SALVADOR DARLING (1237 Queen West, at Gwynne, 416-534-0488) Complete lunches for $15, including all taxes, tip and a coffee. Average main $9. Open Monday to Friday 8:30 am to 5 pm, Saturday 10 am to 5 pm. Unlicensed. Rating: NNN
There's more than one way to get stuffed at Salvador Darling. You can gorge yourself on substantial sandwich-and-salad combos for under 10 bucks at this eccentric Parkdale coffee house/café or you can end up like the taxidermic beaver gnawing a log on Darling's shelf.
Call me kooky, but tucking into an Ace baguette spread with horseradish mayo and piled with deli-style roast beef and balsamic-caramelized onion ($7 with salad) while getting the beady eyeball from a lifelike dead rodent gives me the creeps.
A funky clothing boutique when it first opened three years ago, Darling has since evolved into the kind of neighbourhood hangout where a regular can order a "serious kick-ass double latte" ($3) and no one blinks, stuffed peacock included. And as long as you're fine with snakes (the skin of a 12-foot anaconda is displayed under the glass tabletop of one of the gallery space's two communal dining room tables), there's much to love about this offbeat eatery.
The entree-sized Darling Salad, a fresh mix of regulation organic greens, properly fatty prosciutto and cubed cantaloupe tossed with crumbled cashews, chèvre and pomegranate seeds, sports the same lemony bottled dressing that tops the side salads served with panini like smoked turkey with avocado and Swiss ($9).
And the menu is correct in stating that the tuna in the yummy mixed bean salad (both $8) is Italian even if it only comes from a can labelled Unico and is locally sourced from the Price Chopper around the corner.
Darling, whose decor is as surreal as its name - a velvet Victorian settee sits next to a Philippe Starck chair under an art deco mural lit by a 60s mod chandelier - looks more like a lounge than a lunch spot. In fact, owners Tanya Grossi and Alan Graham have applied for a liquor licence and plan to start offering dinner once they build a kitchen. The menu?
"We're thinking of doing a lot of game," says Graham.
Let's hope it's not stuffed.