Noontime Noshing

Competition heats up for downtown lunch havens

THE T SPOT (176 Yonge, at Queen, in the Bay’s lower concourse, 416-861-4727) Part gourmet take-away, part TVesque studio, this nearly impossible-to-find café in a department store offers stylish light lunches to eat in or take back to the office. In between bites, sign up for a cooking class with one of Toronto’s top chefs. Hint: it’s hidden behind the KitchenAid appliances. Complete meals for $12 per person, including all taxes, tip and an Italian soda. Open Monday to Saturday 10 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN

just try finding the t spot, a gourmet take-away and cooking school on the Bay’s lower concourse. I make three circuits of the entire floor before I discover its glass-door entrance behind the KitchenAid appliances.Not that Esther Benaim minds the anonymity. Thirteen years ago, when she was manager at Dufflet’s, she started regular cooking classes in the back room of that Queen West storefront. The series, called Great Cooks, proved so popular that a year ago, along with new partner Maggie McKeown, Benaim transferred the operation to the basement of the Bay. Here, the two created a stylish state-of-the-art kitchen to hold classes and corporate events.

As well, they opened a little café — the T Spot — in this secret space that seems miles away from the bustle of the Bay. At a half-dozen marble-topped tables, in-the-know foodies knock back noontime noshes like lasagna, a deconstructed dish that’s heavy on the veggies and low on carbs. On Tuesdays and Fridays, mango chicken — cellophane noodles, fruit, grilled chicken breast and sliced scallions in a smoky sesame-oil vinaigrette — quickly sells out to a loyal following (both $5.95).

A glass-fronted display case holds an ever-changing selection of sensational salads, many built on a healthy spinach base: pear wedges sautéed in maple syrup mixed with shards of sharp Parmesan and toasted honey pecans dried cranberries with blue Stilton or Red Delicious apple and avocado slices with thick bacon in lemony cream ($5.95/$7.95 for a combo of three). Dufflet desserts, sweet things like chocolate pecan butter tarts ($2.50) and vanilla cupcakes ($2), offer retro comfort.

Upcoming events include classes with the Gallery Grill’s Suzanne Baby and Canoe’s Anthony Walsh, TV shtick with Surreal Gourmet’s Bob Blummer, and a culinary tour of Chinatown with Greg Couillard (look for the complete schedule, dates and prices at

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