Café Belong, Brad Long’s new restaurant at Evergreen Brick Works. Would I be celebrating anything special?, the woman on the phone wonders after confirming a date and time. I am tempted to reply yes, that I am rejoicing in the long-awaited opening of your restaurant, which was delayed repeatedly for almost six months — but I hold back.

"> Café Belong, Brad Long’s new restaurant at Evergreen Brick Works. Would I be celebrating anything special?, the woman on the phone wonders after confirming a date and time. I am tempted to reply yes, that I am rejoicing in the long-awaited opening of your restaurant, which was delayed repeatedly for almost six months — but I hold back.

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Up where we belong: Café Belong reviewed


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A good first impression starts the minute we make our reservation at Café Belong, Brad Long’s new restaurant at Evergreen Brick Works. Would I be celebrating anything special?, the woman on the phone wonders after confirming a date and time. I am tempted to reply yes, that I am rejoicing in the long-awaited opening of your restaurant, which was delayed repeatedly for almost six months — but I hold back.

Brad Long (Veritas, 360 and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment) is no newbie to the business. Nor is his chef de cuisine, Daniel DeMatteis, who may be best known for his work with Jamie Kennedy.

Their creativity in brunch, lunch and dinner offerings exemplifies their years of experience and reflects the values that Brick Works clientele have come to expect — sustainable, organic and local when possible. And Bayview Avenue daytime drive-bys dig the takeout counter, thanks to the pastry chef Andrea Mut, who makes baked goods “to die for.”

The welcoming room, long and high ceilinged, was designed by 3rd Uncle Design Inc. (the firm behind The Drake Hotel and Cava), and it straddles the line between industrial and bucolic.

A tangle of overhead piping, a steampunk fixture, with lights pointing this way and that, draws eyes skyward. Lots of windows let in oodles of light and a view of the farmers’ market. Concrete floors plus exposed brick walls reinforce the simplicity factor. Tabletops bring to mind thick wooden cutting boards, framed with black metal, and the chairs, although grey plastic, are surprisingly comfortable.

Likeable servers already know the menu inside and out, and they set tables meticulously. St. Lawrence salad ($12) is a model for the food pyramid — with greens, grains, nuts, fruit and cheese — and could sate as a hearty lunch or a shared dinner appetizer. I find the assembly so refreshing and satisfying, though, that I eat the whole thing myself. Macerated cherries, not too sweet, topple down over mixed greens, fresh walnuts, quinoa, long ribbons of pickled red and orange carrots and just enough shavings of fantastic aged Gouda from Cheese Boutique. The whole lot is tossed in a pleasantly tart vinegar-based dressing (the telling browned butter bits are MIA, and we don’t detect a drop of oil anywhere). A mound of micro-greens rests at the side of the salad, strangely, like a salad beside a salad.

Creativity abounds in a plate of cured whitefish ($14). Marinated ox-eye daisy capers, almost-caramelized grilled fennel wedges, greens and new green beans offer a range of texture and flavour. A pleasantly restrained drizzle of honeyed crème fraîche zigzags across the assembly.

Other appetizer choices range from fruit with pecorino fresco, roasted sunflower seeds and first cold-pressed sunflower oil to summer squash with smoked duck. Among hot kitchen offerings, we find daily soup (today, it’s cucumber), a lake or quarry fish baked in a parchment envelope, milk-braised lamb with spelt and fried sage, grilled vinegar chicken with warm new potato salad and vegetarian pot barley with wild mushrooms and rainbow shard.

I would give up my left leg for another of Long’s rabbit lentil bowls ($19). This made the meal (with some stiff competition). Like a thin stew, or a very chunky soup, plenty of tender bites of rabbit jostle for space with quartered patty pans, halved red and yellow cherry tomatoes and lentils in a thick broth made with rabbit stock. The mounded spoonful of cream and more micro-greens add textural contrast.

“I would give up my left leg for another of Long’s rabbit lentil bowls.”

Even more micro-greens repose over two cuts of sweet-and-sticky pork ($17) — belly and shoulder — within a ring of chunky cubes of cooked apple. Sweet and sticky indeed — with five-spice, soy and mustard glaze.

Reading “vegan Moroccan chickpea stew” on the menu brings to mind, well, a stew. But what came to the table was very different — in texture and flavour — than we’d anticipated. Long presents his take on this classic ($15) in a cherry-red cast iron Le Creuset tagine. With flare and aplomb, our server lifts off the top, and we smile (and try not to drool) at the smell of cinnamon, a bit of cloves and other spices. But on closer inspection of the contents, and a few bites in, we discover a stir — a relatively dry one — of very firm chickpeas, a few stewed tomatoes and sliced carrots. We agree it could be improved on, with more stewed tomatoes and seasonings with staying power. Side dishes — fries, beans, steamed veg, rosemary kugel and jus and the like — round out protein-heavy hot plates.

Scalloped sweet potatoes ($6) deliver a Le Creuset ramekin layered with tender slices of sweet potato and cheese from Montefort Dairy. It’s bubbling, naughtily, as if to remind us that this is a salty, slightly oily indulgence worth every one of tomorrow’s facial blemishes.

Healthier, but not hard-core, is small fry ($6), a side of vegetables deep-fried in a sea-salty, tempura-like batter. Long green beans, yellow beans and cauliflower florets make excellent fillers, as do little bouquets of rosemary, prepped in the same way. We were skeptical of eating such big bundles of herb, but the intensity of flavour is tempered by the deep-frying, and those, too, are devoured lickety-split. Nothing wrong with the accompanying aïoli — but what’s the point?

One bite of raspberry apricot crostata with fresh cream ($9) reveals why my dining partner refuses to share. Pastry wraps up and around the sweet and slightly tart fruit and an edible flower. A drizzle of house-made berry coulis knocks our socks off. Chocolate freaks indulge in chunky ChocoSol brownie ($9), with chocolate cherry ganache, plated, prettily, with homemade vanilla ice cream and a thin smear of brownie-like icing. More macerated cherries, plus another edible flower, accompany.

Café Belong isn’t licensed yet. In the meantime, servers pour kitchen-made syrup drinks and carbonated pops.

Café Belong, Evergreen Brick Works, 550 Bayview Ave., 416-901-8234

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