Restoration of my faith in shawarma- Habeebee shawarma



For all my arab friends out there, and all my non-arab, but arab-food-loving friends: I have been trying to find a decent shawarma and falafel place since I’ve landed in Canada, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Many a times I’ve ordered a shawarma wrap, hoping to see the meat being shaved off the stack with a large knife or a small circular saw, dropped to a circular tray below, retrieved and placed into the familiar flat, arabic bread and finally decorated with a party of cucumber, onion, tomato, lettuce, eggplant, parsley, pickled turnips, pickled gherkins, pickles, rhubarb and cabbage.
What I do end up with, however, is a grilled chicken/meat sandwich where the chicken/meat is sliced up (decievingly) into shawarma-looking slices. As an arab, personally, I cannot emphasise enough on how much Toronto has ruined shawarma for me.

After months of trying fake shawarmas from random food places, getting disappointed (or worse; getting sick) I found a tiny fast-food restaurant that secretly hides behind the harbourfront theatre at 218 Queens Quay W- ‘Habeebee’s shawarma’, or, more commonly known as ‘Shawarma Guys’ is the ‘quick and good’ type, where the service is quick and the food is delicious. Located in the lower level of a retail space and kept out of sight by Pizza Pizza, Subway and Quiznos, the Shawarma Guys is a great alternative to your typical fast food.

Beef or chicken shawarmas will run you about $5, with falafel under $4. The meat is pretty good, and I would personally recommend avoiding the iceberg lettuce and cheap tomatoes. Instead, load them up with radishes, banana peppers, and Frank’s Red Hot for a tasty time.

There isn’t much room inside, but the food is worth it. I would reccommend getting yourself a shawarma or two, coupled with some of their mouth-watering poutines, and chilling with some friends at the Toronto Lake, playing Taboo or cards, watching people walk along with their dogs, or just enjoying the semi-good weather while it lasts.

A Night at The Rex

Dear BlogUT reader,

Before you take a look at the title of this article, roll your eyes, and choose something less pretentious, please know that I am far from a jazz connoisseur. In fact, while something of a music enthusiast, I know next to nothing about jazz; all I’ve really had to go on for the past 21 years are stereotypical mental images of some fat guy blasting away on a trumpet while a sweaty tweaker bounces around uncontrollably in the audience. So, since I value your time as much as the next girl, and simply know too little about the genre, I won’t be boring you with jargon or technical details, or insightfully describing the “virtuosity of the alto sax”. This article is meant to be the thoughts, recollections, and recommendations of a jazz beginner, noob, philistine, or whatever other degrading term you’d prefer to call me. So, looking to get up close and personal with some real jazz, and not just the one Coltrane album in my collection, I decided to head down to The Rex Jazz & Blues Bar located in the bustling Queen St. West area and get initiated.

The first thing that became apparent as I approached The Rex’s exterior is that it isn’t a stuck-up or intimidating venue in the least. While jazz may conjure up images of stuffy, exclusive clubs, The Rex couldn’t be further from this cliché. The outside of the bar exhibits something of a sleek, retro look, while the interior is Cheers-esque, with wooden finishes and a pervading sense of warmth (Although maybe that was just the central heating. Yowza it’s cold out these days!). I was also heartened to discover that the place was absolutely packed. Although it was a little overwhelming to walk in and be greeted by what seemed to be a wall of people, me and my plus one were lucky enough to find a spot near the back, with seats just high enough to get a glimpse of the stage at the opposite end of the room. The crowd was a mix of all ages, and everyone seemed in good spirits with the drinks flowing and a nice selection of bar food at the standard expensive-but-not-Toronto-expensive prices. I ordered the New York style cheesecake with caramel sauce and was pleasantly surprised: the night was off to a good start.

Up next, a waitress came to our table, but we were told that we absolutely couldn’t be served until we paid our cover charge. Oddly enough, when we arrived there was no one at the door waiting to take our money and stamp us; we had to sit and wait a good 15 minutes before someone came to our table to help us. I also thought the cover was a little steep at $10 a person. It’s nice to support local acts, and so I wasn’t annoyed per se, but considering the place was beyond packed, $5 or even $7 seemed more reasonable to me. Still, for the show that followed, and for the wonderful ambiance of the place as a whole, it was worth giving up a tenner.

The best surprise of the night was when we discovered that the nightly act was the Radiohead Jazz Project, bringing together the Toronto Jazz Orchestra and local tribute band Idioteque. To be introduced to any live jazz that night would’ve been a pleasure, but knowing the songs really helped me get into the spirit of the evening. For the most part, the group sounded very tight and comfortable playing with one another. They burst out of the gates with a freewheeling, beautifully-played version of Bodysnatchers. Without any vocals getting in the way, the trumpets really shone, and the song presented itself in a completely fresh, invigorating way. Paranoid Android in particular was an audience favourite, and had people roaring with delight at every new twist and turn. Yet, as much as I hate to say it, the vocals really let the group down. To begin with, they were far too high in the mix at the start of the night, overpowering the backing band at various points. Yet, even when the vocals were noticeably turned down, the quality of the singing wasn’t up to par, especially when it came to the soaringly high notes Thom Yorke is famous for. In all fairness, few people could ever hope to cover Yorke’s vocals in a convincing or even competent way. Still, it seems to me that the show would be much stronger as a whole if the vocals were simply omitted altogether. It speaks to the strength of the backing band, however, that the lackluster singing didn’t detract much from the overall experience: the show was a rousing success with the crowd, and left me wanting to get out there and explore much more live jazz in the near future.

In summary, while certain elements of the show could’ve done with some reworking, the night as a whole was a wonderful experience, leaving me hopeful that this is but the start of my adventure into the world of jazz. Perhaps I’ll head back on the 25th, when our very own U of T Student Jazz Ensemble hits the stage. Join me?


Junior Editor’s Note: Due to an unfortunate error, this article could not be posted until ten days after it was first written – the “25th” referred to is of February.

Chance to Win Tickets to a Chocolate Tour!

Picture courtesy of Tasty Tours Toronto

Love Chocolate? Well, Tasty Tours Toronto is giving you all a chance to win 2 free tickets to their trial chocolate tour!  This is a great chance to learn more about where chocolate comes from, how a little chocolate can be good for you, and why we crave chocolate – while satisfying those cravings! The contest ends March 31st, and results will be announced April 1st. The trial tour will begin April 5th at 6:30pm in the Trinity Bellwoods vicinity. There are three ways to enter in the contest:

1) Sign up to the mailing list by going to their main website by simply clicking on the orange bar at the bottom of the page.

2) Like Tasty Tours Toronto on Facebook and comment on this photo telling them why you should win!

3) Follow Tasty Tours Toronto on Twitter and tweet ‘Win 2 spots to a trial of a new Chocolate Tour! Follow @Tasty_Tours & retweet this. Sweetweet! Info:’.

Even if you don’t win or can’t make it on April 5, I encourage you to sign up for the Sweets Tour in Kensington Market. Public tours are every Sunday at 11:30am, alternate Saturdays at 11:30am or alternate Sundays at 2:00pm.

More information can be found on the Tasty Tours website.

U of T Then & Now


The above picture was taken in 1949 after St. George Street was widened. The intersection of St George and Harbord has changed quite a bit since then. It’s probably not necessary to address the giant concrete peacock in the room.

U of T Then & Now

This is a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. In the late 1940s, you could go to the Bank of Nova Scotia on the northeast corner of Spadina and Bloor, and then cross the street to buy some candy. In 2012, you can do the same thing!

Follow The Path

If there’s one thing we should learn on campus, it’s to learn about our campus. I daresay Path, our friendly neighborhood map, would agree. I don’t mean we should all hold hands and sing “Getting To Know You“, a la Deborah Kerr all over campus, even if that would be an amazing flash mob idea (*hint hint*). No – we should step back, take a look at our buildings, and see that the buildings that make up U of T are just as important as the people and events that chance upon it. I’ve found that our school and student body are defined just as much by our buildings as our heavy course load.

Don’t agree? How many times have you heard ‘I’ve got a class at Con Hall’, only to hear it be answered with a collective groan?

Bring up ‘Med Sci‘ to a Life Sci student, and chances are they will remember the Macleod Auditorium.

Someone says ‘I’m going to be at Robarts‘, and you know that they’re in (literally) for the long run.

Mentions of Hart House brings about tender feelings of good food, a slight fear of gargoyles, and that creepy picture in the basement – at least for me.

All Vic students know Old Vic, and I would venture to guess that they remember it fondly. The rest of us recall it enviously, because it’s not every day we can say that our college is a pink castle.

And you’ve got to admit that the light-up bubble classrooms inside the Pharmacy Building are hella cool.

But I digress.

There are buildings on campus that we can’t help but notice and learn about, simply because we already hear about them all the time. But there are some places that we don’t know about that can be just as interesting. A good chunk of us have discovered little pockets of architectural treasure. Take blogUT photographer Jimmy‘s gorgeous interpretation of Knox College, for example. In the summer, the courtyard is probably one of the few places at U of T where it is peaceful. If you ever go into the Great Hall of Hart House, take the time to look at all the coats of arms on its walls, and the verses linings the banister above. Of course, these are all just landmarks. Notables. Places we may (now) know and (will maybe) frequent.

I don’t think that U of T only has these noticeable notables, though. I mean, when I checked my schedule for this semester, I saw a building code I didn’t recognize: BI. I did a quick search on the U of T Map, and found out that it was named after Federick Banting, best known for his research on insulin with Charles Best (whose namesake building is right beside it). Just like that, I felt this sense of history. I’m going to be walking into history! I bet we all know that we’re stepping into a piece of history the moment we walk into U of T, but to be just two doors down from discoveries of the past? Yeah. That’s pretty awesome. And I bet, with a bit of searching, I’m not the only one who feels that way.

So here is my lesson to you, UTian: Make good use of our online map, not just to find your buildings, but also to learn more about our campus. Even if it doesn’t initially peak your curiosity, it will definitely give you something to think about as you sit in class staring at the wall. Not that I’m saying we do that. Nope. Not at all.

Architecture Rant: The Pharmacy Building

U of T’s architectural gems tend to stay away from the periphery of our downtown campus (ie. Spadina to the west, Bloor to the north, Bay-ish to the east, and College to the south). Con Hall, UC, Old Vic, Robarts, and even the dreadful MedSci are more or less invisible to the public whizzing by on the streetcar. However, this does not hold true for one of the newest additions to the U of T Architecture Hall of Fame: the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy Building, gracefully plopped on the northwest corner of University Avenue and College Street. Completed in ’07, it shows how wild and gregarious spending was before the global financial meltdown and ensuing hellscape of ’08.

She has all the forward thinking-ness of the Terrence Donnelley Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research (the glass tower attached to MedSci) but without the near childish use of colour. Where Donnelley slaps you in the face with a curved red wall and random blocks of colour throughout its glass facade, Pharmacy gently implies monochrome maturity and refinement. Save for the suburban style front lawn, the Pharmacy Building proclaims to the public that it is U of T territory. We should be glad that our southeastern sentinel is so beautiful.

The Donnely Building on the left has a near childish use of colour. Pharmacy to the right is more mature.

Continue reading “Architecture Rant: The Pharmacy Building”