Ginger 3 (546 Church, at Wellesley, 416-413-1053) Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a house-made iced tea. Average main $6. Open Sunday to Wednesday 11 am to 11 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am to 3 am. Licensed. Delivery. Access: five steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
We've been lovin' ginger for seven years. NOW's 1999 Pride Guide brought first word of Ginger, a terrific pan-Asian spot on Yonge that's been giving similar Saigon sub joints a run for their banh mi ever since.
A satellite - Ginger 2 - followed in the legendary Lindy's further down the strip three years later, and now the family-run franchise has spawned a third Ginger in the heart of the Church and Wellesley Village.
The site comes with a considerable history. Former home of the Second Cup and its infamous steps, the cavernous room has been transformed into a tropical paradise complete with cocktail bar, pale blond wood accents and frosted glass, the exception a lurid psychedelic mural that looks as if it could have been painted by George Smitherman during his "party drugs" phase.
Like its cousins, this Ginger has a self-serve cafeteria set-up that can be a bit unnerving at first. But servers are helpful, and once you've mastered the drill, the latest Ginger is a snap. Better still, almost everything in the lineup costs less than 10 bucks.
Begin with the house ice tea ($1.95), a brewed-to-order glass cooled with crushed ice and flavoured with sliced lemon and mint leaf. Most of the raw rice-paper-wrapped salad rolls will be familiar to Ginger regulars - faux crab with buttery avocado, crunchy jicama with crushed peanuts (all $1.75) - but skewers of beef satay wrapped in aromatic betel leaf ($5.95 with deep-fried spring roll and veggie-garnished vermicelli) is a first-time starter. Two can easily make a meal of them when they're paired with a sizable bowl of licorice-scented beef noodle pho ($4.95 small/$6.25 large).
Perhaps it's the fancy new digs, but Ginger's price points are inching into two digits for the first time ever. As tasty as the dish is, tender flakes of salmon steamed in banana leaf, layered with sweet red pepper strips and grilled Asian eggplant in mild coconut curry ($12.95), seems a bit steep when compared to an equally generous portion of lightly battered whitefish ($7.25) doused with lime and finely chopped bird chilies and ginger, sided with jasmine rice and green mango salad.
And who can resist ordering what the takeout menu calls Asian-style Fish & Chimp, even if it turns out to be heavily battered cod with bland taro chips?
Local resto empires have been built on pad thai, and Ginger's version (both $7.25) starts off better than most, topped with two slabs of nicely char-broiled boneless chicken breast and four toonie-sized skewered 'n' grilled shrimp. Sadly, what's underneath appears to be little more than rice stick pinkened by ketchup and further sweetened with sugar. Here it is again under cubes of deep-fried tofu al dente and red onion brushed with a honey- tamarind glaze, or teriyaki-esque beef kababs.
A splash of the house hot sauce - a salty Chinese chili sauce with an unpleasant vinegar undertow - doesn't improve matters. Some Sriracha, please.
One of the few items on the card that hasn't done time in the deep-fryer, ultra-rare slices of thinly sliced beef stir-fried with carrot, cauliflower and broccoli swim in a refreshingly light ginger gravy ($5.75). Too bad it's plated on a bed of deep-fried chow mein noodles that have all of the nutritional value of styrofoam packing pellets. But we're hugely impressed with Ginger's curried lamb ($7.25), especially once we get it back to the Test Kitchen and add a whack of ginger, garlic, onion and baby bok choy to the plain Jane meat 'n' potato stew.
Even if they're nearly twice the price of the sensational subs found at Rose Café (324 Broadview, at Gerrard, 416-406-9905), Ginger's banh mi are still a bargain, though anyone with a dread of pork byproducts might want to steer well clear of the Viet Supreme (all subs $2.95), seeing as it contains "jambon," fresh bacon, sausage and pâté.
But at 3 am, when the bars close and the party drugs wear off, is there a sweeter meal deal around?