Unlike the gruesome grub found in the other soup kitchens that line Toronto's bedpan alley, the self-serve lineup at the cafeteria in the National Life building at 522 University won't make you sick. Sure, the large second-storey room has the atmosphere of a high school full of accountants, but the public is warmly welcomed, and the spread - with some diligent digging - is surprisingly edible.
The vegetarian cabbage rolls ($6.61 with two sides), a daily special, come stuffed with correctly vinegared rice pilaf with the slightest suggestion of dill, but the only discernible spice in their tomato sauce is sugar. Chicken wings suffer the same saccharine fate, the goulash is overcooked and dry (both $7.44), but the seafood cutlet ($6.61) contains more fish than things that pass for crab cakes elsewhere.
Sides are equally hit-and-miss: frozen fries under a heat lamp bad, buttery roasted potatoes and a surprisingly al dente veggie stir-fry that includes fresh asparagus good. Even better is comfort-food-style cannelloni loaded with spongy ricotta ($3), accompanied by a trawl through the rudimentary salad bar ($3.50) that sometimes features flaky squares of spanakopita tasty enough to be a main. 416-598-2122 ext 2243.