THE BERKELEY CAFé (141 Berkeley, at Queen, 416-203-2024) Busy, pretty lunch spot on quiet street serving moderately priced breakfast, salads, soups and sandwiches. Average main $7. Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $5.50 imported beer. Open Monday to Friday 8 am to 6 pm. Licensed. Access: half step at door. Rating: NN
My mother's sandwiches were always delicious. The secret, she'd say, was in the TLC. It didn't matter that she frequently burnt the toast for BLTs and tried to hide her small failure with a scrape and a smear of Miracle Whip, golden side facing outward. TLC stood for tender loving care, and "Fake it till you make it" was her motto. A popular restaurant serving only lunch shouldn't be faking it. On both visits to the Berkeley Café, the place was packed inside and out. Usually an indicator of quality, in this instance I think popularity has more to do with lack of local options, like being the only girl in high school who puts out.
After a surprisingly dull grilled portobello mushroom sandwich with Swiss cheese, tahini and sprouts ($7), I hope the grilled chicken on sour dough with roasted red peppers, mozzarella, pesto and pancetta ($7.25) will redeem it. But not only is the sour dough day-old, but it's the heel (or bum, if you prefer) slyly turned inward, a trick Mom never dared. The pesto, entirely absorbed by the bread, does nothing to moisten the dry chicken, and the roundness of the tush end causes the whole thing to fall apart.
The three-salad combo ($8) arrives without the requested spicy black beans and corn, and when a side order finally arrives, the beans are overcooked so their mushy texture clashes with the still firm niblets.
This long-established café changed hands in December, and if the new owners don't take care of the details, an enterprising mom could open a spot nearby and - with just a pinch of TLC - do very well indeed.