E.L. Ruddy might have a small, unassuming sign, but with a bright orange facade and the waft of fresh coffee and scones it's almost impossible to miss it. Owner Helena Kosikova's newly opened cafe and brunch/lunch destination is cozy and warm, and the menu is all about vegetarian comfort food. Exposed brick walls reveal a faded mural, a vestige of Toronto advertising firm E.L. Ruddy and the inspiration behind the cafe's name.
Originally intended to become a bookstore, the restaurant's walls are lined with floor to ceiling shelves, which are now populated with a variety of children's toys, antiques, plants and magazines. During this Sunday brunch rush, E.L. Ruddy is packed; the crowd is as diverse as the decor.
We start with loose-leaf tea ($2.50 for the regular size) and coffee ($2.25 for the regular Americano), a warm treat in heavy ceramic mugs. The sugar is served in an antique porcelain bowl along with a tiny souvenir spoon.
All the food at E.L. Ruddy is made from scratch, and many gluten-free or vegan choices are available. This is an exciting revelation for the gluten-intolerant member of our party, who orders the soup of the day with a side of freshly baked cornbread. ($6) A Mexican vegetable medley, the autumnal broth blends a hearty mix of perfectly cooked beans and deliciously crispy pieces of carrot and celery.
The cafe's most popular dish is also gluten free: the Huevos Yelapa ($9) is a tasty combination of fresh salsa, cornbread, refried beans and a choice of eggs or marinated tofu. "It's inspired by a place in Mexico," says Kosikova, describing a tiny village only accessible by horseback or water taxi. "It has no cars, really lovely people and is extremely calm."
Seduced by the description, we order a portion and substitute the beans for tofu. We discover that brunch options include an appetizer, a small fruit salad pleasantly light on the usually ubiquitous melon chunks and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
While the Huevos are a tad overdone, the home fries instantly win the approval of the group's potato snob. The tofu is firm and tasty, the salsa is a zesty picco de gallo and a crumbly slice of freshly baked cornbread completes the meal.
The Belgian Waffles ($10) are made of spelt and come with a choice of real maple syrup or strawberries and whipped cream. We choose the latter and are presented with a dauntingly large stack of beautifully arranged pastries, sprinkled with icing sugar. Patrons at neighbouring tables gather around for a closer look. The taste does not disappoint - spelt flour gives a hearty texture to the usually fluffy breakfast and contrasts well with the light whipped cream.
E.L. Ruddy also offers lunch, a rotating selection of home-cooked staples at $8 apiece. Specials include risotto, pot pie and shepherd's pie.
Kosikova says she and cook James Ruegg often work until the early hours of the morning to tweak recipes and experiment with new ingredients. She has an endless list of ideas for the cafe, planning to add fresh jams and greeting cards to the inventory of tea and coffee items she is already selling.
"The neighbourhood people have been really welcoming," she says. "I'm very happy that it turned out the way it did." As a line-up begins to form outside, we realize we have overstayed our own welcome and cede our table to the next hungry group.
E.L. Ruddy is open Tuesday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Writing and photos by Brigitte Noel