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Vegan Toronto, Part Two

I am leaving Toronto today, bringing my nine day vegan food binge to a close. While I am sad to leave, I do miss my bed, boyfriend and kitchen. But first, brace yourselves for a whirlwind tour of Vegan Toronto, part two.

I am going to dive right in and commence gushing about Fresh. Vancouver needs a Fresh. Heck, every city needs a Fresh! There are three locations here in Toronto, but I visited the one on Bloor. Three times. Three of us went for dinner and it was super busy for a Wednesday night, so we waited maybe half an hour before getting in. Once we got past the black curtain, we were greeted by a bustling and brightly coloured room, super tightly packed. There were even chandeliers. It was like nothing I have seen in Vancouver where the Naam is consistently hailed as the best vegetarian restaurant in the city. I like the Naam from time to time, but it’s more hippyish and kind of leaves me feeling sick every time. This blew the Naam out of the water, in my opinion. We started with quinoa-crusted onion rings with a vegan garlic mayo dip. They weren’t gluten-free, but the quinoa was a nice touch and had a good onion to batter ratio, and the dip was unbelievable.

Quinoa-crusted onion rings. Nighttime photo.

At that point I was almost full, so I ordered the baby (rather than regular sized) dragon bowl on soba noodles. It was covered in a super tasty miso gravy that had  nutritional yeast in it, and you know how I feel about that! It was really creamy and kind of reminded me of peanut sauce in its consistency.

Baby Dragon Bowl at Fresh. Sadly, the silly green things are covering up the luscious miso gravy.

I was wishing I had a full-size bowl, but was keeping my eye on the prize: a slice of vegan carrot cake. After dinner, we were all stuffed so we ended up sharing one slice. It was fantastic! Super moist and rich with “cream cheese” icing. This cake was so good, I actually made a special trip to Fresh to get a slice to go. Then yesterday, Kiera and I discovered that you can buy it at the natural foods store by her house in either square or entire cake form. So, of course, we bought one of each. It’s made by Toronto vegan bakery Sweets from the Earth and I couldn’t recommend it more. The carrot cake isn’t gluten-free, but they do carry a number of gluten-free  and nut-free products.

Sweets from the Earth vegan carrot cake. Holy vegan cream cheese icing! Best carrot cake I have ever had. Period.

Kiera and I also treated ourselves to brunch at Fresh. We each had the pancake platter: mine with banana pancakes and veggie sausage, Kiera’s with blueberry pancakes and tempeh bacon. Both also came with an oniony dilly tofu scramble. I would love to know what gluten-free flour combo they use for those fluffy, fluffy pancakes. I liked how they gave us a jug of real maple syrup, of which we consumed about half. Only complaint: I saved some banana pancake for last and it tasted like onion due to the encroaching tofu scramble. Oh well, I guess there are consequences when you want to have you (pan)cake and eat it too!

Banana Pancake Platter with veggie sausage at Fresh.

 

Blueberry Pancake Platter with tempeh bacon. I don't think anyone would miss eggs and bacon after this!

Kiera, her partner Gaelan and I had a super fun night out at Snakes and Lattes. Vancouver needs one of those too. It’s like a coffee shop that has oodles of boardgames, vegan and omni snacks and serves alcohol. What more could one ask for? They have a tofurkey sandwich with vegenaise on the menu, but Kiera and I were more concerned about the vegan desserts. The chocolate peanut butter ball was the best, but the nanaimo bar was pretty tasty too. They don’t charge extra for soy milk. Awesome.

Hibiscus is another great vegan Kensington Market destination. Mostly vegan, I should say, because they do have some crepes with cheese in them. I wish I had tried a sweet crepe, but I had started the day with a sweet breakfast, so couldn’t really justify that. The service was kind of slow, but it was a nice, cozy, mellow tucked away little place and my friend Jasmine and I were busy catching up anyhow. The crepes are hearty rather than fluffy, as they are made of buckwheat, which I happen to love. Mine had spinach, fresh basil, mushrooms, and fresh tomatoes with pesto and daiya cheddar. It was yummy and colourful. I wanted to try some ice cream, but the server didn’t come back again. Oh well. I have had carrot cake five times this week, so I’m pretty covered in the dessert department.

This vegan crepe from Hibiscus contained several of my loves: tomatoes, spinach, basil, pesto, mushrooms and daiya.

In the interest of keeping this short, I’ll end with that and also give my final impressions of Toronto (a city that I came to with totally unreasonable preconceptions):

It is vegan and vegetarian-friendly for sure. It is big. It sometimes smells. It has a lot of culture. It has pretty older buildings. There were some jerks on the subway. There were some nice people on the subway. It is windy. The mayor is ridiculous. The subway is efficient and easy to navigate. I miss my sister. There are lots of cool little stores. Loved the zombie walk.

Will I go back? Maybe, but only if I have to. I love Vancouver.

 

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Vegan Toronto, Part One

Kensington Market. Because there is fruit, and because this post is sorely lacking in pictures.

Well, what do you know! The Keen Kitchen is portable and on the move. I have been in Toronto visiting my sister since last Saturday. I put off this trip for awhile and was admittedly quite bratty about it. It’s just hard to cough up the money for a $500 plane ticket and still be in cold, wet Canada! I must say though, it has been great being with my sister and I am quite impressed with the food thus far.

Being from the West Coast, I guess I had a notion that Vancouver, birthplace of Lululemon and Daiya, was more health-conscious than Toronto. I think I stand corrected. Maybe it’s just because it’s a bigger city, but I haven’t really had to look hard for vegan dining options on the go. I have been able to find something in every area I have visited. Healthy options are super trendy and available here. Pretty awesome.

I have to come clean and admit that I have not been eating gluten-free while being here. I am not allergic to wheat, or anything for that matter, and when I am on vacation I don’t limit my diet as much as I do when I cook at home.

My first eye-opener was at the ginormous Eaton Centre mall and its swanky new food court. It is metallic and shiny and even the usual food court suspects, like KFC, look fancy. In the centre is a beautiful oasis in the form of Urban Herbivore. Seriously? Healthy vegan food in a food court? There were gluten-free options, but I opted for a BBQ tofu sandwich on spelt bread. I couldn’t resist adding avocado and am glad I did. Avocado makes everything better. Not that this sandwich needed it! It was super moist thanks to a yummy tahini sauce. It was also warm after being toasted in a panini press. I hate cold sandwiches, so I was pretty pleased about that. An amazing sandwich, all in all. It also came with a side salad. Kiera had a moroccan stew with quinoa. Something fun about the food court: everything is served in reusable dishes. If you ask for water, it comes in a real glass! Take that, Vancouver.

Another day, my sister and I braved the rain and trekked to Kensington Market. Loved it there. It is what Vancouver’s Commercial Drive aspires to be. It also, despite the cold rain, felt a little like Mexico with its narrow streets, brightly coloured houses and plethora of latin grocery stores. So, it is fitting that we decided to go to Hot Beans for lunch.

Hot Beans in Kensington Market. Go there.

Hot Beans serves up delicious vegan Mexican food. Obviously, I had to go there. The burrito-meister told me the TVP Burrito was the best. I am so glad I listened to him! I was pretty much in heaven during every bite. Until I neared the end, that is, and couldn’t finish it. This rarely happens to me, but this thing was massive. You could work your biceps using only the bag that held our two TVP burritos. I am not joking. Share one, okay? Then  you will have room for one of their vegan doughnuts. Anyway, this was the closest I have ever come to having a steak burrito, I think. It was super meaty and saucy, as I added guacamole and their nacho “cheese”. I am not sure what the cheese is made of, but it was freaking amazing. Also, they have Valentina’s hot sauce on hand, which is always a plus. This could have been gluten-free of I made it a bowl, and they have brown rice available. Sometimes, you just want a big fat burrito though, right? This baby came to $10 even. Worth it. So much protein.

Super duper TVP Burrito with guac and nacho "cheese" at Hot Beans. Vegan heaven.

After Hot Beans, we wandered over to Moonbean Coffee. I was too full for anything but an espresso shot, but it was pretty tasty and had good crema. I noticed that they had a really good selection of vegan baked goods. Their loaves looked particularly tasty. Also, they had soy milk near the sugar etc. which I really appreciate.

Speaking of delicious hot beverages, the Mayan Hot Chocolate at Soma in the Distillery District is a must-drink. It is vegan if you get it as a shot, or made with hot water as I did. It is spicy and rich with just the right amount of kick. Soul-warming on a chilly fall day, and it went really well with the vegan gluten-free ginger molasses cookie that I found at The Sweet Escape Pâtisserie.

Another quickie vegan option I found was a burrito bowl at Chipotle. I had never been there before, but am always willing to try a new Mexican fast food joint. Chipotle has nicely laid out nutritional information on their website, which I checked out before going. I was pleased to see that the only dairy they serve is in the cheese and sour cream. I added guacamole to my bowl, which at $2 extra is a little steep, but it was a pretty huge scoop of it. The cilantro lime rice was really tasty. Chipotle was not the best ever or anything, but was tasty, fast and healthy (besides the fat from the obscene amount of guac I guess).

Oh, I also have been cooking, but I have been using an unfamiliar kitchen and the results have been good, but not 100% blog-worthy.

So, that concludes part one of Vegan Toronto! Part two will have more photos, I promise. I got over my embarrassment about whipping out my camera every time food was brought to me, like a good little blogger.

Until then, readers, stay warm, dry and well-fed!

 

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