This post is the first of a series on people who are passionate about their involvement with food and I cannot think of a better person to start with than Mohammad Rasekhi-Nejad.
He and his family run my favorite local restaurant called Meggie’s Grill. My honey and I go there often for a delicious brunch, not only because the food is always excellent – and I keep meaning to try new dishes that sound awesome from their huge menu but typically end up with my favorites (more later) – but because the ambiance is so warm and inviting. Everyone who eats there is treated like a favorite family member. And Mohammad is always bustling around making sure you have what you need and that everything is to your liking. Meggie's has won many awards over the years - here are just a few: North Toronto Post Choice 2003, Cheap Eats Best All Day Breakfast 2003 & 2004, Post's Best of list 2003 & 4 as well.
So I thought he’d be perfect for my first interview because I want to know what brings out a person’s passion, what makes them choose a vocation in such a difficult industry ( long hours, fickle diners…the list is long) and what makes a restaurant stand out from the crowd.
From the moment we started talking, it was obvious how passionate he is about his restaurant and how proud he is of his family.
His vivacious wife Parvaneh Nemati has been his partner in the food business since they came to Canada in April, 1987, 17 years ago where he started out making pizza at Pizzaville on Mount Pleasant. It didn’t take him long to buy the business and expand to three locations. It was at the first shop that he realized how exciting it can be to create new combinations of ingredients – it’s still a passion and his latest creation is a fruit breakfast pizza. The pizza dough has a thin layer of jam under fresh fruit and is then baked in the hot pizza oven. The result is a caramelized delight.
Parvaneh spends much of her time in the kitchen making the most mouth-watering Mediterranean dishes along with Mo (as everyone calls him). Every Friday they go shopping together for the freshest ingredients and in her spare time, she enjoys watching the Food Network to get even more inspiration. Her tabbouleh and hummus are two of the most popular dishes and her newly created sun dried tomato dressing gets even more requests than her amazing Balsamic dressing for salads. Parvaneh creates lots of vegetarian dishes and one of the most popular is a vegan French toast – and no, I won’t give away the secret ingredient, but if you live in or visit Toronto you should check it out for yourself.
Their son Arash is a Political Science major and is also studying at George Brown College’s Culinary School. He started making pizzas when he was 13 and at 17 had his father’s confidence to run the Pizza shop on his own. Today, at 23 he already has a wealth of experience in running the business. In fact, he manages the evening shift on the weekends and often during the week.
Atena, their daughter, is studying Interior Design at OCAD and is an artist. It’s her art work and décor that make the restaurant feel like you’re visiting someone’s home. It’s warm and welcoming. When I asked Mo if I could take his picture for this article, he insisted that it be in front of the painting that’s so proudly displayed as you walk into the restaurant. Atena created it when she was just 9 years old. Many other pieces of her art adorn the walls, including the brilliantly colored one in the photo of Parvaneh. On the weekends, Atena can be spotted in the kitchen, adding her own touches and in the front of the house as well.
The menu is so huge that I keep meaning to try something different every time I go, but somehow my favorites keep calling me from the brunch menu…
#7 – eggs benedict with peameal bacon on an English muffin or
#8 - eggs Florentine –poached eggs on spinach on English muffins with Mo’s own Gypsy sauce (he created it originally for his pizza base), and garlic fries - I’m drooling as I write this.
Before I talk a bit more about his signature dishes, I thought I’d share a few questions I put to him and his answers from our interview.
What’s it like to have the whole family involved?
He smiled, well actually, beamed is a better word and said he couldn’t imagine doing it without them. They are all as passionate as he is and all contribute to Meggie’s success.
What’s the best part of running Meggie’s?
“The fun I have with my customers. It’s great to talk to everyone and welcome back the regulars as well as those I haven’t seen in a while…cooing over new babies…building relationships with new customers. It’s exhausting by the end of the day but it’s all worth it.”
His favorite time: putting down the plate in front of a guest and hearing them say “WOW” (and I know that happens often).
His favorite time of year is summer when the patio at the back of the restaurant is open. It seats 60 and the flowering plants and fountain make you feel like you’re in the Mediterranean. (I love it too).
“I can’t imagine doing anything else; I’m in love with the whole environment”
What’s the hardest part?
“On the weekends it gets so busy serving at least 450 guests (after 11:30 the waiting can take from 15 – 30 minutes). I don’t want anyone to get upset or leave without enjoying their time with us. I do whatever I can to make them happy….chat….munchies for kids.”
When Mo was talking about some of their signature dishes, I knew I would have to come back for dinner. Here are just a few of the signature dishes that make a trip to Meggie’s so special:
* Mo’s own bomba is made of walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, basil and sun dried tomatoes and takes 6 months for the flavors to cure properly. But don't worry, they're always creating the "next" batch. (it's the dish in upper left beside the pita and it comes with most of the platters)
* Falafel made from scratch with chickpeas, fresh cilantro, garlic and onions – no prepackaged mix here!! The tabouleh is lemony and crunchy from the bulgar, cucumber, onions and curly parsley and sooooooooo fresh you know it was made just for you)
* Rosto a l’ail (the one I’m heading back for) sirloin stuffed and rolled, grilled and then roasted in garlicy red wine sauce. The secret to the sauce...bay leaves (it's the one I have to come back for at dinner time)
* Sun dried tomato pesto over grilled tofu slices
* Lasagna made with fresh pasta
* And don’t forget Mo’s famous pizzas
Related link: Food and Drink