Cafe Neon (Queen St.)
Cafe Neon now has a location on West Queen West in addition to its first location by the Junction Triangle (and its sibling bar in Bloordale.) This latest spot keeps much of the same layout as its predecessor, Cafe Bernate , with a coffee counter and some seating in the front area along with more seating and larger tables in the back.
Wall art by local artist Jeff Garcia , a.k.a. Mango Peeler , has a cool Mediterranean vibe (he's worked on all three Neons and also Kensington's Cold Tea ) and the place has an overall bright, comfy-yet-hip feel to it.
Owner Niki Tsourounakis, who grew up in the resto biz and whose family hails from the island of Crete in Greece, tells me her inspiration for Cafe Neon comes from the Greek καφενεῖον, or kafenion ; traditionally found in every village or town, these cafes are social institutions and the standard meeting place when making plans with friends.
There's no Greek coffee here. Instead, Toronto-based Sam James' Cut Coffee is available in the form of expertly pulled espresso-based beverages (espresso, $2.34; Americano, $2.57; macchiato, $2.80; cortado, $3.04; cappuccino, $3.27; latte, $3.74) made on a red La Marzocco, or the brewed stuff ($1.40/$1.87/$2.34).
Organic loose leaf Metropolitan Teas ($2.75 each) and fresh-squeezed juices (MP) are other drink options, and a liquor license is in the works.
Made-in-house, all-natural baked goods include savoury bread pudding and, if you're lucky and Tsourounakis's mother is in town, her Greek cookies.
My friend and I try the mushroom and leek parmesan bread pudding, which is made with croissants, and it's insanely tasty, buttery deliciousness.
All-day brekkie is served, with Greek yoghurt, granola, oatmeal pots, egg-centric dishes and breakfast sandwiches on the menu. The kitchen sources its ingredients carefully, partnering with local farm Sharon Creek for produce and using organic, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil from the Tsourounakis family's olive grove on Crete (bottles are also for sale at the cafe).
We opt for the lunch offerings, starting with the daily soup ($5.50), which on our visit is butterbean and celeriac with a drizzle of chermoula. Accompanied by a crostino, it has a nice balance of flavours and does a good job of whetting our appetites for more.
A seasonal Winter Bowl ($11.75) arrives, containing a healthy and heaping mix of kale, beets, sweet potato, chickpeas, braised cabbage, sprouts, wheat berries, raisins and toasted almonds tossed in a sesame orange dressing. If desired, goat cheese ($2) and/or grilled chicken ($3.75) can be added to an already substantial salad.
I can see (and taste) why this is a popular order; it's just the right combination of salt, acid, sweetness and crunch.
From the hot sandwich selection, we get the featured chicken club ($11.50), which like all the hot sandwiches, comes with a side of house coleslaw. It's a triple-decker of crispy breaded chicken breast, bacon, roasted tomato slices, arugula and roasted garlic mayo, all between slices of toasted challah that add a touch of sweetness.
My friend, who lives down the street, has already decided this is going to be his new local hang, and I have no doubt others in the neighbourhood will follow suit, turning it into the Toronto-fied version of the kafenion Tsourounakis intended it to be.
Photos by Jesse Milns.