LEVITY (1331 Danforth, at Lamb, 416-463-0438) Laid-back neighbourhood café and bakery dishes up straightforward sandwiches, soups and salads in a relaxed room decked out with oddball kitsch. Very Vancouver. Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of house plonk. Open Wednesday to Friday 8 am to 6 pm, Saturday 9 am to 6 pm, Sunday 10 am to 5 pm, and for brunch Saturday and Sunday till 2 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Beer and wine. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
this weekend, taste of the dan-forth takes over Greektown. But the three-day food fest isn't only souvlaki on a stick. If you're not in the mood to don Greek sandals, sport a fisherman's hat and smash plates Zorba-style, you'll find many tasty alternatives a few blocks east of the festivities.These are low-key places like Amadou with its adventurous West African fare, sleepy El Sol and its unheard of -- for Toronto, anyway -- near-authentic Mexican manna, and no-frill Jean's, whose inexpensive Malay-Thai specials are no longer insider secrets. Add Levity to this list.
From the street, this café-slash-bakery-slash-art-gallery looks like other spots that dot the downtown landscape, funky neighbourhood nosheries featuring a modest daytime lineup of soups, salads and sandwiches.
Levity's 60s decor screams Vancouver -- a hippy-dippy clash of country French and kooky kitsch. Well-worn wooden floors offset butter walls and pale purple trim. A rusting circa-40s Schwinn bike dominates the window display. An 8-by-10 glossy of Stooge Moe Howard perches on a sill. Indie folk music plays on the CD player. Where's my Frisbee?
Before the Gucci-clad fabulosi among you run shrieking in the opposite direction, check out Levity's surprisingly sophisticated spread. Anchored by a buttery cornmeal pastry crust, a savoury slice of pizza-esque gallete ($5.95) is layered with multicoloured sweet pepper slivers, sun-dried tomatoes and gooey cheddar. The side salad, which shows up as an option with most dishes, finds the usual array of designer greens doused with creamy poppy-seed dressing that's both sweet and tart. Chic, even.
A steaming bowl of roasted veggie soup ($3.50) seems out of place during a summer heat wave. But a lightly curried egg salad sandwich on whole wheat, kicked with red onion (all sandwiches $4.25/$5.75 with salad), fits the sweltering weather perfectly. Finish with a house-baked 4-inch pecan tart ($2.95), a delicious treat that recalls a gigantic butter tart drizzled with chocolate.
Weekend brunch on Levity's small trellis-topped patio is another indulgence. Kids will dig the McLevity, a toasted poppy-seed bagel painted with sweet mango chutney and stuffed with cheddar and green apple. The somewhat more mature can go for Eggs Presso, cheesy whipped eggs sometimes mixed with raw peppers and onions ($4.95 plain/$5.25 with veggies/$1.25 extra for salad). They're served with a choice of bagel, toast, house-baked croissants or an additional-charge buttermilk scone (25 cents).
The only disappointment is Levity's namesake potatoes that side the egg variations. They're described on the menu as "Yukon golds and yams oven-baked in olive oil with Parmesan and rosemary." Instead, we're served barely cooked, herb-tossed halved baby red spuds.
A couple of blocks away, Sarah's Caf (1426 Danforth, at Monarch Park, 416-406-3121) reflects the many tastes of the avenue. Take one part Allen's (Irish pub ambience, Strongbow on tap, fiddle music), throw in some Greek grub (lamb chops with feta-crumbled salad and baked potato, $12.50) as well as incongruous pad thai ($12) and spring rolls ($4.75) that taste like deep-fried coleslaw and you've got Sarah's.
While it tastes right, Sarah's falafel ($6.50 with overdressed salad or first-rate fries) has an unusual Greek twist. Three dry patties come wrapped in -- not stuffed into -- a grilled pita layered with rice, lettuce, tabouleh, tzatiki and tahini. I nearly pierce my nose on the cellophane-tassled toothpicks that hold the whole thing together.
Though they're not offered as a side dish, the shoestring fries would make a great accompaniment to steamed mussels ($8, and two-for-one on Mondays) that come with a choice of seven different sauces. Bargain!
chef death watch!!
spice king greg couillard's no stranger to gossip. For nearly 30 years, Toronto's notorious bad-boy chef has been the subject of endless hearsay. Most of it's true, but this latest story has Couillard stumped. The acclaimed cook has supposedly hung up his pots and pans for good because he's gravely ill and has to undergo life-threatening medical treatment."I'm having a hernia operation next month," laughs the convivial Couillard.
He does confirm that he's left Sarkis after almost five years. The split's amicable. He plans to spend the rest of the summer relaxing and recuperating.
But he's not about to retire. Couillard resurfaces in September at Amber (119 Yorkville, at Hazelton, 416-926-9037), the subterranean supper club that's a late-night watering hole for visiting Hollywood celebs and local wannabes.
"I want Amber to be serious about food instead of somewhere to party," says restaurateur Toufik. "Greg's just the person to do that."