My main lament eating in Toronto is not a lack of vegan and vegetarian food.
But for some reason, trying to find a place that does a substantial, delicious and healthy vegan meal alongside some ribs or a beef burger is like seeing a glitter-covered, rainbow-haired unicorn riding up Yonge Street.
Wait staff in Canada don’t get all het up when you need six variations to a meal, and kitchen staff will happily create something off the menu for you – even at your local pub. But it really is nice just being able to walk into a dining place and having options for everyone.
On my never-ending search for a good café or restaurant in Toronto that caters to hungry vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores, my friend Alex (who runs the best book club in Toronto!) and I ventured out to the Junction one Friday for lunch at The Beet.
The Junction is a neighbourhood in Toronto that’s undergoing a lot of change. Traditionally, it was considered one of the seedier parts of the GTA that has been gentrified in the past five years or so. And according to some looks on my face as Alex and I walked down Dundas Street West, there are still some parts of the Junction eagerly awaiting their turn for gentrification.
Part of this change to the neighbourhood has been a boost in restaurants and cafes. The Beet is an organic café that focuses on flavoursome food that is good for your body and mind. It opened in early 2008 and is owned by Michelle Vella, a certified nutrionist, and Heather Osler, a homeopathic doctor.
Aside from a focus on healthy, delicious food, The Beet is also eco friendly and aims for sustainaibility with its designs and packaging. Many of its items are certified fair trade, and it uses locally sourced produce where it can.
We walk in and the first impression of the Beet is “minimal hipster”.
The décor, walls, cutlery and furniture are non-descript, almost bistro issue. But this leaves space for the colourful hanging art to shine, and for the food to take centre place.
The service is polite, yet unintrusive – my favourite level of interaction.
And as a vegan, I’m a little paralysed by choice at The Beet.
Breakfast is served all day until 5pm so the toasted banana sandwich with almond butter and mixed berry jam and a side of fruit is an option. The vegan poutine and several tempeh based wraps also look tempting. But the mushroom, walnut, and quinoa burger beckons me.
We’re invited to look at the specials, but my mind is made up. I have a hankering for a healthy vegan burger – another mythical beast in Toronto, rarely seen in the wilds of the city – and I can’t pass up on this one.
Alex orders the housemade organic bison burger, with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and ketchup on a Kamut bun. He foregoes the ketchup – ketchup and mayo should never mix, in his educated opinion. If you’re a Canadian opposed to eating one of your native animals, a lamb burger is also an option.
I order the mushroom, walnut and quinoa burger, with lettuce, cucumber, tomato, vegan mayo and house BBQ sauce, also on a Kamut bun. By this stage I was wondering what a “Kamut bun” was. Apparently kamut is a whole grain, high fibre flour.
Both burgers come with a choice of soup, yellow and sweet salad, or potato wedges as a side.
When our meals come out, the burgers arrive open. Alex is half amused, half bemused by the appearance of my burger. “But it looks the same as yours!” I protested. Probably not to a happily meat-eating omnivore, I guess!
My burger is satisfying, the sauce is better than the supermarket sauces here because it doesn’t taste smokey or too sweet, and the salad on my burger is crispy and fresh. And hey, you can’t even tell the bun is healthy!
But the surprise stand out of my meal was the sweet and yellow salad. It was crunchy, lots of texture from nuts and seeds, and the dressing was light and tangy. Next visit, I think I’ll order one of the salads.
Alex says his burger is good, but to be honest, the portions are on the small side. Which is probably not surprising given The Beet is an organic, health focused café. I am easily filled – but I am also 5 foot 2 and kind of petite. If you were larger and/or male, you might want appetizers as well as a main (or an entrée as we call them in America and Canada).
We’re reminded of deserts, but we politely decline. I am stuffed, and Alex pulls a hilarious face at the mere mention of vegan cheesecake. “I don’t want to even know,” he says later, much to my amusement.
Do you have a restaurant that satisfies the picky eaters in your life? Or eaters with allergies?
Location: 2945 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M6P 1Z2, (Southwest corner of Dundasv& Medland St 3 blocks west of Keele)
Getting There: Take the Subway to Keele station, and then the 89 Weston bus to Dundas Street. Or you can easily walk from Keele station.
Opening Hours: Monday -Wednesday: 9am-9pm Thursday-Friday: 9am-10pm Saturday (brunch): 10am-4pm
Saturday (dinner): 5:30pm-10pm Sunday (brunch): 10am-4pm
Cost: Bison Burger $16, Mushroom Burger $15.
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica over at Google.