Le Cafe Vert 946 Queen East, at Morse, 416-778-1313. Complete meals for $18 per person, including all taxes, tip and a green organic coffee. Average main $9. Open Monday to Friday 10 am to 5 pm, for brunch Saturday 10 am to 3 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Unlicensed. Access: two steps at door, small room, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Launched last fall, Leslieville's Café Vert could be the archetype for eco-concious eateries.
Not only is most of its mainly vegetarian menu organic, but it's also prepared with heart and social conviction. An offshoot of owner Sasha Chan's successful film catering business, Le Café Vert is also very, very small, a dozen seats tops in a delightfully eclectic room decorated in a jumble-sale way that makes you want to hang around forever.
So far, its clientele consists of lucky locals who, once they've stumbled across the charming east-side eatery, keep it to themselves. But once word gets out (oh, right about NOW), watch Vert become the biggest thing to hit this neck of the woods since half-price day at Value Village.
We have the place virtually to ourselves on a recent Saturday at brunch. Today chef Vicki Curcio-Tretiak is flying solo, pulling double duty amiably working the front of the house while rustling up the considerable grub in the miniscule open kitchen at the resto's rear.
She quickly returns with one of her deliriously tasty organic cinnamon buns ($5.99) still warm from the oven. We're also offered a sample of her ambrosial organic quinoa porridge ($6.95), thick with slivered almonds, apricots and diced figs, which has the explosive pop of caviar.
The house-baked breakfast ($7.95) may have good intentions by being gluten-free, but that's the only remotely healthy component of this delirious torta, an eggy near-soufflé thick with chopped bacon, shredded cheddar and spinach, all layered between a crust made from crisply baked hash browns.
No regulation Eggs Benny ($10.95) these; instead, we find delicate slices of smoky Black Forest ham over a pair of perfectly poached organic eggs ladled with a light creamy hollandaise. Both the torta and this get sided with mesclun in a pomegranate vinaigrette, a toss of fresh blackberries and strips of caramelized sweet potato that go ballistic with the addition of a dollop of chipotle crème fraîche (95 cents).
The superb buttery house croissant ($2) forms the basis of Vert's bread pudding, an outstanding dessert ($5.99) that doubles as a breakfast dish when heated and drizzled with organic maple syrup and plated with Vert's terrific fruit salad ($6.95). Draining the last of our fair-trade coffees ($2.25) made with organic green beans (le café vert, ne c'est-ce pas?), we make plans to return early in the week for lunch.
The all-day card contains a couple of holdovers from brunch - notably, Vert's baked breakfast - but also spotlights a lineup of first-rate wraps. We've grown particularly fond of the Chicken Vert ($7.75 with soup/salad), a moist balsamic-marinated slow- roasted boneless breast combined with avocado, English cuke and baby greens splashed with coriander oil. Don't forget to ask for the free optional chipotle crème fraîche.
Vert's revolving roster of health-concious soups is also worthy of devotion, especially the vegan English pea purée nipped with mint. Those who don't mind dairy will adore a pulpy fennel pottage kissed with tarragon (both $4.99 as mains), the herb that was so popular back in the 60s that they named a theatre after it. The kitchen even manages to pump out a more than presentable interpretation of pad thai ($9.95), here ketchup-free and correct. How does Vert do it?
"I cook with love," says the irrepressibly chipper Curcio-Tretiak. "We care about what goes into customers' bodies. Maybe it's maternal instinct, but we want everyone to feel good and be happy."