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Brad Long meticulously preps the tomato salad
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Chef/owner Brad Long shows off the tomato salad
CAFE BELONG (550 Bayview, at Pottery Road, 416-901-8234, cafebelong.ca) Complete meals for $50 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of Ontario wine. Average main $19. Open daily from 8 am, full menu from 11 am to 10 pm. Closed holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
The last time I attempted to hump the Stumpjumper to the Saturday farmers' market at the Brick Works, I ended up stranded in the Rosedale Valley at the bottom of a cliff in Hal Jackman's backyard. It was either that or take my chances on the Bayview extension, quite possibly the most bike-unfriendly road in town.
To make sure that I arrive at the environmental site's much-delayed Café Belong in one piece this drizzly Sunday morn, I've enlisted the services of my friend Shirley and, more crucially, her Smart car. Pulling into the former brick factory, we find an almost empty parking lot.
What a difference from Saturday - no tour buses, no stilt-walkers, no reflexologists and no mob of market-goers with their dogs? So many eco-minded mutts show up every Saturday that management have had to post proper rules of canine etiquette, "Keep your dog away from produce" and "Do not let your dog leave its mark on any structure" being just two of the doggy dos and don'ts.
Though the glass-walled café will be packed by 2 pm, at noon, the xx-seat room is virtually vacant except for the dozens of pricey product-placement casseroles that line the resto's shelves. Soon enough, we're sipping glasses of raspberry iced tea ($3.50) and laying waste to a purple-striped heirloom salad ($12) on a bed of nutty steamed barley dressed with pepper sprouts and English cucumber in minty sheep's-milk yogurt dressing.
Shirley thumbs-ups her milk-braised lamb shoulder ($19), the stewed meat's braising liquid thickened into a sauce with the addition of a few crisply fried sage leaves and a heap of wholesome spelt underneath. My Sweet and Sticky Pork - today a considerable pan-seared slab of unctuous belly glazed in maple syrup and apple cider vinegar over oven-roasted apples dressed with summer watercress ($17) - is so gorgeously fatty, I can feel my arteries hardening just by looking at it.
Taking one for the team, I also order the vegan Moroccan pea stew ($15), a great steaming tajine of overly al dente chickpeas, diced root veg and a spice rack's worth of nutmeg and cloves. Though no doubt ecologically correct, a dish this dastardly could turn a diehard veg-head into a carnivore. A sweet potato gratin ($6) on the side offers little opposition.
But executive chef Brad Long - ex-Air Canada Centre, the CN Tower's 360 and TV's Restaurant Makeover - and crew are quickly back on track with airy chocolate mousse sandwiched between two chocolate cookies. Served on a plate artfully smeared with spicy chocolate ganache, it's finished with an edible nasturtium. And no trip to the Brick Works is complete without a round or three of wild Ontario blueberry cheesecake ($8) made with super-creamy Monforte Dairy chèvre.
On our way out, we stock up at the Café's adjacent take-away - "no bottled water!" - on retro butter tarts ($4), maple bacon scones ($3) and terrific buttermilk biscuits layered with smoked local char, wilted spinach and scrambled egg ($9). I imagine that if I lived on the Bridle Path and my daily commute into the core took me past the Brick Works, I'd be in here every morning.
But then, I'd have to learn how to drive.