Chances are, you won't stumble across the Whip Gallery and Cafe. It's hidden in an unassuming enclave of Mount Pleasant.
Surrounded by industrial warehouses and artists' lofts, the Whip is covert on purpose. A trendy location would tarnish its counter-cultural appeal. What once was a furrier's storage facility is now a funky eatery. The Whip takes its name from an old Tetley Tea sign that the cafe owners found while renovating the space. The sign depicts a man holding a whip.
Step inside and you'll see the exposed ceiling, the big storm windows, the eclectic mismatched furniture, local artwork and mood lighting right out of 1970s. The music is offbeat (hypnotic drum and bass, acid jazz and the occasional local live band) and so is the crowd. This is a place meant for lingering over your food and becoming a part of the atmosphere.
The atmosphere is very mellow and relaxed, with cushy sofas and chairs, and simple tan wooden chairs and tables. When things get busy, an upstairs section opens, providing a nice environment to host a literary circle, plan one, or to just to kick back and enjoy the ambience.
The beverage selection will quench any thirst. From microbrewed beer to pastel-coloured mixed drinks, the Whip caters to all tastes. There is also a small selection of red and white wine from Australia, Chile, California and British Columbia. I chose the Girl Guide Cookie cocktail with peppermint schnapps, kahlua, espresso and creme de cacao. It tasted as sweet as chocolate and went down easy. My friend ordered the Bombay Sling - a heady combination of grenadine, fruit juice and gin. She said it had a pleasant blend of tangy and sweet flavours. Now that we were hydrated, we were ready for an appetizer.
The Whip offers a small but varied selection of appetizers. There's the ever-popular yam potato wedges, the classic focaccia bread and chips and salsa. While everything sounded appealing, we opted for the chick pea and sundried tomato hummus with grilled naan bread. The bread had a soft, doughy texture and the hummus didn't skimp on the garlic.
While the menu isn't huge, the choices cover the culinary spectrum. There's a wide selection of dinner salads (all priced under $10 or so), each brimming with treats such as sundried cranberries, artichoke hearts, pecans and arugula. Other entree options include Thai chicken curry with jasmine rice, tiger lili stirfry with bok choy, snowpeas, peppers and onions in a sherry ginger sauce ($10), seafood soba of shrimp, scallops and salmon in a miso walnut vegetable broth with buckwheat noodles ($11.95) or pan seared yellowfin tuna served with a Portuguese bun and wild greens ($9.50). If you seek comfort food, perhaps the soup of the day or the pan-fried perogies in cajun butter ($7.50) might strike your fancy. Despite these possibilities, I opted for the classic Greek salad while my dining partner ordered the five cheese tortellini. The salad was a typical mix of feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers tossed with olive oil. The tortellini was more a like a lasagna and could easily be shared between two people. The rich cheese sauce and the tomato base make for a hearty meal up with a surprising spicy kick.
There's pumpkin praline cheesecake, chocolate heaven and ice cream, but the house specialty is home-baked pie ($4.75 a slice) stuffed with your choice strawberry blackberry, rhubarb or apple. We chose the strawberry rhubarb and weren't disappointed. The crust was flaky and golden and the fruit filling had a divine not-too-sweet taste. Don't miss out on this pie when you're at the Whip. It's downright delicious.
Like the restaurant itself, service at the Whip is casual. Don't expect prompt attention - remember this is a place meant for talking and eating the night away. As for the food, it isn't gourmet, but it is reasonably priced, satisfying and creative enough to pique your interest and curb your appetite; as well, they 'whip up' a decent cappuccino and a good Sunday brunch. Overall, The Whip is a good choice when you want basic fare in a unique, rough-around-the-edges setting.