Blintz On Tour: Early Bird Espresso & Brew Bar, Toronto

I was loving Toronto, but the one thing I was missing was a proper coffee. I’d been relying on Tim Horton’s to keep me awake during film screenings, and while it was leagues preferable to Starbucks I got to a point where I just needed a coffee that tasted like coffee, not French vanilla.

I’d noticed Early Bird Espresso & Brew Bar on my walk looking for Grasslands a week earlier, and noted it down as a likely possibility for good coffee. It reminded me of Melbourne cafes a lot, with lots of exposed brick walls, chalkboard menus and LOTS of coffee machines and paraphernalia purring or bubbling away.

I nearly cried with joy at seeing a flat white listed on their menu. It was a very sharp, bordering on bitter initial flavour hit – these are clearly some hefty beans they are using here – but the further into the cup you go that sharpness starts to level out. It never quite gets to a smooth, sedate flavour profile, but hey, at least you know you’re drinking coffee. Also the barista knew how to pour a flat white PERFECTLY, I may have experienced a significant stab of homesickness at the sight.

I ordered myself a little brunch as well – a tomato and soft-boiled egg sandwich with rocket on olive paste sourdough. I couldn’t go past the idea of a boiled egg sandwich, to the point where I bypassed my usual olive trepidation. I normally find olives far too overwhelming, they tend to blot out other flavours for me, but the balance here was spot on, with the toasted olive sourdough nicely coupling with the fresh, lightly salt-and-peppered tomato and thin slices of boiled egg with their creamy yolks.

There’s plenty of pastries and cookies available as well, along with sweet brunch options of yoghurt pots or chia seed puddings topped with a variety of fruits and nuts. While I didn’t notice anything obviously vegan, considering they served a pretty famous vegan a few days before my visit I’m going to guess that they can cover you.

Early Bird is a great spot for anyone hankering for a drop of the good bean, and especially so for antipodeans longing for a coffee that possesses a whiff of home.

Early Bird Espresso & Brew Bar

613 Queen Street West, Toronto

Ph: +1 (647) 962 4204

www.facebook.com/EarlyBirdBrew

Blintz on Tour: Grasslands, Toronto

The funny thing about Toronto is that the subway doesn’t operate on a Sunday until 9am. This obviously made it a little difficult for me to get to the 9am film screening I’d planned to attend on this particular Sunday, but no matter – instead I decided to go on a nice long walk through the University and Chinatown, ending up on Queen Street West in the hope that Grasslands might be open at the end of my hike.

Steph was so effusive about her visit to Grasslands back in June that before I left for Toronto she essentially grabbed me by the lapels to shout “GO TO GRASSLANDS OR YOU WILL BE FORFEIT TO ME AS A PERSON.” Well, I did not want to be FORFEIT, so I was pleased that Grasslands was indeed open by the time I loped into the Queen Street neighbourhood.

I remembered Steph heartily recommending the hangover plate, but I liked very much the sound of a morning burrito, so went with the breakfast burrito: house scrambled tofu, corn, black beans, mushrooms, daiya cheddar cheese, onions, peppers and guacamole wrapped in a flour tortilla, served alongside a house salad of dressed greens, cabbage, red onion and slivered almond bits, another mound composed of house fries, and, delightfully, two pieces of watermelon.

The meals at Grasslands are served on these long platters with each component laid out end to end, which is perfect for weirdos like me who like their food SEPARATE, for ease of individual component tasting. Moving down the platter, firstly the breakfast burrito was nicely sized, big enough to feel like a solid handful, but not, you know, the size of your head, which is initially exciting but ends up after a while feeling like the kitchen is just trying to intimidate your stomach. The tofu mixture inside was properly spicy and will definitely wake you up should you be having a sleepy morning. Also, everyone was right about daiya being the only vegan cheese worth bothering with – no nasty chemical overtones, actual proper cheesy taste achieved. I’m not sure what is stopping daiya from being widely available in Australia but we have to get on that, stat.

The salad was lightly dressed in a mayo-ish sauce and provided an excellent creamy crunch. Also crunchy were the fries, and I would like to put forward that my Official Stance is that fries for breakfast are entirely acceptable and I would like to see more of it, MORE I SAY. And of course the sweet juicy burst of watermelon to finish and cleanse the palate was a very thoughtful touch.

Grasslands also has a nicely varied drinks menu. While I could of started the morning in an alcoholic fashion with a breakfast cocktail I decided to be slightly sensible for once and instead chose one of the mocktails, a cucumber lemonade complete with a sugared glass rim, all tart and refreshing and just what was required to hit that spot.

Steph was right (she always is) that Grasslands was a Toronto must. You must, you must, you must.

Grasslands

478 Queen Street West, Toronto

Ph: +1 (416) 504-5127

www.grasslands.to

Blintz on Tour: Bunners, Toronto

Two doors down from Hibiscus is Bunners, a vegan and gluten-free bakery. Toronto doesn’t seem to lack for vegan bakeries – I was devastated to discover too late to visit the existence of Apiecalyspe Now in Mirvish Village because IT WAS A VEGAN BAKESHOP CALLED APIECALYPSE NOW, THAT IS A-GRADE PUN WORK – and if Bunners is any indication of the general standard of vegan baked goods in Toronto then veg*n Canadians are disgracefully lucky.

Faced with an array of cupcakes, danishes, cookies and pie slices, I was a little overwhelmed for choice. Upon noticing though that they were down to a single butter tart, I knew that it had my name on it.

Butter tarts are a particularly Canadian dessert and usually involves, you guessed it, an obscene amount of butter, so I was very curious to see how a vegan version would pan out. It panned out like so: flaky, deceptively light yet decadently buttery pastry encased a golden, custard-like filling that was creamy, slightly greasy in a good way, and wholly melt-in-you-mouth delicious. I was immediately sad that there was only one to eat, yet simultaneously EVER SO SMUG IT WAS MINE.

I also took away a ginger molasses cookie with me, which I ended up eating for breakfast the next morning (cookies are a PERFECTLY CROMULENT holiday breakfast food, okay?). Nearly the size of my hand, top covered in fat cubes of granulated brown sugar and a piece of crystallised ginger marking the centre, it gave away easily when bitten and burst forth with a spicy, ever so satisfying mouthful. Your wouldn’t have realised it was vegan AND gluten-free if you hadn’t of been told.

I highly recommend Bunners as a must-visit on the Toronto veg*n trail. Pair it with a visit to Hibiscus and reward your vegie bowl health with a perfectly crafted sweet treat.

Bunners

244 Augusta Avenue, Toronto (there’s also a second location at 3054 Dundas Street West)

Ph: +1 (647) 350-2975

www.bunners.ca

Blintz on Tour: Hibiscus, Toronto

I was honestly very lucky to have so many friends who had traveled to Toronto in the past few years who were more than eager to give me food tips, eliminating my having to do a lot of strenuous research and soothing my lazy soul. Hibiscus came highly recommended by Carla, who rated it among her best Toronto food experiences.

The first thing I appreciated about Hibiscus was the CALM. It’s situated in the middle of Kensington Market, which seems to be Toronto’s hippy-dippy alternative heart (a bar was advertising “Spliff Reggae Night” if you want to get the general vibe) and is quite bustling, but as soon as you enter Hibiscus this heavenly, relaxed sense of calm descends.

Hibiscus keeps things simple. You essentially have three savoury options: soup, salad, or a selection of savoury and sweet vegan crepes. Since all I could see around me were folks tucking enthusiastically into bowls of salad I figured this was the best way to go.

The bowl is nicely hefty, but not completely belly stuffing, really the perfect amount. And it’s a generous bowl in terms of fillings, featuring on this particular day quinoa, broccoli, kidney beans, tofu cubes, brown lentils, shredded kale, grated beets and carrot, a kind of rough sweet potato mash, served with a thin square of raw cracker and topped with a little mound of cellophane noodles. A terribly attractive bowl of colour it was.

I really like this tendency in Canadian vegie eateries of “here, this is a big bowl of ALL THE THINGS, mix and eat to your heart’s content.” They’re great in terms of offering a meal with a variety of textures, and if all the flavours work then its just a delight of a thing. In this bowl particularly I loved the beets, the excellent sweet potato, the noodles that provided an exciting contrasting bite, and the bright pieces of broccoli that had been blanched just enough and allowed to infuse with some kind of light dressing. It all presented a front of being very simple, yet underneath it all very, very clever.

Did I also mention that the entire menu is gluten free? Yeah, yeah it is. And there’s a cold cabinet filled with ICE CREAM. Hibiscus is the BUSINESS.

Hibiscus

238 Augusta Avenue, Toronto

Ph: +1 (416) 364-6183

hibiscuscafe.ca

Blintz on Tour: Sadie’s Diner, Toronto

Sadie’s Diner was another Toronto vegan landmark that came highly recommended by Michael, and his recs weren’t steering me wrong, so I took myself out early one morning before my films started for the day to find the place. It wasn’t hard: it’s a bright blue house on a corner down Adelaide Street West.

Sadie’s does veg*n diner food, as you may have guessed from the name, and you can expect a lot of scrambles, fry-ups, waffles and pancakes on their menu. I was indeed tempted by sweets (the chocolate chip pancakes ALONE), but thought it was probably more sensible to have a hearty savoury dish under my belt to get me through a lot of films. So alongside a tall glass of cranberry juice I went with the tofu scramble with home fries, vegan sausage and rye toast.

The scramble was indeed hearty, threaded through with liberal amounts of spinach and red onion. I did find it a tad dry, but this is a problem I tend to have with tofu scrambles across the board, so do not blame Sadie’s. The home fries were smoky, slightly herbed cubes of delight – you know that I have never looked askance at a good potato, and I am now all aboard the home fries train.

The vegan sausage was the most intriguing and surprisingly most delicious component, chewy on the outside with a tough skin yet packed full of flavour within. It might perplex others texturally but with a thump of the ketchup bottle I was in heaven.

Sadie’s is definitely a place you should take a look see at if you happen to be in Toronto’s woods. I’m STILL nursing a bruised sadness that I didn’t make my way back to have a crack at all the sweet breakfast options. Ah well, next time.

Sadie’s Diner

504 Adelaide Street West, Toronto

Ph: (+1) 416 777-2343

www.sadiesdiner.com