I took to Fresh like a newly minted cult member. This is only slightly hyperbolic a metaphor. I was in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival, and when one is seeing upwards of five films a day, food becomes a very pressing concern, and it can’t just be any food, as salty processed stuff just ends up making me sluggish and more prone to tune out during a flick. For preference it needs to be healthy and hearty stuff, while also being served quick enough that I have plenty of time to duck out between films to refuel.
I’d already been recommended Fresh by a couple of folks who had been to T-town relatively recently, and on discovering there was an outpost on Spadina Avenue a few blocks from the cinema I’d be spending most of my time in, I visited on my first day. And then went back, no lie, nearly every day. I was fanatical, swift and deep.
The reason Fresh struck such a chord with me, apart from my very exacting film festival food requirements, was that everything was simultaneously healthy and delicious, with a wide breadth of options. Indeed, within ten days of visits I didn’t end up ordering any dish twice, I kept being beguiled by something new every day.
My favourite dish all over was probably my second Fresh meal, the panko crumbed squash tacos. These were definitely not eat with your hands tacos as the fillings were so multitudinous that there’s no way you’d be able to trap them all in a tortilla. The two of them spilled forth with tomato, red onion, kale, coriander leaves, fat little nuggets of crispy crumbed squash, and drizzled with creamy jalapeno lime sauce. Squeeze over a wedge of lime and attack with a knife and fork, and it was a zingy delight.
For a quick injection of health, their huge selection of salads and bowls were a great choice. The ‘ace of kales’ salad was an explosion of vegetables, with a kale base supporting heirloom grape tomatoes, spring onions, avocado, jicama, toasted mixed nuts, and thick slabs of tempeh bacon. I did find the tempeh bacon just a bit too sweet for my liking, but otherwise who could sniff at such a bowl of goodness? The green goddess bowl, which had already come with Steph’s seal of approval, was served on soba (you can choose rice instead if you would prefer) and came with broccoli, pickled ginger, grilled tempeh, toasted sunflower seeds, tahini sauce and steamed greens. It was lucky I ordered a baby-sized bowl of this, as despite the deliciousness it was an absolute stuffer for my tiny Australian belly!
Michael had been VERY INSISTENT on Fresh’s quinoa onion rings being a must-try item. I first had them as a component of the BBQ burger, which along with the rings comes with an almond and grain patty, banana chilies, napa cabbage, tomato, lettuce and garlic mayo. As a burger it was huge and quite overwhelming, and quickly had to be reduced to its parts in order to be easily eaten, but it revealed that the quinoa onion rings were indeed devilish magic and needed to be sampled further. So on a later visit I dutifully ordered them alongside a cup of Cuban chickpea and sweet potato soup. Served with vegan dipping mayo, the solo onion rings properly proved themselves to be appropriately off tap. Let’s all be deep frying quinoa, it is clearly a boss idea.
The only thing I had which strayed off the healthy agenda (okay apart from the onion rings, but they don’t really count, they are our crunchy friends in a bowl) was the green poutine. Now you might think from the word ‘green’ that surely it would be somewhat healthy, but that shows your unfamiliarity with poutine. Chips, cheese and gravy are still chips, cheese and gravy, even if the gravy is made of real mushrooms, even if the cheese sauce is a creamy vegan alternative, EVEN IF it is topped with sauteed rainbow chard. THE GREENERY IS A TRAP! This is still poutine, and it will sit in your tum like delicious potato concrete, and even if you roll out the door groaning there will be no regrets. THIS IS POUTINE.
Fresh also have a selection of takeaway sandwiches, baguettes and salads, which were very helpful for those gaps between films that weren’t long enough for a sit down meal. I very quickly found my favourite in the mock turkey with aged cheddar sandwich, with salad bits all held together with a light mayo. Mock meaty sandwiches are something that I really wish I could get around Melbourne easily.
Given Fresh places equal emphasis upon it’s juice bar status as it does their food, I can’t wind up without saying a bit about the drinks menu. Basically you can get any fruit and vegetable known to man whizzed up into a juice or smoothie. My particular favourite was the Grapefruit Glow, comprising of grapefruit, cucumber, lemon, fresh mint, agave and mineral water, and was a bubbly, zingy pick me up. There’s also plenty of green smoothies and juices – thankfully Fresh follow the rule of ‘make sure your proportion of sweet fruits outweigh your greens so that it doesn’t taste like iron-rich sludge’. I also recommend, in the case of a slightly ticklish throat and sluggishness brought on by too many doughnuts, the Ginger Fireball, which juices up a bunch of fresh ginger and lemon with hot water and your choice of either raw honey or agave, it’ll strip any trace of ill feeling from your body and throw it at the nearest wall.
This is probably the most comprehensive review I’ve ever given on this blog, hence the fact it is running to such a huge number of effusive words. I ate more of Fresh’s menu in a week than I’ve managed at most of my regular Melbourne haunts in a year. And I already miss having such an easy, healthy veg alternative that ticks all those veg*n eating options yet isn’t hippy-dippy or aggressively hipster, and just puts its head down to pump out good, quick, yet still interesting food. Could we perhaps open a Melbourne outpost, Fresh HQ? I think you would do very well here.
147 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
(other locations on Queen Street West, Bloor Street West and Eglinton Street West)
Ph: +1 416 599 4442