For years I had been aware of a longstanding Middle Eastern pastry shop by the name of Mahrousé. Be it from word of mouth or receiving a box of their famous baklava as presents from friends, my run-ins with this name were frequent; but somehow, I never got around to visiting the V.S.L. locale in person. This changed when I met the owners at a house party last summer, and they invited me to check it out.
When I finally did in December, it was love at first sight! At this point, I am not even addressing their desserts; the spot itself is visually stunning! Perfectly adorned and decorated to resemble a traditional Syrian home, it evoked memories of my grandparents' childhood abodes in Damascus and Hama. From the tiling and chandeliers to the mother of pearl furniture and octagonal fountain, few places can transport you elsewhere like Mahrousé does.
With Ramadan nearing its end, I returned today to pick up some of my favorite desserts to serve with iftar – breaking of the fast – tonight. Conveniently located just north of Marché Central, its strip-mall setting makes it an ideal spot for a drive-by takeout order.
Mahrousé's offering covers Syrian and pan-Levantine sweets in addition to Western pastries. Although baklava is the region's most widespread dessert, it barely scratches the surface of the ensemble on display here. From confections such as knafeh, maamoul and awwameh to an endless assortment of baklava all the way to ice cream, French pastries and cakes, there is enough to keep coming back for years while still discovering something new.
Also available are a couple of savory items such as kibbeh and ouzi, homemade jams and other delicacies even I – a Syrian! – have never seen before. For today, I stuck to my two all-time favorite items: knafeh and halawet el-jibn. The former, a layered pie with cheese and shredded phyllo dough topped with crushed pistachios and drenched in rose water syrup, is a delicate play on crispy and smooth textures.
Halawet el-jibn – "cheese sweet" in Arabic – is the quintessential Syrian dessert if you ask me. Consisting of rolls of semolina and cheese dough filled with ashta – a type of clotted cream – and again topped with pistachios and syrup, Mahrousé's are velvety, creamy and heavenly!
Open since 1970 and spanning generations of ownership, Mahrousé exemplifies Syrian artisanal craftsmanship in both its décor and pastry. I urge anyone not familiar with this gem or the region's desserts to pay it a visit. Be it to impress your guests the next time you are hosting or enjoy tea and a treat against the fabulous backdrop, I guarantee you won't regret it.
Since finally trying it late last year, I immediately added Mahrousé to my list of current crushes as well as my "best of 2021" list. I can only blame myself for not discovering it earlier and having it a part of my life in Montreal all these years…
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.