ZELDA’S (542 Church, at Maitland, 416-?922-?2526) Complete brunches for $28 per person, including all taxes, tip and a cocktail. Open for $13.99 all-?you-?can-?eat brunch Sunday 10:30 am to 3 pm, except Saturday and Sunday, June 28 and 29, 9 am to 2 pm; Monday and Tuesday, June 30 and July 1, 11 am to 3 pm. Bar nightly till close. Licensed. Access: barrier-?free, five steps to washrooms. Rating: NN
Seven Prides have passed since I last dined chez Zelda.
Actually, dining is pushing it. Like many of the pickup palaces that line the Church Street strip – or King West or College, for that matter – Zelda’s is all about giving its customers a good time. And she does that very well, providing a raucous rumpus room complete with inexpensive cocktails, a sprawling patio and trashy entertainment.
The food? Not so good.
My last review of Zelda’s resulted in NOW’s being permanently banned from the premises. I’m told that the week my write-up appeared in the paper, a Steven Davey impersonator placed dead last in Zelda’s best ass contest.
I’ve avoided the self-described “zaniest place in town” ever since. But inspired by the diversity of Pride – there’s room for everyone under the rainbow flag, even eateries of lesser stature – I return to Zelda’s to sample her $13.99 all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch. People change, right?
To ride shotgun, I’ve enlisted bon vivant and taste-maker Stephen Hobson, a man whose acerbic opinion appears regularly in the pages of the National Post whenever they need someone to taste-test supermarket pie filling or potato chips. He’s a (well) seasoned buffet pro and knows to show up not just with an appetite but early as well, because that’s when the spread is freshest.
Despite the “No animals allowed” sign at the door, we’re warmly welcomed and quickly seated on the soon-to-be-packed patio. One of several servers, all unusually cheerful for this time of the morning, soon explains the set-up – grab a plate and help yourself (“One guy went back 10 times!”) – and promptly returns with needed cups of strong coffee.
He points us indoors to the buffet laid out on the bar, where the descriptions on the covered chafing dishes – Baja chipotle chicken, spaghetti bolognese, lamb curry – sound promising.
As Peaches and Herb request that we shake our groove thangs, courtesy of the same non-stop loop of campy 70s disco (Barry White, Donna Summer, Thelma Houston) that played the last time I did Zelda’s, we tuck into coconut-crusted tilapia with lemon and herb that’s so dry, it tastes like it’s been on the steam table for hours, but it’s only just past 11. Same thing with so-called Cajun fries, rubbery eggs Benedict and nasty breakfast sausages, not that that stops anyone from merrily piling their plates with them.
The lamb curry is stringy and under-spiced, the Baja chicken’s cheap drumsticks have no discernable pepper, and the steamed veggie mix turns out to be overcooked broccoli, carrots and cauliflower, its advertised garlic AWOL.
Hobson opines that Zelda’s pasta reminds him of the Old Spaghetti Factory, but he finds salvation in the salad bar, especially chewy wild rice with cranberries and squash. We pass on the fruit salad, proving that even fruits won’t eat the stuff.
We do, however, make a repeat trip to Zelda’s omelette station, where the kitchen crew make perfectly creditable eggs despite skimping on the fillings. But beware of cold pre-made “Belgium waffles” topped with industrial whipped “cream” and runny strawberry jam.
When breakfast at the local greasy spoon goes for eight bucks, 14 for brunch at Zelda’s seems like a bargain. And a tasty one, too, if you stick to omelettes, granola with low-fat yogurt, the salad bar and 7-ounce cocktails ($19.50).
Who says size doesn’t matter?