SNEAKY DEE'S (431 College, at Bathurst, 416-603-3090) Divey, smoke-filled grungeteria dishes up inexpensive and amply portioned no-frills Tex-Mex grub. Don't expect North 44 -- but, hey, the bars just closed, you're loaded and few other kitchens are still open. Complete meals for $13, including all taxes, tip and a domestic brewski. Open Monday to Thursday 11 am to 4 am, Friday 11 am to 5 am, Saturday 9 am to 5 am, Sunday 9 am to 4 am. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Although all eyes and ears will be tuned to NXNE's multiple stages this weekend, struggling musicians -- and cash-strapped fans -- still need to satisfy the most primal of appetites: food, dude.
A few superstars and record company execs can splash out at the likes of Susur and Zinc, but the hoi polloi want grub that costs less than a set of guitar strings.Most struggling musicians only see a fancy restaurant dining room as they pass through it on the way to their day job washing dishes. But they'll feel right at home at Sneaky Dee's (aka Sneaky Disease), a tacky taqueria on the fringe of the otherwise fashionable College strip. The grungy watering hole took its name as a spin on Honest Ed's, its Bloor West neighbour when it first opened 16 years ago.
Little changed after its relocation south in the early 90s. Local art star Fiona Smyth's swirling Old West psychedelia still competes for wall space with graffiti like "Drink to the demise of capitalism!" Blue clouds of stale cigarette smoke hang over student types inhaling huge platters of no-frills Tex-Mex standards like huevos rancheros ($4.95) sided with salsa and salty, over-processed guacamole.
Not that anyone notices. Pitchers are cheap, the tunes cool -- Tom Waits to the Pixies and back again -- and the place stays open till at least 4 every morning. If you're loaded and need to soak up the suds with a major loading of carbs, Sneaky's massive King's Crown nachos ($9.95 and big enough for four) will put that hangover on hold. Weighing over 2 pounds, this mountain of white tortilla chips comes layered with good, lumpy refried beans, ground beef, salsa roja, raw tomato and Spanish onion, sweet red and hellishly hot jalapeño peppers, melted sharp Monterey Jack and a final assault of sour cream and guac. Afterwards, take two aspirins, a litre of water and go to bed.
A few blocks away, in Kensington Market, Planet Kensington (1971/2 Baldwin, 416-341-0310) still waves the punk flag 25 years after the fact. Middle-aged rockers with mohawks mix with barely legal squeegee kids dressed in Punk's Not Dead T-shirts in a claustrophobic all-black space accented with leopard skin. If it's Sunday and you're feeling really adventurous -- or foolish -- fix an attitudinal sneer on yer gob, grab a bar stool and ask to see the brunch menu.
Start with a Seizure ($3.50), a stiff cocktail take on a Caesar in a tumbler rimmed with salt and pepper, filled with Clamato and ice, a healthy shake of Worcestershire, a squeeze of lemon and a generous grating of horseradish. Oh, and vodka, too.
Eggs Benedict ($6.50) is far better than you expect in a dive like this, a perfectly poached egg on an English muffin ladled with lemony hollandaise and snips of fresh dill. And an omelette ($6.50) stuffed with creamy Woolwich goat cheese (chèvre to the chi-chi) and slivered roasted almonds is a superb combo sided with grease-free spoon-style home fries. Open "til 2 am.
Around the corner, at the long gone and notorious Quoac Te, I once witnessed an early performance of the Cowboy Junkies in front of an audience of eight. The club's owner, William (no last names, please), went on to open Java on Queen West and, recently, the Red Room (444 Spadina, at College, 416-929-9964). A few doors south of the El Mocambo's neon palm, the (not surprisingly) red room has a deliberately dilapidated look that suggests suburban rec room rather than the intended fin de siècle Saigon ambience.The reasonably priced and globe-trotting lineup -- nachos ($6.95), pirogies ($4.95), pad thai ($5.95) -- is nearly identical to Java's, although some prices are higher or lower.
Quite acceptable Singapore Noodles is a mix of sauteed noodles, a half-dozen fair-sized grilled shrimp, scrambled egg, pepper strips and an incongruous garnish of crushed peanuts.
The same number of shrimp show up on Crispy Chow Mein, an adequate tangle of hoisin-coated noodles, broccoli, snow peas and mushrooms (both $4.95).
But a small, tepid bowl of beige puree tastes of instant potato powder despite its claim to be cream of broccoli soup ($3.50, with garlic bread). The only green in view is a partially submerged parsley sprig that's more a miniature stump mired in some soupy swamp.
One bite of my marinated pork sandwich ($3.95/$4.95 with soup) and I wish this otherwise tasty dish hadn't been smothered in pickled banana peppers, hot dog mustard, hamburger relish and mayo. I only finish half, but have heartburn for the next 24 hours. Open 'til 2 am.
The eel thing
i'm a fanatic for barbecued eel,and always order it at Japanese joints. So when I discover curried eel ($8.50 small/$11 large) listed at Pho Hung (350 Spadina, at St. Andrew, 416-593-4274), I have to try the Vietnamese version. Big mistake. I find large cross-sections of the steamed snakelike-fish -- bones and all -- hidden under a mess of bitter rau om leaves. One bite suffices.
While some of the brightly lit and spotless spot's offerings might seem challenging to some -- goat fondue ($12), fried frog ($7.50/$10.50) -- others, like rice noodles with mixed veg ($6.50) or cold rice-paper-wrapped shrimp rolls ($3.50/$6.25), are less demanding.Think escargot, and snail vermicelli pho ($5/$6) isn't nearly as daunting, even if the little critters are as chewy as erasers. The delicious chili-fired, seafood-rich broth brims with thick rice "spaghetti," grilled tomato and thinly sliced galangal, all garnished with raw bean sprouts, minty chrysanthemum leaves and lime. And now that summer's here, Pho Hung's large, partially covered patio stays open every night except Monday until 5 am. In the words of one-hit wonder Shaun Cassidy, "That's rock and roll."