Queen Mother Café
With one exception. I have walked out of the Queen Mother café almost as many times as I've eaten there, unwilling to put up with the really crappy service. I keep coming back, though, because the food makes it all worthwhile.
I should clarify the “bad service" comment as well. If you can get seated, the service is always exemplary, but if it's busy and you're left to your own devices at the bar, or worse, standing at the little “please wait to be seated" sign, best to move on and come back on a slower night, because it won't be pretty.
Should you find yourself being ushered in and seated under the auspicious gaze of any of the dozens of photos of The Queen Mum, rejoice and then head straight for the appetizers. With a menu that pegs itself as Lao-Thai and pan-global, there's something for everyone.
Personally, my main reason for going to the Queen Mother is the sticky rice with peanut sauce ($5.95). Presented in a small wicker basket, the rice is already a solid mass when it arrives at table and tearing it apart with chopsticks to dip in the rich and tangy peanut sauce is one of my favourite dining experiences ever. Other appetizers of note include Laotian spring rolls, and the dim sum quartet.
Mains are culled from around the world, with a continued emphasis on Thai and Laotian dishes. The Ba Me Hang ($10.50) is a sweet and tangy mix of noodles tossed in a lime coriander sauce, and the Queen Mother's pad thai is their signature dish -- they've been doing it for decades, probably before Toronto even had a real Thai restaurant as competition. Burgers and sandwiches are also outstanding, and this is one place where vegetarians have as many options as omnivores. The Q.M. veggie burger comes on a whole wheat pita instead of doughy white bread and harkens back to the restaurant's inception in 1978 and its “crunchy-granola" roots. The vegetable roti could compete with any of the fare at the city's west-end roti joints and the “My Lunch in Provence" grilled vegetable sandwich takes an old standby and turns it into something vibrant.
Brunch is a cross-section of traditional dishes such as eggs benedict and many of the Thai and Laotian dishes on the regular menu. The Bergamo Bake, described on the menu as “corn bread stuffed with Italian sausage, caramelized onion and brie cheese, topped with apple maple brown butter sauce" is a thing of beauty, and briefly made me wish I still ate meat.
Desserts are the only area where the Queen Mother falters slightly, serving up offerings from a well-known local bakery instead of making their own in-house.
The Grand Dame of Queen Street celebrates her 30th birthday next year. The area around her has changed significantly since the halcyon days of the late 70s and early 80s, and her French bistro décor is oddly out of place surrounded by slick mall-type stores, but she shows no signs of slowing down. Now taking up three store-front shops, with the history of all the previous tenants recorded on the foyer walls, the grande dame will continue to satisfy her customers and send them off into the jungle of Queen West with full bellies and a happy smile. Assuming they were able to get a table in the first place, that is.
The Queen Mother Cafe
208 Queen Street West, ph: (416) 598-4719
Mon-Sat 11:30am- 1:00am