Having trouble thinking up an all-encompassing handle for your new eatery? The solution's so obvious, it's easy. N"We had a party and brain-stormed for three or four hours," explains first-time restaurateur Peter Morrison. "We came up with a long list of names and it just came out of the woodwork. It perfectly describes our attitude, the laid-back way we run the place." Funky luncheonette And so, a year ago, Morrison's funky Parkdale luncheonette at the very end of Queen West was dubbed, with apologies to Lionel Ritchie and the Commodores, Easy. The spot's connection to music is plain to see. The storefront's pale- grey walls are hung with Jeff Wilkinson's large Cibachrome photographic portraits of local musicians like Scotty Karate, Leanne de Labottiniere and Luke Jackson.
Not only does Jackson wait on tables here between gigs, but there's also a sandwich on Easy's menu named in his honour (bacon, tomato and avocado on whole-grain toast, $6.50). And look! There's singer-songwriter Dan Bryk in the flesh, surrounded by cronies celebrating his recent CD release.
Over the CD player, smooth as sandpaper, Tom Waits follows the atmospheric heartbreak of Ron Sexsmith. Easy's that kind of place.
The Literary Device and I grab a seat near Easy's large front window, pulling up a pair of brushed-aluminum garden chairs. From the all-day breakfast roster, we split roasted tomato salad ($4.50), a mix of garden-variety mesclun -- fresh basil, radicchio, chicory, arugula, red leaf, Swiss chard -- doused in a raspberry-balsamic vinaigrette and topped with thick slices of oven-roasted tomato and Parmesan shards.
I follow with Huevos Divorciados ($9.50), a pair of sunny-side-up fried eggs -- one sided with mild red salsa, the other with a tangy green tomatillo version -- alongside a scoop of cool, refried black beans, chunky guacamole studded with tomato, first-rate rosemary-scented home fries and slices of parsley-flecked buttered-then-grilled baguette for spreading with homemade ancho chili jam. This sweet 'n' sour spread's so good, I pick up a jar for home ($4.95).
The Device continues with artichoke and tuna panino ($6.25 with salad or home fries), a lovely two-fisted sandwich on a lightly grilled bun holding barely oiled artichoke hearts and chunked tuna slathered in nutty basil pesto.
Next visit, we both begin with soup. Mine's a fabulously fresh, clear tomato broth swimming with whole basil leaves, while the Device adores her navy bean (both $3.50). Instead of the usual stodgy porridge she's expecting, this autumnal pottage thick with carrots, onions and Italian parsley is very lively.
Reasonably priced Though far from listless, my gal pal's grilled portobello frittata ($8.50 with salad or home fries) doesn't offer the same illicit thrill as Divorced Eggs.
Topped with the meaty mushroom, the eggs come feathered with spinach and drizzled with the dreaded balsamic. My retro turkey club -- smoked cold cuts, bacon, pink tomato and greens on Texas toast ($7.25 with salad or home fries) -- recalls the greasy spoon classic, right down to the tasselled toothpicks that hold the quartered triple-layers together.
Paying the bill at the counter, we notice a sign saying that Easy now serves dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings. The reasonably priced lineup includes mains like a 12-ounce grilled strip loin with fries and roasted veggies ($13) and tomato-sauced Sicilian gnocchi ($9.50). We'll be back.
As will the woman sitting at the next table. Expressing a wish to taste the banana latte smoothie ($4.25), this first-visit patron tells the casually efficient server that, after her filling lunch, she's afraid she won't be able to finish the drink if she orders it. The server brings her a small amount to try anyway. The charge? On the house. The result? A customer for life.
See? It's not that hard to run a successful restaurant, after all. In fact, it's Easy.
Not so easy
"Table for.?" the host blurts out.
Well, there's only me so far. But my friend, gardening guru Marjorie Harris, shouldn't be too long.
And I do, past several unoccupied booths that line the wall of Over Easy (208 Bloor West, 922-2345), an upscale bruncheteria near Yorkville. My guide and I rush past many more uninhabited tables, until I'm finally seated in the farthest corner of the restaurant, directly opposite an open kitchen and under the roar of exhaust fans. I'd rather have a booth.
"Those are for three customers or more," he sniffs.
But this is a table for four, I point out. Not any more, he answers, separating the pair of pushed-together deuces by 2 inches.
Rolls eyes Marjorie soon joins me, rolling her eyes at my seating arrangement. We start with cobb salad ($9.75), a sad assortment of leaf lettuce, grilled chicken breast, hard-boiled egg, avocado, pale tomatoes and a block of blue cheese, all dressed in thin, listless mayo.
"Interesting" is her pronouncement on her corned beef hash ($8.25), a near-stew of brisket strips, mushy eggplant and potato hash decked with two poached eggs.
My lobster club ($16.50) comes on toasted multi-grain. Layered over it are wispy onion rings -- they'd be better described as onion threads. And while the accompanying crisp shoelace frites are lovely to look at, they're so thin they get stuck between the tines of my fork.
OK, Over Easy's only been open a couple of months, but some of the staff -- one especially -- don't seem familiar with the basics of working with the public.
Maybe this restaurant racket's not as easy as it looks.
(1645 Queen West, 537-4893) (1645 Queen West, 537-4893) (1645 Queen West, 537-4893)
Funky luncheonette amidst the junk shoppes of Parkdale. All-day brunch every day, soup 'n' sandwich combos, as well as after-5 pasta, steaks and stir-fries make this laid-back joint a hit with musicians and artists alike. Complete meals for $15 per person including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Open Tuesday to Thursday 9:30 am to 5 pm, Friday and Saturday 9:30 am to 10 pm, and Sunday 9:30 am to 6 pm. Closed Monday and holidays. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Barrier-free. Rating: Funky luncheonette amidst the junk shoppes of Parkdale. All-day brunch every day, soup 'n' sandwich combos, as well as after-5 pasta, steaks and stir-fries make this laid-back joint a hit with musicians and artists alike. Complete meals for $15 per person including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Open Tuesday to Thursday 9:30 am to 5 pm, Friday and Saturday 9:30 am to 10 pm, and Sunday 9:30 am to 6 pm. Closed Monday and holidays. Fully licensed. Smoke-free. Barrier-free. Rating: NNN