Owner Maggie Kay, with daughters Karine Khachakjian (left) and Stephanie Khachakjian, turns on the charm at Karine’s.
KARINE’S (113 McCaul, at Dundas West, 416-591-0863) Complete meals for $12 per person, including all taxes, tip and unlimited refills of tea or coffee. Average main $8. Open Monday to Friday 8 am to 9 pm, Saturday 10 am to 6 pm, Sunday 10 am to 7:30 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
"I'll do it any way you want me to, baby," purrs Karine's Maggie Kay seductively. "Just tell me how you like it, gorgeous, and it's all yours."
Some come-on! All I've asked of the effervescent owner of the mostly vegetarian café in the food court of the Village by the Grange across from the AGO and OCAD is that she put the dressing of my Zesty Bean Salad ($5.99) on the side, and she's got me blushing brighter than an heirloom beet.
And it's not just me. Kay's like that with all of her customers, a compact dynamo in yoga togs who's all about the love. She's also a savvy entrepreneur, having built Maggie's - her eponymous College Street breakfast spot - into a mini-chain before leaving the business three years ago. She quietly launched Karine's in cahoots with her daughter, for whom the resto's named, last fall.
Since Kay built her rep on bacon and eggs, she'd be a fool not to serve them at her new joint, even if it is pitched as a primarily vegan beanery. Hard-liners may be reassured by knowing that the little meat offered gets cooked on a separate grill.
But who needs peameal when there's Ful ($8.99), the cumin-kicked fava bean puree dressed with dill that's a popular morning meal throughout the Middle East and northeast Africa? Or free-range egg-white omelettes ($8) wrapped around grilled red pepper, tomato and zucchini and sided with whole wheat toast and home fries dusted with chopped garlic?
Like most mains, both come plated with a mess o' organic mesclun generously splashed with lemony vinaigrette and more fruit - today a veritable tsunami of strawberries, star fruit, dragon fruit, watermelon and papaya - than a Liza Minnelli concert. Unlimited coffee and tea refills, too.
Eggs Benny gets interpreted several ways, including the Oceanic, liberally layered with smoked salmon, and a vegan tofu version (both $8.99 with fruit, salad and/or fries) topped with sun-dried tomato pesto.
I'm not a fan of the mushy potato patties Kay uses instead of English muffins - how about latkes instead? - although they'd be terrific as stuffing in a festive tofurkey. But even Elvis would be happy with a stack of syrup-drenched peanut butter and banana waffles ($7.99), especially when finished with rashers of streaky bacon ($1.75 extra).
Call Fatoush ($7.99) the Middle East in a salad, a riot of ripped leaf lettuce, parsley, English cucumber, pale tomato, purple cabbage and pita croutons in a heavy oregano vinaigrette. It'd be fantastic with a few freshly fried falafel (Kay doesn't offer them in deference to her food court neighbours who do) and a crumble of salty feta.
And her trademark vegan burger ($5) could be best described as salad disguised as a Big Mac, though my regular dining companion, the Troubled Balkan, likened it to "raw falafel," tasty if under-crisped.
Here comes another solar-powered truckload of fruit 'n' salad, this time as a side to spaghetti ($8.99), simply tossed with olive oil, Parmesan and parsley. The refined white pasta - whole wheat, surely? - also comes sided, as do several other dishes, with a scoop of Kay's impossibly addictive Bomba sauce ($12/litre). An intense garlicky tomato puree, the stuff's so delish, it'll soon be marketed to specialty food shops.
Besides the bacon, I'm also a bit surprised that a restaurant aimed at an eco-conscious clientele packages nearly everything in non-biodegradable polystyrene, although Kay informs me she'll have a system using reusable containers up and running by Earth Day.
"In all the years I've been in the restaurant business, I've never seen so much waste. I hate styrofoam!" worries Kay. "The environment is calling us and we all have to make a change. Right, baby?"