THE COFFEE MILL (99 Yorkville, at Bellair, 416-920-2108) Complete meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of house red. Average main $12. Open daily 10 am to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: six steps to door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Yorkville has a history with celebrity that dates back before the film festival.
Back in the pre-hippie beatnik 60s, Bloor West's Lothian Mews was the Hazelton Lanes of its day, a courtyard development of fashionable shops and booksellers whose main stage was the Coffee Mill, a post-revolution Hungarian restaurant that catered to Toronto's bohemian set.
If it weren't for the Coffee Mill, Yorkville likely wouldn't be the haunt of the famous and fabulously influential it is today.
The Mews was demolished back in 1984 along with the magnificent University Theatre to make way for a parking lot and eventually a Pottery Barn. The restaurant moved a block north into Cumberland Court.
Like Peter Pan in the 70s or Cibo in the 80s, the Coffee Mill wasn't so much about the cuisine - solid Mitteleuropean student grub - as it was about the scene. Why, until the Coffee Mill opened its patio, it was illegal to drink outdoors in sophisticated Hogtown. Especially on a Sunday!
Today the busy room serves up a big helping of showbiz nostalgia alongside its chicken paprikash. Its warm, wood-panelled walls are lined with 8-by-10 glossies of some of its most renowned regulars from back in the day: Margaret Atwood, Al Waxman, Peter C. Newman, a pre-Conrad Barbara Amiel. Clearly, this ain't the Drake.
But even those of us from less celebrated eras can appreciate the Coffee Mill's no-nonsense food.
A small bowl of goulash ($5.75) brimming with tender pink pork, toothsome carrot and doughy dumplings in sweet, red paprika-kissed broth comes sided with an old-school stack of buttered rye.
Cabbage rolls ($10.25) are massive, densely packed with ground pork redolent of caraway and sided with both tart sauerkraut and fabulously retro mashed potatoes that are garnished with a period parsley sprig. A pair of pleasant Debrenci knockers ($8) arrive plated alongside creamy potato salad completed with baby peas 'n' carrots. A request for mustard brings an apple-shaped ceramic pot of the nippy stuff.
As we're leaving, we notice Toronto Star arts flack Martin Knelman finishing his lunch (our sources say he dines here daily) as NOW's associate entertainment editor, Glenn Sumi, between film festival press screenings, tucks into a tuna salad sandwich across the way.
"I haven't eaten here since I was in university!" he swears, avoiding our camera.