None of today's subjects are restaurants, in the traditional sense of the word, but all have something special to offer.
Cafferia is a sweet, light-filled little place, with a peaked ceiling and cottage style windows overlooking a parking lot that would make an ideal patio in summer. There are a few shelves of Italian products for sale (pastas, oils, canned tomatoes and such), but basicalanly it's a genuine Italian coffee house, serving up rich Italian brews ($2.50 to $4.50). I'm not a coffee fanatic but I do like my cuppa -- hot and strong, albeit often non p.c. (with sugar and cream) -- and when the espresso is rich, dense and not too bitter, when I don't add sugar to my cappuccino, and when my coffee maven friend declares the latte as the best ever, I know I have found my coffee heaven.
It wasn't all I found. Coffee may have been the purpose of the visit, but we also wanted some nibbles to go with it, and although there were only a few, they were surprising. I'd never have thought I could love a place where every ingredient and every prepared dish had come from far, far away -- from Italy, in fact -- but I find that I can.
Our eight-inch panino didn't look like the familiar pressed panini that are served everywhere. In fact, it looked quite ordinary, but one bite and we knew we were onto something extraordinary ($7.99). Every component had been imported from Italy -- the crusty, flavourful bun (heated but not flattened), the mozzarella, the mortadella and the prosciutto di Parma, which was tender and far less salty than any I've had in years, with (I later learned) 30 per cent less sodium than most prosciuttos.
Our 12-inch, thin-crusted pizza was too floppy to eat out of hand, and although the New Yorker in me would ordinarily rebel against eating pizza with a knife and fork, it was so delicious I didn't mind. There are seven choices, ($11 to $19), among them Fungi -- lightly layered with mozzarella, San Marzano tomato sauce (and there really is a difference) and tiny nameko mushrooms with a silky texture and earthy flavour. We also tried the arancini -- a big rice ball filled with mushrooms and mozzarella, which was good but would have been even better if heated long enough to melt the cheese ($3.50).
The cooler is full of tempting desserts (yes, all from Italy too), from a luscious layered chocolate cake with chocolate shavings to the simpler-looking, but equally delectable, sfogliatella -- a flaky, shell-shaped puff pastry with a creamy ricotta-based filling ($4 to $4.50).
Service (at table) couldn't be nicer or more charming.
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It's strange, given the size of our Ukrainian population, that there has been no replacement for Alycia's. True, perogies turn up on all kinds of menus (even Chinese menus, as in Peking perogies), but I know of no restaurant with as wide a choice, and when asked for suggestions, the best I can come up with is a Ukrainian feast at home.
I know, I know, nobody can compare to your baba's perogies, but Sevala's are plump, flavourful and satisfying. Also (and possibly unlike your baba's) they come with a variety of fillings, most of them variations on potato with something -- I love the potato, sauerkraut and bacon ($4.95 to $6.25 a dozen). There are also tiny fried perogy bites, which would be ideal finger food for parties ($24 for a five-dozen bag).
Other classics include little pyryshky pastries (also ideal finger foods) filled with sauerkraut, beef and cabbage or potato, onion and dill ($6.95 a dozen); cabbage rolls with buckwheat, rice, rice and bacon or beef ($8.25 a dozen); and savoury little meatballs, either in brown gravy or sweet-and-sour sauce (16 meatballs for $4.50), as well as a tangy beet borscht ($5.50 a litre).
All the above are listed on Sevala's website -- www.sevalas.com -- but the coolers store many items that aren't listed, and at least two of them are so good they should be: the tender nalysnyky crepes rolled around a dill-flecked cottage-cheese filling (four for $6.95); and the Ukrainian cheesecake with a raisin-dotted, dense and not-too-sweet cottage-cheese filling ($6.95 for a portion serving four to six).
Note: cash or debit only.
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Crusty Bun is a superb German bakery, renowned for its traditional breads, fabulous buns and scrumptious pastries. It also has a 30-seat cafe where you can have anything from a snack, a pastry, or a meal of soup, sandwich and pastry.
The soups vary daily -- my du jour was a savoury split pea, accompanied by one of the eponymous crusty buns (others might be chili with beef, or carrots with red lentils). The pumpkin-seed buns are used for the sandwiches, which look small in diameter but are tasty and filling. The tuna (almost an inch thick with, I think, a bit of chopped pickle), fine-quality ham or salami, with lettuce, tomato and dill pickle slice, are all good (most $4.10), but the brightest star is the schnitzelburger -- a huge breaded, fried slice of pork loin, good enough to rival some of the city's best ($7.95).
Trying to choose a pastry makes me crazy (most $1.65 to $3.45). Chocolate doesn't turn up often, and most aren't slathered in cream or butter creams. The richest of the lot (at least among those I tried) was the beesting, a cake layered with a custardy filling and dusted with toasted almonds. The simple jam buster is one of my favourites, along with the cherry streusel, the exquisite German tea cake -- layers of puff pastry with an incredibly crunchy top -- and the railroad tracks of a shortbread base topped by raspberry jam. And for non-sweet teeth, the great pretzels twisted with ham and cheese.
Note: cash or debit only.