The Bloordale Pantry
1285 Bloor Street West
brunch for 2 with all taxes, tip and coffee: $40
A lifetime ago, I lived at Bloor and Lansdowne in an old warehouse space (which is what we called old warehouses before developers renovated them and put in marble counter tops and stainless steel appliances and called them “lofts”). It was a rough neighbourhood, and one of the roughest parts of it was the greasy spoon on the corner where locals bought $2 beer and did their drug deals.
Twenty years later, the corner of Bloor and Lansdowne, while still gritty, is the latest area to see improvements to businesses and services. There’s now a handful of decent restaurants and cool shops, co-existing peacefully with Indian sweet shops and African spice stores.
And that scary diner on the corner that I was never brave enough to set foot in is now a bright, cheery, hip little space with new (retro-looking) decor and a really decent brunch menu.
On a recent Sunday we stop by only to nearly have our cover blown by our pal and TIFF programmer, Colin Geddes. He and his girlfriend live in the ‘hood and they’re checking the place out for the first time as well, giving it a big thumbs up.
The menu is divided into breakfasty items such as bacon and eggs ($6.99) and vegan pancakes ($8.99), as well as a couple of more lunchy items such as the burger ($10.99) and a slow-cooked & shredded pork sandwich ($11.50).
One of the reasons we took a break from this brunch column a while back was because I was so tired of eating eggs Benedict, but I can’t resist the lure of this traditional dish served atop griddle scones ($11.99), which is how we always made scones when I was growing up. It doesn’t disappoint; the eggs are smooth and golden and runny, and the biscuits are firm but fluffy on the inside, just like I remember them. Served with a huge mound of really fabulous onion potato hash, and a big side salad with a citrus-y dressing, this is way more than I can finish, especially because we’ve also ordered a fruit salad bowl with yogurt ($3.99).
The fruit bowl is a standard mix of fresh strawberries, bananas, kiwi and melon, but the addition of what seems like a full jar of maraschino cherries gives it a pleasingly retro feel. At first we’re thrown off – other than in cocktails or atop a sundae, who actually eats maraschino cherries? – but almost immediately the sweet flavour burst kicks in and we start searching them out, scraping the bottom of the bowl for the last puddles of pink-tinged cherry-juice flavoured yogurt.
Across the table, the husband goes for the seared polenta with San Marzano tomato sauce ($9.99). I hate the phrase “perfectly cooked” but in this case it truly is – a crunchy crust on the outside and velvety smooth corn pudding in the centre. Served with a topping of sauteed greens and slices of roasted sweet potato, it’s hearty and healthy and ever so tasty.
As we’re finishing up, owner Rose Guarnieri stops by the table and we talk about the neighbourhood, which has been embracing the new restaurant with open arms. Sure, some folks are not so happy that the beer isn’t $2 anymore, but Guarnieri says they’ve had no trouble with the locals, and that some of the supposedly unsavoury elements of the area (such as the two strip clubs within a block of the diner) have been the most supportive.
Like deepest darkest Parkdale, Bloor and Lansdowne may never be one of those neighbourhoods that gets completely gentrified. And that’s definitely not a bad thing. But everyone needs a local diner to get a decent coffee or a hearty breakfast, and if it happens to be stylish and brings more creative and artsy folks into a formerly run-down area, that’s not such a bad thing, either – especially when the food is this fabulous.
We wouldn’t want to see anything so mainstream as a Starbucks opening up there, but The Bloordale Pantry might be just the shot in the arm that Bloor and Lansdowne needs.