the Swedish raggmunk, or “hairy doughnut”, the Irish boxty, the Indian aloo dosa, the Korean gamjajeon, and the McDonald’s hash brown. The Hebrew name for latka is leviva, a word whose homonym, levav, means “heart”—perhaps an indication why the very best latkes are still made at home. While many have tried to reinvent the wheel, and some recipes are indeed tasty, my heart and palate will always belong to my Auntie Essie.

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