SHAI'S CAFE AND EATERY (180 Baldwin, at Kensington, 416-597-0080) Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a coffee. Open Monday to Friday 8 am to 6 pm, Saturday 7:15 am to 6:30 pm, Sunday 7:15 am to 6 pm. Unlicensed. Access: two steps up to the door, four steps up to washrooms. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
I remember thinking when shai's opened in 2003, "Why go there for coffee when Moonbean is around the corner?" So I never bothered to check it out.
Now that I have, I'd say the same thing. If you're going just for coffee, Moonbean is better; it has more ambience and a constant buzz. But Shai's is the place to go if you want a cheap, decent lunch, and if weather doesn't permit eating on the sweet back patio you don't mind sitting in a dim, shadowy room.
Strangely, the BLT ($3.99), which everyone knows stands for bacon, lettuce and tomato, arrives sans tomato. The staff is very apologetic when I point it out, and offers tomatoes immediately.
We ask for the tuna sandwich ($3.99) without mustard, but it comes with French's yellow thankfully not so much that it kills the taste of the creamy tuna salad.
Next we try the gooey pizza sandwich ($3.99), a grilled cheese stuffed with pepperoni pieces and slathered with tomato sauce.
If you're hankering for this combo of ingredients, a classic pizza slice makes more sense, but the sandwich is still tasty. With it we order a side portion of chicken gumbo, the soup of the day ($2.50). Filled with okra, chicken, rice and other veggies, it's hearty and pleasantly spiced.
Just as plain Jane yet as satisfying as Shai's lunch are the all-day breakfast dishes like the delish western omelette ($3.99), with plenty o' ham, and the more interesting aloo paratha ($5.99), scrambled eggs served on spiced-potato-stuffed flat bread with mango chutney.
Besides having great coffee, Shai's also makes a mean mocha banana smoothie ($3.99) that's a more appealing dessert than its industry-style baked goods shipped all the way from British Columbia. Funny thing to do considering there's a bakery next door.