By The Way Cafe

Posted in restaurants, Toronto

Rich and I first went to this popular Annex cafe back in October, when we took a weekend trip to Toronto. We actually didn’t know it was a well-known brunch destination when we arrived at its window. We were staying at a hotel not too far from the Annex, and so just walked up Bloor until we saw a place we liked. We weren’t disappointed; both of our meals were delicious and reasonably priced. Sheryl over at TasteTO did a review of By The Way’s brunch recently, and included some pictures. Head over there if you want to see how tasty their brunches are!

Mexican-spiced fish at By the Way CafeThis past Saturday evening we were both exhausted from a long day at the Toronto Zen Centre. Neither of us wanted to cook, so we headed out to the Annex around 8:30pm. Originally, we thought we’d try Fresh, but when we got there we found it was packed and had a long line of people waiting. So instead we headed over to By The Way, remembering how much we enjoyed their brunch.

When we came in the door, it took our server quite a while to come up to seat us. The cafe wasn’t super busy, but there was a large table of 15 or so people just finishing up, so we figured that maybe that was keeping them. Anyhow, once we were seated we discovered the table of 15 had already paid and were just finishing up conversations before leaving. In spite of this, it took our server 15 minutes to come by to take our drink orders. We tried catching someone’s eye, but were ignored while several staff straightened tables and cleaned up after the large group that had just left. I can completely understand wanting to straighten things up, but maybe they could have done it in between taking our orders and when the food was ready from the kitchen?

When she finally returned to our table, we ordered a plate of spanakopita to share, and two of the day’s specials: for me, orzo with butternut squash and gorgonzola cheese, and for him, Mexican spiced fish with rice and vegetables. We had originally wanted to order some Middle Eastern food, but couldn’t tell from the menu how big the plates were. Feeling sort of put off by the staff, we just opted to try their specials instead.

Once we’d ordered, we noticed the table behind us at the window had opened up. We asked our server if it was ok if we moved to the window. She hesitated and then said yes, although was clearly frustrated to have to move us, even though we told her we’re happy to move everything over ourselves, and there wasn’t much to move: just cutlery and two drink glasses.

But what about the food? Well, the spanakopita arrived quickly and was delicious. Lightly crispy and with great flavour, it was a nice snack to start off the meal.

Orzo at By the Way CafeOur mains, however, were just ok. My orzo was cooked properly, but there was a bit too much of the creamy sauce, and the butternut squash flavours were really lost amongst the strong flavour of the gorgonzola. Rich’s fish was nice enough, but he said it was under seasoned and really needed to be cooked better to get a nice crispy layer to it. The rice it was paired with had too much lemon juice; by about halfway through it was like eating a lemon, which was probably not the desired effect.

The slice of Tiramisu we shared for dessert was delicious and more than large enough for two. Paired with two cappuccinos, it was a good way to end the meal.

Finally, when we were completely finished, we found the entire staff was sitting down to eat their own dinner. It took us a few times to catch someone’s eye so we could get our bill and leave. Now, I’m all for staff getting to eat, don’t get me wrong! But when you’ve got several tables still eating, it is probably best to eat in shifts so your customers are still taken care of. This was yet another reason why we felt like we were ‘putting out’ the staff, like we’d walked in on someone’s private party or something.

Will we go back? Sure. But for brunch next time.

By The Way Cafe. 400 Bloor St. W., Toronto. (416) 967-4295. Dinner for two with wine, dessert, tax and tip: $85.

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