ZELDA'S (542 Church, at Wellesley, 416-922-2526) Boystown's favourite boozy patio offers great sightlines and campy drag shenanigans. Have another drink -- you'll need it to face the dreadful assembly-line grub the kitchen pumps out to 70s disco hits. We are family indeed. Complete meals for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a girly drink. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 2 am, Saturday and Sunday for all-you-can-eat brunch 10 am to 3 pm, and for dinner 3 pm to 2 am. Fully licensed. Access: barrier-free, five steps to washrooms. Rating: N
here i am thinking that queers are born with exquisite taste. So pronounced is their profile in Toronto restaurants -- whether fronting the house or behind the scenes in the kitchen -- that they're the subject of a light bulb joke: How many straight waiters does it take to screw in a light bulb? Both of them.
So explain the dearth of decent eateries on the Church Street strip. Is it simply the same jaded ennui that affects similar trendy trats along Queen West and College, nabes so hip that the fabulosi will accept anything on the plate just to be seen at the latest It spot?
Or is there something more sinister happening? Hold on to your wig, Bernice, but maybe queers don't have a clue when it comes to the culinary arts after all.
For every Byzantium there's a P.J. Mellon's, for each Garage a Vagara. Youki on Dundonald, easily one of the best restaurants in town, went tits up a few months back, its remarkable pan-Asian tapas replaced by bargain-basement sushi. Sure, Youki was expensive. But why couldn't funky Kuali -- where the daily Malaysian special sold for $3.95 -- find an audience before it folded? Because it was all the way over on Maitland, a block west of the hot man-on-man/girl-on-girl action?
At Zelda's, however, you get lineups. What's become ground zero for the gay village is an offshoot of Living Well on Yonge and the old Zelda's on Wellesley (now Zelda's Satellite). Its bright and breezy patio is the cruisiest in town. Shade trees strung with patio lanterns made from beer bottles offer relief from the sun while cute gym bunnies scamper from table to table taking drink orders.
Make it a double. You'll need it, because the-Steps-with-a-liquor-licence serves up some of the dreariest grub in town.
Pad thai -- make that Zeldarama Pad Thai Supreme ($12.95 full/ $7.95) -- sees a few medicinal shrimp mixed with dry chicken strips in a sour tamarind sauce that's so greasy the dish's gloopy noodles are glistening. Cala-Mary ($6.75) -- how gay! -- turns out to be a stack of rubbery squid that's so battered it could check into a shelter for abused seafood.
The Classic Zelda Burger($7.95) -- her words, not mine -- is a sad, overcooked patty languishing on a bun flanked by unseasonal tomato and pallid pickle.
When I ask for some mayo on the side, our server delivers it in a delightful designer packet embossed with Mr. Kraft's name. The accompanying fries are more of those unappetizing crispy tater things that Molly Johnson always sings about. They'd be all right if deep-fried longer at a lower temperature so their insides didn't taste so obviously of reconstituted potato.
Noticing that our My-Thai Noodle Salad -- cold udon in that same yucky pad thai sauce -- has hardly been touched, our server asks if anything's wrong. Yes, it tastes weird.
"It's supposed to be cold," he huffs, and offers to replace it. The stand-in -- Julia's Caesar Salad (both $5.95) -- is no better, a dull pile of outer romaine leaves drizzled in flavour-free dressing, a shake of commercial Parmesan and croutons made from yesterday's hamburger buns.
Do both appear on the bill? Of course they do.
Do starters and mains arrive at the same time? Like clockwork.
On a rainy weekday, we give Zelda's a second chance. The patio's deserted and the half-dozen or so patrons indoors aren't nearly as animated as during our first visit. Sinking into a corner banquette, we take in the campy kitsch -- tinsel hangs from the ceiling, a water ski slaloms up one wall, and the ceiling's hung with more rainbow flags than you can shake a swizzle stick at.
I note that a number of the staff in the open kitchen are Asian, so figure that ordering Carrie's Kickin' Chicken Curry ($10.95/$7.95) is a sure thing. Not so. Specifying spicy, I get a wishy-washy combo of chicken and potato in thin gravy next to a timbale of turmeric-tinged rice.
But I'm nearly floored when Momma's Marvelous Meatloaf ($8.25) proves far tastier than anything else so far, a dense beefy outer ring stuffed with sun-dried tomato, spinach and feta. Instead of mashed potatoes, it's joined by tri-coloured rigatoni that claims to be pasta Alfredo. Sorry, Zelda, but melting a bit of mozzarella and a pat of butter into some noodles does not constitute an Alfredo sauce by any stretch of the culinary imagination.
Maybe I'm just a bitch who likes to complain. No one else does -- especially during Zelda's Saturday-night wet underwear contest.