With a name like Avêsta Pizza & Grill, Hamilton residents may expect a menu of standard Italian style pies and westernized comfort fare; maybe some chicken wings, some potato wedges, a classic Caesar salad.
However, this Upper James restaurant – one which opened at the outset of the pandemic and readily garnered rave reviews among locals – is doing something a fair bit more unique.
Founded by a group of family friends who collectively steer the restaurant’s operations, Avêsta Pizza & Grill’s Kurdish and Mediterranean-inspired menu has been crafted by two head chefs with a combined 45 years of cooking experience, influenced by their origins in running multiple mom & pop pizza places in Hamilton around the early 2000s.
“The restaurant began from a long-held aspiration amongst the friends to represent the large Kurdish community in Hamilton by opening the first Kurdish restaurant in the GTA,” Avêsta’s passionate team tells us.
“The idea was to represent quintessential Middle-Eastern cuisine and hospitality with the exact same ingredients and passion that we do with our own families at home and at our much-loved outdoor barbecues.”
Inspired by the fact that the crust of a Neapolitan-style pizza isn’t far off from the recipe for a traditional naan, Avêsta’s team came up with the idea of harmoniously marrying two relatively different cuisines in their menu concept.
Though a familiar, classic cheese or pepperoni pizza is available here, the pies at Avêsta mostly stray away from the kind you’d find at your regular pizzeria; in fact, the majority of them lean creatively into Middle Eastern ingredients, flavours, and cooking techniques.
To start, the crust base is served in a naan style using authentic Tanoor dough – made only with flour, water, yeast, and salt, then rested for 24 hours – which is baked in a Tandoor oven in blazingly high heat over an open flame, giving the crust a soft and chewy texture with a slight crisp.
The unconventional pizza is loaded up with an intriguing range of toppings before being stone-baked, resulting in a pie that closely resembles a mouth-watering Neapolitan pizza while featuring flavours inspired by cuisines and culinary traditions from the Middle East.
Proving that a pizza serves as a wonderfully blank culinary canvas, some of the creations at Avêsta include their eponymous Avêsta Pizza, topped with gyro meat, tangy spinach, caramelized onion, yogurt, and pomegranate sauce; or the Shawarma Pizza, loaded with chicken shawarma, garlic sauce, hot sauce, tomatoes, and red onions.
Vegetarian pizza selections offer the same Middle Eastern twists, like a simple white pizza topped with Halloumi cheese or the Leemo Pizza built with fresh lemon zest, watercress, and Isot pepper flakes on a white cream sauce base.
The menu hardly stops at pizza, though. Avêsta also serves up a sizable number of more traditional Middle Eastern dishes, from falafel platters to mixed grill dinners to shawarma wraps and much more featuring authentic recipes, rich flavours, and thoughtfully sourced ingredients.
“Our commitment to truly authentic flavours meant sticking to small-batch, traditional cooking methods and importing ingredients like cuts of Middle-Eastern lamb raised in Australia and savoury Afrin olives from Syria,” Avêsta’s team adds.
The results have paid off and gained plenty of attention; in fact, the restaurant holds a star rating of 4.8 out of 5 on Google, based on hundreds of reviews from guests singing the praises of a scrappy, independently owned restaurant that does something out of the ordinary.
“With such a rich culture, diverse population, and an exceptional food scene, Hamilton is full of adventurous foodies that are truly passionate about our ever-evolving, shared culinary journey,” says Avêsta.
“This was proven to us from the start, with an outpour of support during our early-pandemic launch. People in Hamilton are actually really excited for their local businesses and don’t shy away from vocalizing their support.”
The Hamilton Mountain often gets a bad rap for having a largely blasé food scene, built mostly on fast food chains and franchises that often play it safe. But new spots like Avêsta Pizza & Grill are helping to change the game, bringing fresh takes on flavourful dishes and cuisines to the Hammer and making our city all the better – and more delicious – for it.
Visit Avêsta Pizza & Grill at 1059 Upper James Street, and check out their full menu on their website. Follow the restaurant on social media here.
Images courtesy of Avêsta Pizza & Grill
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