Vegging out in Toronto

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

I work at sticking to macrobiotic and mostly vegetarian fare ever since an overindulgent month vacationing in Europe last year had me reassess my eating habits. Luckily, it’s easy to eat vegetarian, even vegan, very well in Toronto, and it’s also easy to find vegetarian places where your carnivorous friends won’t even notice that there’s no meat on the menu. To help out in this area, Now Magazine’s current issue has a cover story on Toronto’s top vegetarian restaurants, and I’ve been salivating over the list. Taking a look at the story on their top pick, the Live Organic Food Bar, which just opened last week, I even want to try “raw California-style vegan” if it’s anywhere nearly as good as it sounds.

Now’s number three pick, Fressen, is right around the corner from me in Queen West. It’s a full-service restaurant serving dinner, plus a great brunch on weekends. It’s all vegetarian, in fact I think that everything on the menu is vegan, but nothing that your non-vegetarian friends would find too weird. At brunch recently, we all started with a fresh juice (mine was beets, carrots, ginger and lemon, a favourite combination that I make at home). I had scrambled tofu (okay, your non-vegetarian friends might turn up their noses at the sound of it, but it’s a good textural equivalent of scrambled eggs and was nicely spiced so they probably couldn’t tell the difference) served with a huge plate of other goodies: black beans on a crisp tortilla shell, a squash-stuffed tomato, some salsas on the side, a few slices of really wonderful bread and roasted potatoes. My companions both had a spiced Moroccan stew of chickpeas and other veggies, served with a mound of brown and wild rice. Everything was fresh, tasty and well-prepared. Portions were generous and prices were reasonable. To top it off, the decor is lovely: dried grape vines (I think) are entwined around the exposed duct work on the ceiling, then trailed down to planter boxes to give the appearance of being seated under a canopy of trees.

It doesn’t make Now’s list, but another place that I love is Fresh, a self-serve, eat-in or take-out vegetarian hang-out serving only the daytime crowd until 6 p.m. They serve up some very tasty rice bowls such as the Powerhouse: avocado, chick peas, grilled tofu steaks, toasted nuts and seeds, sunflower and buckwheat sprouts, tomato and red onion with spicy tahini sauce on brown basmati rice. Excellent salads, sandwiches and wraps too, and since they started out primarily as a juice bar, they also have some great juices that give me inspiration when I juice at home. They’re a bit more down-market and edgy than Fressen — more skateboards and goth here — and have a great little patio in the front where you can watch the strange goings-on of Queen West while you eat.

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