ESTHER'S SOUP KITCHEN (2 Bloor West, at Yonge, in Cumberland Terrace, 416-963-6667) Complete lunches for $13 per person, including all taxes, tip and a lassi. Open Monday to Saturday 10 am to 5 pm. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: washrooms on lower level accessible by elevator. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
If you're in the market for healthy takeout, you should know that Esther's soups contain no oil, butter, cream or cornstarch.
What an anomaly in the world of downtown fast food. Here, you can eat a lunch that is - and doesn't just purport to be - homemade.
Nourishing chicken noodle soup ($5.30) is a pretty, clear broth, if somewhat bland. It's full of shell-shaped pasta, large pieces of chicken and sprinkled with fresh parsley.
The pumpkin and sweet potato purée is almost too thick to be called a soup. And for all the rich, deep flavours of both these beta-carotene-loaded veggies, it has only a muddled oomph - possibly more the fault of low-quality produce than of the cook's skill.
The same can't be said for the cauliflower and potato purée, which has a better consistency but worse flavour. What could easily be a silken, pearly soup pungent with broccoli's albino relative is overwhelmed by dried thyme. A friend subjected to a blind taste test couldn't even identify cauliflower as an ingredient. As an herbed potato purée it would do just fine.
The mushroom and orzo soup would also be improved by reducing the dried thyme. The stewy lentil soup, on the other hand, is delightfully seasoned with onion, carrot and celery and is a hearty meal unto itself.
By far the pinnacle of Esther's creations, if you can get some before it sells out, is the mulligatawny. Spicy, full of rice, carrot and potato pieces and loaded with shredded chicken, its so much better than the other options, you could stop there and be convinced you'd discovered the best soup in Toronto.
Soups other than the chicken noodle cost $6.30, and a slice of baguette, avec or sans butter, is offered with all.
If you're not in the mood for a piping bowl of comfort or require more fuel, opt for a special such as the chicken curry ($8.65).
A large plate of rice, two chicken pieces slathered in sauce and served with basmati rice, yummy curried potatoes and chickpeas is filling and more than passable, especially since it's good to go in less than two minutes.