A Tasty Trip To Toronto*
By Shari Black Velvet
* (and Ottawa)
This time I was eager to check out what vegan delights were on offer in the Canadian city. Of course the trusty happycow.net helped immensely. I'd printed out my sheet of vegan/vegan diners and had visited the websites and facebook pages of the places I wanted to visit, knowing in advance which ones I wanted to go to.
My flight was originally due to land at around 8.40pm. As I'd saved up enough airmiles for a free return trip, I'd chosen the flight that took me from Birmingham (England) to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Montreal and Montreal to Toronto. Of course I hadn't particularly wanted to go on the slow scenic, change 10 times route - but they don't give away quick direct flights. Actually you can't get directly to Canada at all from Birmingham. Friends of the earth may hate me, but I'll be glad when there's a second runway in Birmingham that hopefully brings about more direct transatlantic flights.
As it was, strange things happened when I got to the airport. Weird boarding pass times and dates freaked me out a bit. Long story short but it made sense when I got to Frankfurt. I discovered that the flight from Frankfurt to Montreal had been cancelled - and the next one was over six hours later. So THAT was why it didn't give me the boarding time I was supposed to have. And bizarrely I'd read my horoscope at the airport in Birmingham that morning that said a cancellation will be a blessing in disguise.
So getting to Frankfurt at 10am (or sometime around then) and discovering that my flight to Montreal was cancelled... and the next one wasn't till evening, which would then mean I'd also miss my connecting flight to Toronto and then need to stay in Montreal the night, and then get a flight the next morning to Toronto, made my brain go 'Aaaaaarrrrggghhhhh!!!!' I was desperate to get to Toronto that night. For starters, I needed to get to Hogtown Vegan! Don't make me wait ANOTHER day before I get to that place! Hell no! So panicking I found an Air Canada desk (after trying the Lufthansa desk)... I asked if there was a direct flight to Toronto she could switch me to. The kind lady looked and saw that there was a direct flight going from Frankfurt to Toronto at 1.30pm with Lufthansa so tried to get me on that flight. She had to get my info off the flight I was on and move me onto the Lufthansa flight. Only there was a problem at unchecking me from the Air Canada flight. She told me to go downstairs to speak to someone at a different counter, who should be able to sort it. I rushed down there, a lady tried to help... then she sent me to another counter, where a guy ended up getting it sorted for me. It was a long and sweaty wait, but huge relief when it got sorted. I boarded the flight and was on my way.
Only then I started worrying that my luggage could still be going to Montreal. What if they hadn't intercepted it, since it had been tagged from Birmingham, to go to Montreal where I'd pick it up at customs and immigration and then to Toronto? What if I arrived in Toronto to find I had no clothes for the next week, and it was stuck in Montreal with no-one to collect it? Ok, I can tell you're saying 'Just get to the food!' so I'll skip my mid-air worry... I got to Toronto and happy days, my suitcase was waiting for me. Phew!
Did I mention that this direct flight meant that I would be getting to Toronto 4 hours earlier. See... my horoscope had been right! The cancellation of my flight was a blessing in disguise and instead of getting to Toronto at 8.30pm, I got there at 4.30pm - meaning more time to get to Hogtown Vegan before it shut! Woot!
My friend's flight also got slightly delayed (she was meant to be there earlier) - so we both arrived at the airport at similar times and met up and made our way through the freezing snow to our hotel in Toronto together. What was awesome was that before even getting to our hotel we had passed two vegetarian restaurants (Green's Vegetarian Restaurant and Kings Cafe Vegetarian. We checked in, sorted stuff out for 10mins and then headed to Hogtown Vegan.
The awesome thing about Hogtown Vegan is that it's on the same street as Disgraceland, a bar that also sells an array of vegan food. I wanted to go to BOTH. And we did! Hogtown Vegan is actually open until 11pm every day except Sunday (Sunday is 10pm) which is great. It's one of the latest vegan diners in Toronto that you can go to. Hogtown Vegan is at 834 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6G 1M3. It was busy when we went in, although we found a table. You can view their menu on their website over at http://hogtownvegan.com. I opted for the vegan philly cheese burger and fries. Obviously, as you can tell from the name, Hogtown Vegan is 100% vegan. My meat-eating friend Maria had Unchicken & Waffles which was deep-fried soya chicken on waffles, smothered in maple butter with collard greens and mash. The philly cheese burger and fries were great and very filling. The burger was quite well done. I'd wanted to be able to try some of the vegan food at Disgraceland after, but Hogtown Vegan filled me up.
I dragged my non-vegan friend then over to Disgraceland, where we just had a drink due to being full up. I wish we could have gone back there to eat some of their vegan food, but due to having other things to do and moving to a different hotel further away (and my meat eating friend not wanting me to drag her too far in search of vegan food) for the rest of our stay we didn't get to. I guess this means I need to go back to Toronto at some point and make it happen next time. They sell food until 2am and you can get everything from vegan poutine (more on that later!) to vegan burgers and hot dogs to vegan rib-wich (BBQ ribs with coleslaw and avocado on a kaiser). Check out their menu over at http://www.disgraceland.ca - they're not 100% vegan or vegetarian but we love how vegan-friendly they are. Also, while we were there Disgraceland (which you'll find just up the street from Hogtown Vegan over on the other side at 965 Bloor St W.) was hosting an Artist For The Ocean art exhibition. Bob Timmons' oceanic art was hanging on the wall. They also had a great Sea Shepherd banner hanging. They're pro-animal rights - yay. The bar also plays a lot of rock n' roll.
As jetlag was kicking in, and we had to be up early the next day to check out of one hotel and go to another, we didn't stay too late. I'd definitely recommend Disgraceland as a cool bar to go and hang out at though. It's great that it sells so much vegan food as well as beer and other beverages.
Next day we checked into our new hotel which was close to the Air Canada Centre and then went for a wander. After walking for while, we were getting hungry so went to Fresh on Spadina. This was a very busy place, packed with people. Fresh has three locations in Toronto and their website is at http://www.freshrestaurants.ca/ After checking out the menu I decided that instead of getting one 'meal' I'd get four 'sides' instead. I chose a side of home fries (forgetting that home fries over there are not like normal fries!), baked beans (not quite as good as UK beans), tempeh bacon (to be honest, I'm not a massive fan of tempeh and prefer regular vegan bacon) and two grilled vegan sausage patties. Most of the sides are $3 or $2. Meat-eating Maria chose the banana pancake with tofu scramble and vegan sausage patties. Fresh seems like a great in and out place to grab healthy (or not so healthy) food and go. People were constantly streaming in and out and it seemed very hectic (great to see a veggie/vegan place so busy)! It's close to Queen Street, at 147 Spadina Ave.
Later that evening, we took a cab to the Eaton Centre with two other friends. I had made note of the closest vegan/veggie diners to our hotel and Urban Herbivore at Eaton Centre was not too far away. Although it had started snowing and the other girls didn't want to walk, so we decided a cab between the four of us would be ok. We checked out some of the stores in the Eaton Centre first, I found a cool velvet top in Hot Topic, and then finally we went into the food court where Urban Herbivore was. Unfortunately for me, we discovered it was a huge food court comprising of lots of non-vegan places, so my three meat-eating friends chose to get something from some non-veggie food stores instead (boooo!!!). I went to Urban Herbivore and got a vegan BLT and a juice. As it was evening time they were running low on a few items. I was eyeing up a cupcake over on the side, deciding that I might buy it after I'd eaten the BLT - but they put it away before I'd finished the BLT, so I didn't get to eat that unfortunately! My waist may have been glad about this. It looked very nice though. Urban Herbivore's website is over at http://herbivore.to
Next day, after a trip up CN Tower, Maria and I went in Sadie's Diner. Sadie's Diner And Juice Bar is at 504 Adelaide St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1T5. Sadie's Diner was one of my fave places to visit. They sell vegan grilled cheese sandwich - which is a personal favourite. It came with the best fries. I was in Om Nom Heaven. Sometimes the most basic food is the best! Anyone in Toronto is very lucky that they have such a great place as Sadie's Diner. It was a bit of a walk down Adelaide Street but well worth it. This is a diner I would definitely go back to time and time again if I could. Check the website out at www.sadiesdiner.com The only downside is that it's 'only' vegetarian, and not 100% vegan. But most of the items ARE vegan. They just also have goat's cheese, cheddar cheese and maybe egg. Just ask for the vegan version though.
On our last morning in Toronto we went to the nearby Pizzaiolo, a pizza parlour with a variety of branches. We went to the Yonge Street joint. Pizzaiolo's website states that it sells some vegan pizzas - although again, it's not 100% vegan. It does sell meat, but it has three vegan pizzas and since pizza is another of my fave foods, I was itching to try a vegan pizza from Pizzaiolo. Sadly they don't use vegan cheese, and the pizzas on offer weren't your regular cheese pizza style pizzas. There were only two vegan pizzas out to purchase when we were there - Fredo, with yukon gold potatoes, and Whole Wheat Diana V, with mushrooms, tomatoes etc. I figured I'd try the Fredo. It wasn't bad, but I'd have much prefered a soya cheese pizza! I do like that they have three vegan options though. Not many regular pizza parlours have that many vegan choices.
I spotted a Subway promoting their vegan patty walking down Yonge Street too. I'd have liked to have gone in and bought one, but after all the vegan food, there was no room in my stomach!
We then took the train to Ottawa where we spent a day and a half. It was too late to find a vegan diner when we arrived (8.30pm). Ottawa doesn't have as many vegan restaurants as Toronto. Also, the snow was much heavier and deeper. We left the vegan diner searching until the next day when we decided to go to Perfection Satisfaction Promise. This was actually a surprise discovery while on the train to Ottawa. Yay for free internet on the train! Perfection Satisfaction Promise is a vegetarian restaurant at 167 Laurier Avenue East. We got lost finding it at first as the street numbers changed direction. We were also sent the wrong way when asking someone! But battling the snow we found it in the end - in the direction we'd been going at first! This is a soulful place, inspired by spiritual philosopher Sri Chinmoy and near the University. It's quite small with a little queue forming inside. I chose the vegan burger and backed it up with a slice of lemon poppy seed cake and a hot chocolate. The website is over at http://www.perfectionsatisfactionpromise.ca. Perfection Satisfaction Promise promises to fulfil your appetite.
Due to our trip to Ottawa being short, with just one full day, we didn't get to visit too many places and had to miss places like Green Door, which had been on our list. On the last morning, after Maria had taken the train back to Toronto, I had time for a walk to one final diner - Zen Kitchen. This was a great one to end on. Wanting to not spend too much, I chose the vegan poutine... oh yes... I was going to mention the poutine! And then topped it off with a brownie sundae. Now English friends, you may not know what poutine is. Or at least I didn't. I may have tried it sooner if I'd have known what it was - since the diners in Toronto also had it on their menus. Zen Kitchen had a description... handcut fries with house mushroom gravy and vegan spliced cheese. Yum. It's a Canadian specialty. I'm surprised actually that the word mushroom didn't put me off since I'm not a fan of mushrooms. But the word 'fries' was calling my name, so I chose the poutine - and wow, so good! I was definitely pleasantly surprised with this meal and it brought my trip to Canada to a nice ending. The brownie sundae was nice too - hot brownie on top of cold ice-cream... If you're in Ottawa, you should definitely go to Zen Kitchen. It's a larger restaurant than a lot that we visited, and looks very impressive and pristine inside. http://www.zenkitchen.ca 634 Somerset Street West.
Our trip to Canada was a great adventure - one I'll remember for a long time to come. It's awesome that Canada has so many great vegan places. I'd love to go back so I can visit them all again. And big thanks to Maria for allowing me to dragging her to so many places.