O&B Canteen, located at King and John, right in the entertainment district's restaurant strip, is the latest venture from the ever-expanding Oliver & Bonacini company. The airy cafe, with its lovely wrap around patio offers something a little different from the usual tourist-friendly kitsch that this area's eateries are known for.
Occupying the new Bell Lightbox building's main floor (with O&B's higher end Luma opening soon upstairs), Canteen offers the appeal of a casual atmosphere and affordable menu, but with the hope of a certain caliber of food one might expect from anything with the O&B stamp.
With glass walls and soaring ceilings, this open space consists of a counter for quick 'grab and go' meals and a bakery, as well as plenty of booth and table seating, but the real draw is the tree-lined patio. Larger than most of the patios on this strip, many of which are merely a handful of tables almost directly on the sidewalk, Canteen's offers just enough privacy from the adjacent street while still allowing a view of this always-bustling neighbourhood.
The restaurant offers two menus, a breakfast menu served from 8 a.m. until 11 a.m., and an all-day menu available for both lunch and dinner. Casual offerings range from salads and sandwiches to pasta and a handful of entrees.
We begin with the beet root salad ($7), a little bowl of red and white beets with hazelnuts and fresh tarragon. The nuts add a nice crunchy texture to the perfectly cooked beets, and the dressing is a light, simple vinaigrette that adds just enough zing without overpowering the beets themselves.
From the selection of pastas, the gnocchi ($14) with Ontario braised lamb, parmesan and rosemary immediately catches my eye. The light, fluffy dumplings arrive in a dish of flavourful, slow-braised lamb and melted parmesan. This well-made pasta dish is simple, but very satisfying, and quickly devoured by me and my dining companions.
Upon our server's recommendation and the knowledge that O&B know their chocolate, we finish the meal with the soma brownie ($7). There's nothing like a homemade brownie, and this one is just what we were hoping for. The warm brownie, still gooey in the centre, comes topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of rich chocolate sauce.
The entertainment district's restaurant strip, generally populated by tourists and theatre-goers, may not be an area that native Torontonians often frequent, but O&B Canteen might make it worthwhile to stop in rather than just pass through. An attractive space with simple but satisfying, quality food at very decent prices for the area make this place worth a visit, and its location in TIFF's new headquarters means that Canteen will likely be enjoying a packed house come festival time.