Le Bar A Soupe
The best tastes-like-homemade-I-can't-possibly-finish-all-that soup shop in Toronto is Ossington's Le Bar à Soupe.
The owner Nathalie wishes you bon appétit as you tuck into one of her three daily soups (more than one if you are savvy enough to bring a soup-splitting friend with you -- I was, that's my lunch buddy's curried cauliflower soup pictured above). Also on the pocket-sized restaurant's regular menu are fresh salads (greek, chef, mixed greens: $3.75-$4.25) and hearty sandwiches ($3.25-$5.50). Generous portions contrast the itty bitty space, and ordering a soup and sandwich can work out to a whole lotta lunch.
For disclosure, I'm a biased local. Nathalie had my number the first time I walked past Le Bar's small and inviting window front. Once the placard started appearing on the sidewalk outside, I knew I was done for. How do you walk past a sign offering your choice of: pears simmered in Beaujolais; cream of beet; or chicken with lemongrass and ginger? And that's just what's on special that day. Forget about the yummy BLT ($3.75) that is always on offer. On my best days my willpower lets me rubberneck walk past the sign, often only to pause mid-step a few doorstops away to turn around and pop back for a small... whatever was on the sign.
Le Bar à Soupe encourages regular visits by having a monthly soup menu. Three different soups a day, always including at least one vegan option, Monday through Saturday. Then, for the rest of the month, the soups appear again on their designated day. Which means that if you loved the chestnut velouté with apples and vanilla that you had on Monday, it'll be there again, in exactly one week. Giving you a chance to try out the Caldo Verde on Wednesdays, or the curried cauliflower with coconut milk (vegan) on Thursdays. New month, new menu.
This particular day, I was sucked in for a beef and barley soup. For a small portion, with the complimentary piece of bread and butter, it comes in at a ridiculously reasonable $3.75 (medium portions are $4.50, and large $5.25). And, wait for it, the soup had actual hunks of beef in it.
The square footage at Le Bar à Soupe is limited, and many people stop in only for take-out, but the small space does have seating for up to seven people, and it's a very easy place to dine alone. Closed on Sundays, but open the rest of the week from 11am-7pm, the hours accommodate the local hipsters getting home from their day-jobs in marketing, sales and start-ups, with just enough time to get off the Ossington bus or walk down or up from Dundas or Queen and grab a to-go order on the way home.
During the day it attracts its fair share of moms and bendy people after classes let out at YogaSpace (where post-yoga munchies seem to be split 50/50 between Le Bar à Soupe and the vegetarian Get Real down the street).
There are a couple of drawbacks. A few steps and a sharp turn at the door makes the entrance do-able but a bit awkward if you have a stroller, and it is not wheelchair-accessible. Le Bar is also not the most eco-friendly place in the world. Whether your order is to stay or to-go, the soup comes in styrofoam containers, with plastic cutlery. There is recycling for the cutlery, but perhaps this could be a good exercise in bringing tupperware from home.
It is also a cash-only eatery, which, if you're not a cash person (and I'm not) means planning ahead. Planning ahead that is also required for the last, but significant, drawback -- there is no washroom. After, I'm certain, being asked many (many) times, there is now a handmade "No Washrooms" sign taped up on the wall. However, Le Bar also doesn't serve coffee, and smartly so, as they are right next door to Ideal Coffee. Which does have a washroom. So if you plan your eating and drinking right, it should all work out just fine.
The portions are, as mentioned, generous. Even pushing myself, I couldn't have managed both my favourite (chicken breast sandwich) and one of the "small" soups. Which is part of the beauty of Le Bar à Soupe. Many places in Toronto put soup on their menu as a bit of a throwaway. Watery, salty, and almost always "cream of" something.
But soup is what Le Bar does. If you want to remember what it's like to look forward to meal-grade soups, to crave them on a cold day, or have soup as a light picnic dinner in mid-summer (perhaps at nearby Trinity Bellwoods park), get to know Le Bar à Soupe.