Cafe Bernate – What Have I Been Missing All These Years?

Café Bernate
1024 Queen Street West
lunch for two (including a cookie) with taxes, tip and coffee: $30

Regularly for the past ten or twelve years or so, I’d pass Café Bernate and say to myself, “We’ve really got to go there sometime!” Located on Queen West at Ossington, I’d be reminded of it twice a day as I rode the streetcar back and forth to work, yet somehow I never made it over there. Not for lack of trying through – a couple of times Greg, the husband, and I set out with the express intention to have lunch at the little gem of a café only to find it closed or packed.

So when we were walking along Queen Street a couple of weekends ago and both of us found our stomachs rumbling for lunch, we were surprised, astounded even, to find the place open. Finally, we would get to eat at Café Bernate.

The storefront space is small but bright, with mismatched chairs and purple tables, a display of vintage coffee pots sparkling in the sunshine behind the bar. The bar itself is a massive slab of concrete with various bric-a-brac and curiosities embedded therein. There’s also a large back room with a garage door, making the space feel patio-like on warm days. Staff are instantly welcoming and hospitable, earning my highest service praise – “down home charm”.

Let me state for the record that it won’t take another dozen years for me to go back.

As a matter of fact, our lunch was so enjoyable, I was there again two days later to try something else on the menu of 30-odd sandwiches.

That’s right, 30 different sandwiches, a figure that expands exponentially when different bread choices figure into the equation. Priced at $6.95 for a regular and $8.95 for a large, there’s also the option of a house salad or cup of the day’s soup for an additional $2.

Sandwiches range from the traditional club house, BLT or ham and cheese to a variety of pairings with chicken and brie, and a good dozen vegetarian options. The smoked turkey with spinach, sundried tomato and brie is a melange of oozing cheese, tangy tomatoes and smoky turkey on a toasted baguette, while the avocado, sundried tomato, provolone and black olives on multigrain bread is a hearty vegetarian offering that will make even the most earnest omnivore forget about meat altogether.

Or maybe not quite. I was so intrigued by the curried tropical chicken sandwich that I was back within the week, fully and officially off the vegetarian wagon to try this creation. Chunks of chicken breast are combined with what is essentially fruit salad – strawberries, grapes, melon – along with nuts, seeds, raisins and a curried mayo dressing. It was outstanding, and if I manage to stick to my vegetarian ideals, I’ll definitely be working on a version of this made with soy chunks to have at home.

There’s also a variety of salads if the standard house salad of mixed greens and choice of dressings doesn’t suffice, as well as various daily specials such as fritata or huevos rancheros. Brunch offerings on weekends are limited but delicious, with a couple of omlettes and croissant sandwiches. Coffee is refilled regularly and although there’s no dessert menu, the variety of cookies, squares, muffins and sweet croissants is more than enough of a selection. Chocolate chip cookies are massive and square and must contain at least half a standard bar of chocolate in each.

As is evident by my enthusiasm, I am utterly charmed by this little café serving up simple but delicious fare, and after wasting so many years with a visit to Café Bernate lingering on my to-do list, I now plan on making it a regular destination.