Every once in a while I discover a hidden gem, a restaurant that sets itself apart from others and makes for a delightful experience. Motek Café at 36 NE 1st Street is one such place. And hidden it is, inside the historic Seybold building on its main floor, squeezed between two Jewellery stores. Opened in June 2020, during the height of the pandemic, this is a perfect example of the Little Engine that could.
Founded by Tessa Levy, who comes from a French, Moroccan background, Motek is an endearment in Hebrew, meaning, “sweetheart”. This restaurant serves Israeli/Mediterranean food. For those who are not familiar with Israeli cuisine, it encompasses and exemplifies the melting pot that is Israel. Dishes can be made with eggs, tomatoes, olives, wheat, fish, meat, zucchini, eggplant, salads, fresh fruits, chickpeas, dairy, onions, pita, falafel, spices, cumin, za’atar, paprika, honey, pepper, coriander, and so on. Here the food is elevated, authentic, thoughtful, and delicious.
The space is bright, inviting, and casual. Designed in white with accents of yellow and green. The walls have a Morrocan theme to them, which is a nod to the owner’s Sephardic background.
The dishes are well prepared from items like the chicken schnitzel, shakshouka, and excellent crispy cauliflower with harissa and honey glaze that is out of this world. You can choose from mezze, salads, labneh, and hummus dishes. They have a wonderful salmon bowl that can be made up with three choices of toppings. We went with the spiced honey. It comes with rice and lentils, hummus, and an Israeli salad. The crispy chicken schnitzel was great but the star of the show is the Arayes burger. A Lebanese grilled beef stuffed into a fluffy pita and grilled to crunchy perfection, trust me. It comes with a salad or fries. And, they know how to make crunchy fries here. We washed it all down with a homemade Limonana made with fresh mint.
For dessert, we tried the baklava, but the standout we also had was a challah bread pudding that was worth every calorie.
The servers were friendly, and this buried treasure of a restaurant brings each bite of food with a new appreciation for the simple and perfect preparation and flavour pairings of each dish.