HOPE STREET CAFÉ (324 Lonsdale, at Russell Hill, 416-481-4834) Complete dinners for $55 per person (lunch $37), including all taxes, tip and a pint. Average main $22. Open daily 10 am to midnight, kitchen closes at 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. NN Rating: NN
Despite being part of affluent Forest Hill, Spadina Village is home to several unpretentious restaurants like Hope Street Café. Hope Street's menu includes historical info about the owner's grandfather, a restaurateur, professional footballer and social activist. Unfortunately, this worthwhile story fails to inspire the food.
The barbecue chicken salad ($11.95) - a mélange of tender chicken, crisp chunks of bacon and romaine - is a fine idea, but its barbecue sauce and ranch dressing are out-of-the-bottle bland. The home fries served with the eggs Benedict ($10.95) are very unhomey, and the hollandaise lacks richness.
The frozen fries ($2.50) tell the whole story. Hope Street seems the sort of place that'd serve fresh-cut fries. Instead, it offers up serviceable but undeniably mass-produced frozen ones.
I'm sure the good people of Forest Hill, one of the hotbeds of Toronto's competitive brunching scene, would be willing to pay what it takes to get a potato cut on-site.
Outsourcing dessert can be a sound decision for both the diner and the cook, but in the case of the candy apple cheesecake ($4.95), it confirms Hope Street's loyalty to the merely okay.
The kitchen is competent, but there are gaffes. A peppery bitterness dominates the plentiful gazpacho ($3.95). While the eggs in the Benedict are rubbery and overcooked, the service is underdone: plates go uncleared, water glasses unrefilled, somebody else's meal is delivered to our table. There's a difference between casual and blasé.
Its heartfelt history, late hours, Wednesday-night jazz and uneventful food make Hope Street Café feel like a good bar trapped in a restaurant's body.