Cinnamon Girls (1170 Queen West, at Northcote, 416-531-7080) Complete meals for $9 per person, including all taxes, tip and a coffee. Average main $5. Open Monday to Saturday 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. Closed Sunday, holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
I can't help but wonder if film caterers Joanne Landry and Nancy Wos-MacKenzie are avid fans of Canuck rocker Neil Young, seeing that they've named their newly launched west-side café after one of his most famous songs.
"Not particularly," laughs Cinnamon Girls' Landry. "And we're far from being girls. But we needed something catchy and we like the spice."
Besides, Spice Girls is already taken. Strategically located in Stoberville halfway between the Drake and the Gladstone, this cheerful low-rent eatery can't help but draw a crowd for its casual card of inexpensive noshes, house-baked pastries and freshly roasted organic free-trade coffee.
A former nondescript Chinese restaurant, the room retains its gorgeous wooden icebox as its main focus. While there's no table seating, a lunch counter wraps around a large front window that provides a front-row view of the 24-hour car wash across the street.
The Girls' cinnamon buns ($1.65) are retro correct, lightly iced and deliciously sticky underneath. Thick-crusted butter tarts ($2.25) implode at first bite with sweet syrup and plump sultanas. Brownies ($1.95) are a study in contrasts, dense and chewy, sprinkled with nuts on the bottom, crunchy chocolate on top.
At noon, lunch is served. From a dozen or so panini, our favourites are house-roasted beef coupled with caramelized onion and Swiss cheese on focaccia ($5.35), and grilled chicken breast slathered with Cajun-style chipotle mayo, roasted pepper and Provolone ($4.75 small/$5.75 large).
Soups are another matter. Served in cheap plastic bowls and sided with buttered Melba toasts, both listless stracciatella (Italian-style egg-drop soup strewn with spinach) and black-eyed peas with pasta shells arrive at counter lukewarm and criminally under-salted (all $2.75).
But the Girls get their groove back with specials like a tasty if meek veggie chili ($4.50 with a terrific jalapeño-flecked cornbread muffin) and comfort food meat loaf ($5.25) sided with roasted root veg in a light Ital vinaigrette and marvellous mashed potatoes.
Our only wish: to quote another musical icon, the incomparable Miss Dee Dee Sharp: "C'mon, baby, gimme gravy!"