Three fine flatbreads

A version of this article appeared in the Montreal Mirror on August 27th, 2009

Armenian-Lebanese bakery Chez Apo offers 
an excellent taste of the near-east

In a nondescript, little shoebox of a building behind a row house at the corner of Faillon and Berri streets, an Armenian-Lebanese family handcrafts what are undoubtedly some of the finest near-eastern flatbreads in town. The locale, named Chez Apo after the family patriarch, is so small that it affords roughly two square meters of floor area for customers. The cavernous, wood-fired brick oven—the womb from which the delightful flatbreads are born—occupies much of the rest.

The menu at Chez Apo is as austere as its locale. They bake exactly three types of flatbread: spinach “pizza,” zatar, and lahmadjoune. Other purveyors of near-eastern flatbreads in town have a much wider selection, but none of their breads are nearly as good as any one of Apo’s. The difference lies in the bread itself: whereas the others use the same crust regardless of the type of topping, all three of Apo’s breads are completely different—each crust is perfectly calibrated for the topping it carries.

The spinach pizza features a thick, dense, pleasantly moist and chewy crust. It’s topped with a generous helping of wilted spinach leaves with a smattering of thin garlic slices, a few crumbs of salty feta cheese, and a squeeze of lemon juice. For a whopping $3, one of these thick flatbreads easily makes a filling snack for two, or lunch for one.

Zatar, for the uninitiated, is a delightfully tart and pungent mix of dried thyme, sumac and sesame seeds, bound together with olive oil. For this topping, Apo’s crafts a thinner and slightly crusty flatbread. On their own, the zatar breads are a bit dry and not as instantly gratifying as the other two breads. Apo’s will not dress your pita for you, as other Lebanese bakeries in town do. You will have to take your zatar home, where you should gently reheat it in the oven and top it with sliced tomato, perhaps some crumbled feta, and maybe a few sliced olives.

The flagship product, and undeniably the best of Apo’s breads, is the lahmadjoune (sometimes spelled lahmajun), aka the Armenian pizza. The crust for this one is always a perfectly paper thin, blistered and slightly blackened affair—something no Italian pizza maker in town seems able to accomplish. The topping is a moist and aromatic concoction of ground beef, tomato and onion, very gently spiced with mild chili pepper. Like sesame bagels at St-Viateur or Fairmount, these are baked continuously and, on most visits to Apo’s, are still warm when you get them. Like hot sesame bagels, it’s immensely gratifying to devour one of these delicacies immediately. Actually, as with hot bagels, you will probably find it hard to stop at one.

Delightful as it may be to wolf down three or four lahmadjounes while sitting on the stoop in front of the bakery—the only place to sit—it is worth saving some for when you get home. They take extremely well to being reheated and dressed with additional toppings—a few thin tomato slices, some chopped fresh mint, and maybe a little sprinkle of lemon juice. Or try my personal favourite, the way I had it in Istanbul: a handful of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley and a glug of olive oil rolled into the bread. To reheat your lahmadjoune, put it in a hot oven (400°F) for no more than half a minute—Apo’s are so thin that they heat through instantly.

Aside from the flatbreads, Apo’s makes a selection of fatayer (Lebanese empanadas, $1 each) and Lebanese sides, including kibbe (little football-shaped packets of bulgur stuffed with ground beef), rice stuffed grape leaves, tangy bean salads, tabouleh, hummus, and baba ganoush. The sides can bought one their own ($3–4 a tub) or in combo packs of four ($10). Somewhat disappointingly, the combo packs come with a bag of supermarket-type pitas, not baked at Apo’s—an insult to one’s palette after having Apo’s own flatbreads.

Crappy commercial pitas notwithstanding, the sides are always fresh and tasty—a worthy accompaniment to your selection of flatbreads if you want a complete meal. Also available are quality baklavas from the nearby Patisserie Villeray—never sticky or greasy, always just so.

Chez Apo
Beyrouthe Yerevan

Address: 420 Faillon E.

Phone: (514) 270-1076

Hours: MON-FRI 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.,
SAT 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., closed SUN

Best features: Paper-thin, aromatic lahmadjoune

Alcohol: No

Wheelchair Access: No

Vegetarian friendly: Quite.

Credit cards: No

Price: half-dozen lahmadjoune for $6, or a dozen for $11.

Raing: ***3/4 out of ****

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