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DELICA KITCHEN (1440 Yonge, at St. Clair, 416-546-5408, delicakitchen.ca) Complete lunches for $15 (prepared dinners $20), including all taxes, tip and an Americano. Average main $9/$12. Open Monday to Friday 8:30 am to 7 pm, Saturday 9 am to 5 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement, counter seating. Rating: NNN
There's no missing Delica Kitchen's message.
Why, it's right there in front of you, written on the upscale café's crisp white walls in classic upper-case Bodoni type: "GET TO KNOW YOUR FOOD," "SEASONED WITH INTEGRITY" and "WHEN EATING A FRUIT, THINK OF THE PERSON WHO PLANTED THE TREE." And who can argue with "AS FOR BUTTER VERSUS MARGARINE, TRUST COWS MORE THAN CHEMISTS"?
Certainly not the chic society type in head-to-toe black seated solo at the lunch counter who hoovers down a Parisienne - smoked Virginia ham, Bosc pear and Gruyère on an Ace baguette slathered with sinus-clearing Dijon ($8.25) - while sipping a Kicking Horse Americano ($1.95) under the instructions "EAT TOGETHER." A full noon-hour crowd seems to agree.
"I want people to feel like they're in London or Paris," says Delica's Devin Connell. "Even if it's just for 15 minutes."
How can you not? If you've ever eaten at Pret a Manger in the UK or Dean & Deluca in NYC, you know the scene: designer sandwiches and salads made with fancy bread and quality ingredients for noshing in situ alongside a line of frozen comfort-food mains for dining at home.
We flip for the Spicy Bird ($8.50), an ingenious take on Buffalo chicken wings reinterpreted as a rosemary-roasted chicken sandwich splashed with Frank's RedHot sauce. Served on an Ace crusty roll dressed with raw carrot threads and blue cheese aioli, all that's missing are the celery sticks.
That same boneless breast becomes a tasty tandoori chicken salad ($9.25) when tossed with strips of ripe mango, slivered scallions, baby grape tomatoes and a few toasted almonds on a bed of romaine in a tangy Indo vinaigrette. Named for the Joseph Conrad novel, Heart Of Darkness chili ($4.99 small/$12.99 litre) finds a minimum of red beans alongside great chunks of melt-in-the-mouth brisket in a complex bittersweet sauce that could almost be a Mexican mole.
No pizza slice, the daily vegetarian tart ($4.75) may only be a small square of puff pastry and the briefest of toppings, but think of the calories saved.
Connell and chef Graham Bower turn a pulpy Tuscan tomato soup ($3.99 small/$10.99 litre) into a sauce for their take-away chicken lasagna ($11.99), while the pair's classic chicken pot pie ($11.99) comes in a textbook béchamel laced with leeks.
And what better way to be stuck in front of the tube than with a retro TV dinner ($12.99) of thickly sliced brisket, horseradish-whipped mashed potatoes and sweetly roasted parsnips?
Only a rather ordinary apple-cranberry crumble and a nutmeg-heavy chocolate-banana bread pudding ($8.95) fail to impress - surprising when you learn that Connell's 'rental units founded the esteemed Ace Bakery in a similar spot on King West at Portland all those years ago.
She redeems her reputation with low-fat "superfood" muffins ($2.75) made with dried fruit, nuts and whole grains, as well as not so low-fat Oreo cookies ($1.25) and Joe Louis-style Whoopie pies ($2.50). And don't miss the warm strawberry jammies ($2.50), especially if you're a donut nut.
"Food has always been my passion," says Connell, who worked part-time at the family firm during school vacations.
She later graduated from the pastry program at the Cordon Bleu in Paris before spending a year at Selfridge's department store in London, where she came up with the Delica concept.
Did Mom and Dad - who sold Ace two years ago - ever offer any career advice?
"It's funny," laughs Connell. "They were always warning me, ‘Never go into the restaurant business!'"