This past weekend I was fortunate enough to have a friend visit me from out of town (a vegan friend to give this post a little more context). Prior to her arrival, I had done much research on some of the various vegan restaurants in the city and was definitely up for a little culinary adventure. I decided that I would try and be vegan during her entire stay (a whole 3 days!!) and experience some new cuisine. Now for those of you that think it should be pretty easy for a vegetarian to turn vegan for 3 days – you are sadly mistaken. I have never had to think whether the pesto sauce on my bruschetta may be made with Parmesan cheese, or whether the bread served with dinner has an egg wash. I also LOVE dairy. While vegans may have substitutes for butter and cream, I am still a lover of cheese and yogurt and for that reason alone could never go vegan. However, this past weekend did open up my eyes to some pretty good vegan food and I wanted to share some of those experiences here (as you may never know when you will have a vegan out-of-town visitor).
Now while Butler’s Pantry is not a strictly vegan restaurant, it does have several vegan options on the menu. It is also one of my go-to places in the city when I am craving comfort food (my mouth is now salivating as I think of the veggie curry pie). What is great about the menu is that it actually calls out which items are vegan so that you don’t need to think whether the food has any sort of dairy or egg product in it (and you don’t need to ask your waiter a million questions about it either). Both my friend and I ordered the mixed vegetable bhaji as we were wanting a little more ‘spice’ in our meal. The portion sizes were quite substantial and we definitely needed to go for a walk after paying the bill to help digest the deliciousness. The restaurant is a great option for a group that has vegetarians or vegans in it, as it offers a little something for everyone (meat eaters too!)
The Hogtown Vegan
Finding places that serve vegan lunch and dinner options in the city is pretty easy to do. I did find it more difficult to locate vegan brunch places as most staples for brunch include meat and eggs. However, when doing my research, the Hogtown Vegan made it to the top of my list for a best-in-class vegan brunch restaurant (I will thank the food network and the show “you gotta eat here” for that recommendation). Brunch favourites such as french toast and omelets are featured on the menu, but the item that caught our attention was the ‘Unchicken and Waffles’. While I did not order the unchicken (as there were other tasty things to try), I did get a little taste and now need to return to order it for myself. Whoever thinks that vegan food is ‘healthy’ has obviously never been to the Hogtown Vegan. Deep fried goodness all ’round!
Sadie’s Diner is one of those local Toronto establishments that I have been meaning to check out for years (I walk by it every week when doing my routine run to Loblaws). I am ashamed to say it has taken me so long to check this place out, but now that I have, I will definitely need to frequent it more often. We came to Sadie’s for dinner (even though I have been told they have a fantastic brunch) and left with full and happy bellies. I ordered the veggie quesadilla and was most interested in trying the ‘vegan’ cheese that was baked inside (I’m not sure what this stuff was made of, but it kind of melted like actual cheese. It was fascinating!). The vegan sour cream it came with was also delicious and would be perfect for any of you lactose-intolerant people out there. I hate to repeat myself, but again, this was not the healthiest of meals we could have eaten that night. Vegan doesn’t mean healthy! (but it can definitely mean tasty!)
I know Fresh is an obvious choice for a vegan restaurant in the city, but the food is so tasty that it warranted a visit for brunch! The truth is, our plan was to actually check out Disgraceland, but after hanging outside a dark and locked restaurant for 10 minutes, we learned that the restaurant recently changed its hours and we were there an hour before it opened. Seeing as though we had a Blue Jay game to catch at 1 pm, we could not wait around to see if the Disgraceland chef could really turn every menu item into a vegan masterpiece (as it claims on their menu)!
While the brunch menu at Fresh is a little on the small side, they do have all the typical breakfast staples including pancakes! My vegan friend was very excited to try these (although she was craving the french toast from Disgraceland). We ordered a pancake platter that came with some tofu scramble (I normally hate scrambled eggs, but would definitely order this tofu scramble again. It was super flavourful and had a great texture), as well an order of blueberry almond pancakes. All of the pancakes were extremely large and filling and most importantly, tasty! We definitely did not need to eat until dinner that day!
The last stop on our Toronto vegan adventure was Vegetarian Haven in Baldwin Village. The menu is mainly Asian-inspired and includes a variety of stir-fried dishes and wraps. We each ordered a different stir-fried creation and ended up going home with take-home containers due to the large size of our meals (Bonus – lunch for the next day. Thumbs up in my books!). Both our meals had great flavour to them and lots of colour (due to the assortment of fresh veggies that were used). We also ordered the seared dumplings in which our waitress informed us were the best veggie dumplings in the city. We were actually a little disappointed in them as we felt they were missing quite a bit of flavour (or maybe we were spoiled as we were served our main dishes before the dumplings and got a mouth full of rich flavour beforehand?). In any case, the food was delicious and nicely prepared. I would not hesitate returning (I just may not order the dumplings again).
So I am glad to report that I accepted and completed my three-day vegan challenge (and have the food baby to prove it!). I am pretty sure my friend enjoyed her vegan experience too (check out my lovely parting note left on my kitchen wall).