Coffee Shop @ If Lounge 1212 Dundas West, at Lakeview, 416-588-4900. Complete meals for $18 per person, including all taxes, tip and a domestic lager. Average main $8. Open Tuesday to Sunday 9 am to 9 pm, bar nightly till 2 am. Closed Monday. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
What if you opened a hip upscale lounge and nobody came? That's exactly the dilemma facing brother-and-sister act Paul and Nancy Coelho, who opened If Lounge on a stretch of soon-to-be trendy Dundas West three years ago. Though it made an initial splash with the late-night cocktail crowd, If hasn't really found an audience since. Worse, locals don't know what to make of the place. All shiny chrome, exposed brick and curvy banquettes, If is perhaps a little too glam for a neighbourhood where the primary dining destinations are a KFC and a spoon that specializes in the appetizing hybrid that is Portuguese Chinese cuisine.
Last April, the Coelhos went all out to attract new customers by adding first-time chef Elena Simunovic to their team and instigating an all-day menu that runs from 9 in the morning till 9 at night. To confuse matters, they've called the concept Coffee Shop, but it's not a coffee shop.
On a recent Tuesday morning, I've got the joint to myself. As the late autumn sun streams through a wall of French doors that lead to a lovely patio on a leafy parkette, I scan a laminated card artfully pre-stained with a coffee ring and zero in on its very last item: Coffee Shop mini-burgers ($9).
Gentrified junk food, these diminutive upmarket takes on White Castle sliders tiny hamburgers so greasy, chewing isn't required are all the rage in Manhattan. But will Toronto get the joke?
Likely not, but no one's going to laugh at these babies. A beefy trio of 3-ounce medium-rare black Angus patties served on custom-baked miniature pada buns, the first comes topped with ripe Roma tomato, fresh buffalo bocconcini, garlicky mayo and a basil leaf, the second with crumbled feta and sliced English cucumber, while the third arrives dolloped with wasabi aoli and crunchy tempura batter bits.
And if that doesn't convince them, these dynamite burgers come additionally sided, like most mains here, with mesclun dressed in a mustard sesame vinaigrette and halved baby new potatoes sautéed alongside sweet red bell pepper and roasted garlic clove. Count me converted.
Simunovic's cinnamon and cardamom biscuits ($3) are not to be missed either, a buttered threesome of spice-scented scones plated with ripe strawberry and mint leaf. Her banana-stuffed 'n' toasted pecan-tossed French toast made with My Market Bakery's wonderful challah, and vanilla-bean waffles sloshed with blueberry maple syrup (both $7) are so rich, if you threw a scoop of ice cream on 'em they'd be dessert.
Coffee Shop's tasty take on the BLT finds a chewy Ital-style baguette palatably stuffed with smoky, somewhat salty prosciutto, crisp raw arugula and thickly sliced tomato.
And its delish Thai interpretation of the lowly chicken sandwich sees a generous slab of lightly grilled breast rubbed with red curry paste and garnished with crunchy red onion and mango salsa (both $8 with salad and/or spuds).
Only the daily omelette ($6 with sides) disappoints. More of an eggy pancake, it's folded over ho-hum supermarket sausage and some caramelized onion. But why go coffee shop when you can do Coffee Shop especially those fabulous mini-burgers in style?