Be prepared to graze at pair of downtown cafés
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/03/2009 (5006 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s reached by a short ramble through Aqua Books, a wee space, divided into two rooms with an off-beat decor of unmatched tables and (mostly) kitchen chairs, an open kitchen and an easy-going attitude. To call it a bistro is a tad misleading; café might be more accurate. The word bistro evokes, at least for me, more cooked meals than one finds at Eat!Bistro.
You don’t hear much about grazing anymore, but that one-time fad is pretty much what’s going on here, and you have to like eating little bits of a number of things that might add up to a meal. Snacks, salads, dips, appetizers and such, much of it with vegan or vegetarian, as well as gluten and nut-free options. Familiar little items, most of them, and eclectic — with flavours from Asia, Mexico and Greece, among others. It’s a cosy little place, serving food that is often good, and that could be better if more attention were paid to that old devil, detail.
It’s no place for meat and potatoes. In fact, the menu tells you that if you want a big hunk of meat the Keg is just down the street. Actually if you want something even as simple as a sandwich you’ll have to go elsewhere for that too. Same goes for burgers, although they do have fries — thickish, and tasty, if greasy — which come with a choice of 17 dipping sauces, ketchup, roasted garlic or roasted red pepper mayos, barbecue and honey dill, among them ($4). Vinegar too, which is what we requested, assuming we would sprinkle it on ourselves, to taste, but were surprised to find that it had been liberally applied in the kitchen, causing the fries to turn semi-soggy by the time they reached us.
The best dish I had was a fluffy and tasty quiche-like frittata, partnered by a delicious salad and a chunk of marvelously crusty baguette. It was all delicious, and the nit I’d pick wasn’t about the food itself, but about the size and the price — a ridiculously skimpy wedge that might have been two and a half inches at its widest for $9, a tab that will buy two big, complete breakfasts in many places around town. Another price I thought excessive was $7 for a glass of Henry of Pelham Dry Riesling, from a bottle that costs $14.22 at the MLCC.
I did like the black bean cakes, and the wee (very wee) dabs of guacamole and salsa that came with them (three for $8) but I couldn’t taste much crab in the crab cakes (three for ($8), and although the five small shrimp that came with a curry bowl of jasmine rice were acceptable, the rice itself hadn’t much flavour ($9). The tiny Mexican wontons stuffed with beef were OK, but — again — the accompanying Tex Mex rice had little seasoning ($8).
I’d ordered the soup du jour– called Tuscan bean with spinach ($5) — because I love beans, but although it tasted good, there weren’t enough beans in it to merit the name, and it could more accurately have been called "chunks of tomato soup."
But when it comes to the desserts, I have no nits to pick — all I tried were delicious ($3 to $6). There are various kinds of crustless cheesecakes (I particularly liked the one flavoured with lime), a lovely chewy brownie, and great old-fashioned cupcakes in a variety of flavours. The Black Pearl coffee is excellent ($2), and so is the service. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday.
* * *
Kay’s Deli is a modest little operation, a long, narrow room with faux-tin walls and ceiling, and an uncommonly pleasant staff. Seating is limited to four tables for two, five stools at a counter against a wall, and a few easy chairs next to the window that overlooks William Avenue — clearly most of its business is intended for takeout. Like Eat! it, too, offers gluten-free options, plus vegan or vegetarian versions of many of the items on the menu, which is composed of conventional café foods; to wit, soups, salads and sandwiches.
The menu may be short but care had gone into the preparation of everything I tried. For starters, there are two soups — one of them always vegetarian ($3 a cup, $4.35 a bowl, including bread); those of my jours were Gypsy, with a spicy undertone and thick with vegetables, a lightly curried split pea and a creamy potato-dill, all savoury and good. Kay’s house salad was an elegant assembly of fresh greens dotted with almonds and dried cranberries in a maple sesame vinaigrette ($3.95 for half, $5.95 full size)
Sandwiches are thick and satisfying, with occasional novel twists ($3.95 to $7.25). Possibly the best of the lot is the grilled panino, lightly scented with rosemary and thickly packed with capicola and provolone, as well as spinach leaves, tomato and cucumbers. Possibly the most unusual is the tea-marinated roast pork (a Korean old family favourite, apparently), also enlivened by a julienne of cucumbers.
There are two breakfast items, probably more suitable for eating in than for taking out. A breakfast wrap, filled with scrambled eggs and cheddar, was dry despite the inclusion of a nice white bean puree and assorted veggies ($3.95). A frittata, with weekly varying fillings, was moister and more successful ($4.99).
There are no desserts but the fair trade coffee is excellent, and a steal at a mere 99 cents for eight ounces; others from the espresso bar range from $1.75 for a plain steamer to $3.99 for a double mocha latte. There also fresh juices, singly or in combination, the most luscious among them, for me, the citrus sunrise, composed of strawberry, orange and mango juices ($2.99 for eight ounces). Smoothies too, ($5.25 for 16 ounces), and, for the virtuous, yerba mate, ($1.50). Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday.