Cafe on the Square

Cafe on the Square

What do city councillors do when they break from squabbling about pop machines at Toronto parks and rec facilities ? Head downstairs and crack open a Coke? Maybe. Canned soda is just one of the many items available at Café on the Square, the restaurant located inside Toronto's city hall.

General manager Melvin Lee tells me the cafeteria-style restaurant is privately owned, serving both city officials and the general public from its ground-level café and patio. And while most of the time we ask ourselves, "What were they thinking?" when reflecting on our city councillors, I headed to Café on the Square to answer the question: "What are they eating?"

I arrive a little past 12 p.m., and the space is busting. There's a lot of walking about, mainly due to the fact that Café on the Square is similar to Richtree Market in that your food is prepared at made-to order stations, from which you then go to the cashier to pay before finding yourself a table. The colour scheme is also somewhat similar; there's lots of brown and earth tones, as well as a mixture of tables, booths, and bar seating.

The first station by the inside entrance from City Hall is the "café," where a menu board boasts a surprising array of drinks available for sale. There's regular drip coffee of course ($1.33), but also espresso ($1.62), latte mochaccinos ($3.33), white chocolate frappes ($3.57), and other specialty drinks. Just take a minute to picture your favourite no-nonsense City Hall player sipping daintily on a multi-syllable espresso beverage.

Onto some fresh options. Café on the Square offers daily blend smoothies ($3.60) as well as fresh fruit and yogurt for sale. I noticed that most of the people on the room--most of whom were in suits or clothing of similar influence--were neglecting this station. The sandwich station, with pre-packaged sandwiches such as eggplant ($4.60) and egg ($4.15) that could be grilled to order was much more popular, but the crowd was all about the pasta and hot food options.

The prices seemed fairly reasonable; pasta bar selection for $7.15, a burger for $4.60, and tofu chickpea curry with salad for $6.95. Of course, then I spotted the winner: a 6oz New York steak with sautéed mushrooms and potatoes for $9.45. "Aha!" I thought. "Finally, I found the gravy at City Hall."

I chose conservatively; a slice of pesto chicken pizza with a Greek salad and pop ($6.25). The pizza was pretty decent--reminiscent, actually, of the type at Richtree. A little greasy but the crust was crispy and soft, and the size was quite generous. The salad was quite fresh as well. If anything, though, I was a little disappointed that my combo mandated a pop drink. I would've liked to see a smoothie or fresh juice option, perhaps for a little more money, or else a pint of domestic beer ($6.25) or glass of wine ($7.25) also advertised on the menu. Of course, I don't work at City Hall so I have no excuse to hit the booze at 12 p.m.

The service was quite efficient for the number of people in the space, and abandoned plates and trays were picked up not more than a moment after they were left. And though I've just listed a few, the food options seemed quite varied, though I imagine they must get quite repetitive for City Hall employees.

Most of the people at the Café, which had thinned out considerably by 1 p.m., were dining in pairs, though a few sat alone, glued to their Blackberrys. Notably, no one opted for one of the "Bachelor Betrayed" or "ZOMG: guess who has cellulite!?" mags for sale, tempting as they were. Overall, I was impressed with the efficiency, options, and quality at Café on the Square. And while I don't think it will become my lunch place of choice, not a bad option for a quick lunch in the area.

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