Wanda Beaver shows off her sour cherry pie, while partner David Beaver looks on.
WANDA’S PIE IN THE SKY (287 Augusta, at Oxford, 416-236-7585) Complete meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottled juice. Average main $6. Open Monday to Saturday 8 am to 8 pm, Sunday and holidays 9 am to 8 pm. Unlicensed. Access: bump at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
Wanda Beaver is clearly having a bad day. The matriarch of Wanda's Pie in the Sky has just emerged from the back of her recently relaunched vegetarian-café-slash-bakery to find a lineup of more than a dozen patient customers stretching from her cash register to the sidewalk. And guess which cantankerous bugger's at the front of the queue?
When she asks if I've been served, I reply that I ordered two sandwiches, a side salad and a bowl of soup more than 20 minutes ago. Beaver confides that every one of her employees has shown up late for work.
"I'm ready to kill the bunch of them," she seethes.
While none of them is a candidate for the firing squad - after all, one expects a certain flakiness among the staff of a pie shop - the team has yet to gel. How else to explain the near half-hour it takes to assemble a simple sandwich of sun-dried tomato jam, crumbled chèvre and fresh watercress on a chewy flax 'n' pumpernickel baguette? Goat's day off?
I can understand the delay for my delish portobello cap layered with gorgeously caramelized red onion and spicy mayo when I see the meaty ‘shrooms going into the oven at the 15-minute mark. But no number of setbacks can excuse its ineptly prepared Greek side salad ($6.50 à la carte) - sliced green olives?! - though we're more than willing to cut some slack for Wanda's unusually rich dairy-free cream of carrot soup spiked with lime leaf ($4.50).
A few days earlier, I encounter a somewhat smoother Wanda's. Most of the midday crowd chowing down at tall communal stainless- steel-topped tables or out on the wraparound patio go for large squares of house-baked focaccia topped pizza-style with wilted spinach, cheddar and chopped basil, or wedges of wonderfully eggy quiche (both $4.75).
The same substantially fluted and buttery crust used for the quiche also shows up as the foundation of Wanda's acclaimed pies. All her favourites are accounted for, including her signature sour cherry and sky-high lemon meringue pies as well as seasonal entries like Saskatoon berry and strawberry rhubarb ($4.25 slice/ $8.25 6-inch pie/$14.75 8-inch/$18.75 9-inch).
Beaver also deserves applause for turning what was once considered to be one of the Market's notorious drug dens into a bright and welcoming addition to the neighbourhood. Now that I'm hooked, I'll be returning frequently for her ridiculously OTT almond croissants ($2.95).
"My regulars tell me they're as addictive as crack," laughs Beaver, "though around here maybe that's not such a good thing to advertise."