BELLEVUE CAFE (61A Bellevue, at Nassau, 647-340-8224) Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a coffee. Average main $12. Open Tuesday to Sunday 9 am to 5 pm, lunch from 11 am. Closed Monday. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, but tight seating, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
The squirrel is best approached with an empty stomach and an open mind.
That's one of the featured sandwiches at the Bellevue Café, the recently launched 20-seat - plus another eight on the patio - lunch, brunch and breakfast spot in Kensington Market. We don't know whether to laugh or gag. Peanut butter, cucumber, hot sauce, cheese and canned sardines ($10)? On rye yet?
"You either love it or hate it," says co-owner and chef Joseph Senisi, who came up with the idea for the sandwiches while hitchhiking across the country. "They're compact and loaded with protein and omega-3s."
And oddly delish. At first bite, the crunch of cuke and sprouts gives way to sharp cheddar and smoky sardine. But when the peanut butter and fiery Sriracha kick in, so do the seemingly disparate taste connections - think Thai by way of a Jewish deli, the sardines adding the umami of fish sauce.
The sandwich's side of soup is just as clever, today a brilliantly spicy gazpacho of cool watermelon and beets swirled with scallion and Greek olive oil ($4 à la carte). Such skill comes as no surprise when you learn that Senisi's a 17-year vet of such esteemed kitchens as Joso's and Arlequin.
Nicole Scherbina (left) and Eric Fisher lunch on Bellevue's patio.
The Bellevue Café is a much simpler operation, just two small rooms and a scattering of tables, a Sam Cooke CD inadvertently stuck on A Change Is Gonna Come. Coffee - a secret blend imported from New York City - is strong, and servers are quick to take orders but slow on delivery, understandable given the limited facilities.
Worth the wait, the house's eponymous 'wich turns out to be a somewhat more conventional meeting of blackened BC snapper, Black Forest ham, cheddar and Swiss dressed with lettuce, tomato and red onion on a mayo-spread kaiser ($12, sided with soup, salad or black beans). We opt for the beans, a garlicky lime-kissed purée topped with diced avocado and tomato.
The 12-year-old in our party has no problem polishing off a plate of correctly al dente farfalle and kidney beans in shaved parmigiano and fresh marjoram ($11), especially when he's told its lush San Marzano tomato sauce is spiked with Newcastle Brown ale. And save your fork, kid, cuz there's pie: co-owner Ryan Thompson's sister-in-law's strawberry and rhubarb in retro latticed crust ($4) to be exact, a brave move for a resto located around the corner from Wanda's Pie in the Sky.
A tasty gazpacho accompanies the Belle Sandwich.
Brunch begins with a round of chocolate, banana and jalapeño smoothies ($4) - "melted Fudgesicle!" the unison response - and a Fish Fry ($14) of pan-seared rainbow trout coupled with a salad of dandelion, broccoli and kale in white vinaigrette (Greens with Envy, $8 à la carte). Chef's flank steak and eggs ($15) finds them medium-rare and sunny-side up, sided with sautéed apples, creamy potatoes dauphinois and a terrific Texan's biscuit. But why a Texan?
"Because a Texan bakes them," says Senisi of weekend pastry chef Caleb Cullen, a grad of the Culinary Institute of America.
Tom Jones might disagree, but the Unusual ($12) certainly lives up to its name, its more familiar plating of diner-style eggs, Grace Meats' sausage and whole wheat toast offset by pickled beets, sweetly stewed berries and Korean kimchee. For a neighbourhood that's both traditional and slightly off the wall, Bellevue Café's right on the market.