MELA (7A Yorkville, at Yonge, 416-833-1851) Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a tea. Average main $7. Open Monday to Friday 9 am to 6 pm, Saturday 10 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Access: one step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Bloor and Yonge may be one of the coldest crossroads in town, and ever since Wanda's Pie in the Sky closed, it hasn't been an intersection known for its soul-warming grub either.
When Wanda Beaver abandoned the minuscule Yorkville luncheonette for richer climes uptown, long-time kitchen vet Robert Granata, a former Four Seasons pastry chef and Il Fornello major domo, moved in and turned the charming 12-seater into Mela, Toronto's only Italian vegetarian café. Open since December, it's a midtown treasure waiting to be discovered.
Any Italian restaurant is only as good as its house sauce, and Mela's is a winner, a beautifully rich and sweet thick tomato purée kissed with basil; it's proven so popular, Granata sells it by the bottle ($6.99/litre). Find it ladled over house-made tubes of stellar cannelloni stuffed with eggy ricotta and okra as well as hefty tortellini strewn with spinach and snow peas (both $7.50/all prices tax-inclusive).
We applaud roasted red and green bell peppers ($6) packed with organic quinoa and chopped portobello, splashed with quality olive oil. However, we're less than impressed with Mela's daily soup 'n' sandwich combo ($8.25), today two thin slices of baked eggplant parmigiana on house-baked pumpernickel, sided with exceptionally bland curried cauliflower in desperate need of salt.
But Granata really steps up to the plate with Mela's desserts, particularly his gingery date loaf loaded with walnuts ($2.25).
And make sure to check out his terrific Sicilian cannoli ($2.75), a too rarely seen old-school classic thick with cream, candied citrus peel and occasional chunks of chocolate. Don't bother getting them to go, though, as their thin, brittle shells disintegrate at the slightest provocation.
But what a delicious mess!