I seem to be having the birthday that keeps on giving, this year. Yesterday more friends invited me out, for brunch. They live pretty far outside of the city, in an area called Milton, but they sweetly offered to come into Toronto. Like me, when it comes to food, they prefer simple and home made to shi shi.
So I suggested we meet at a cute neighbourhood restaurant, in an area called The Annex. The place, By The Way Cafe, is tiny. In the summer they open their terrace, which is huge, but we’re not there yet. They don’t take reservations for brunch, so there’s usually a line-up. But it never takes long to get a table.
The food is very vegetarian friendly, totally right for the neighbourhood. It’s all healthy, organic, tasty and reasonably priced. The wait staff are great and seem to really enjoy working there.
What more can you ask for?
This was my first time there for brunch. I’ve been for lunch, and also for dinner many times. I would definitely go back for the breakfast. Tons of variety. And delicious. All three of us were very happy with our meals. If you want to dawdle, however, this isn’t the place for you. It is understood patrons will choose, order, eat and leave in a reasonable amount of time.
No pressure on you. No one asks you to hurry. It is simply expected you have consideration for those, in line, who would also like to have breakfast. More than reasonable, don’t you think? And everyone respects it. They attract that kind of crowd.
The Annex is a really cool, interesting neighbourhood, so it’s worth a wander when you’re done eating.
Located downtown, because it borders the University of Toronto, it’s long been a student quarter. So you’ll find lots of fraternity and faculty housing. The area is mostly residential, and the streets tend to be one-way, lined with mature trees and Victorian and Edwardian homes and mansions, most of which are clad in brick. In the old days, The Annex was home to many of the city’s wealthiest citizens.
Today most of those homes have been divided into apartments. Although the world renowned, Canadian author, Margaret Atwood still lives there, as do Adrienne Clarkson (former Governor General of Canada) and her husband, John Ralston Saul.
There are some apartment buildings, but they are old and low-rise. I’ve never been in any of them, but I’ll bet they’re lovely, with high ceilings and interesting architectural details. The main street, Bloor, offers up just about everything, from discount retailers to hardware stores, used book and CD stores, groceries, a co-op food store, health food stores, second hand clothing boutiques, restaurants, pubs, bakeries and banks. And an art deco movie theatre, the Bloor Cinema, which is now a permanent home for documentary films.
There’s also a Jewish Community Centre and a lovely old Church that doubles as a local event venue. And while you can never seem to find a place to park your car, the locals tend to either walk or ride bicycles. So one can only assume the autos belong to visitors.
Ironically, this ‘green’, socially-conscious, left-leaning, not-interested-in-joining-the-rat-race, anti-establishment, do-unto-others, all-natural, organic, educated, tofu-loving, techie, nerdy, creative, bohemian enclave, is just a few blocks west of two of the city’s toniest areas: Yorkville and the part of Bloor Street where you’ll find the world’s most expensive designer boutiques.
But never the twain shall meet.
So if you do find yourself in Toronto, and you do decide to go to the Annex, leave your Birkin bag at home.