When my younger daughter Ruth was growing up, we had several dining out rituals.
For much of the ’90s, Friday night meant dinner at Bar Italia located on the College St. strip of Little Italy. The attractions were many: Plain pasta for her with only butter and a dusting of parmesan, a glass of robust red wine for me along with roast chicken or grilled steak. Foccacia dipped in olive oil laced with chilies or the excellent antipasto were mandatory starters.
Perched on stools at the bar, we became fixtures and favourites with bartenders Steven, Giuseppe and Mark. Ruth’s Shirley Temple-ish beverage came printed on our bill as “1 Ruthie.”
Most Sundays there was a pilgrimage to Bagel World located on Wilson just west of Bathurst: a bakery-cum-deli that’s been a landmark in North York for 45 years – and counting.
Home to a mostly Jewish clientele whom I like to call “the Florida crowd”, this inimitable place has long been a case of controlled (and not always that that controlled) chaos.
Orders were placed at the counter where a stalwart crew of women who’ve worked here for years and know most diners by name, also cook the food – eggs, toasted bagels with lox and cream cheese and other standard Jewish fare.
One day, when Ruth was about five years old, I started a contest: Who could find the most people with cream cheese on his/her face. My now grown-up daughter and I still laugh about it. The count was high.
Recently, I saw Bagel World on the popular Food Network show Restaurant Makeover. My heart sank. How can they ruin a place with so much character, a spot that marched to its own drummer and seemed to operate well in spite of itself?
I dropped by recently to check things out. Thank goodness, a radical change was not to be. The crowded, low counter with small stools is still there. The crazy ordering system seems to be as before. They’ve added more tables in the bakery section. All of which means the place is even more crowded and noisier but otherwise much the same.
All I can say is “Whew!” A tiny makeover like that I can take. Bagel World’s toasted twister with lox and cream cheese with a cup of their good strong coffee remains on my roster of regular treats.