One of the things I love most about exploring Toronto is being surprised and confused by my sightings and discoveries in neighbourhoods I’ve been to a hundred times over. I know it sounds strange, but it’s true! You’re walking around an enclave you’ve been to so many times before and BAM! you catch sight of an adorable, snazzy little café or store or restaurant and you immediately do a double-take and wonder: how in the world did I miss this?? You can live in an area and still be unaware of the gems just around the corner and it’s actually not as weird as it sounds. At times we’re either caught up in our own day-to-day hustle and bustle, drowning things out, or strolling along in our own little bubble, alone with our thoughts, completely oblivious to our surroundings. But trust me, when you find that special something and realize it’s been under your nose the whole time, it’s like stepping into a goldmine. It’s so rewarding and this is exactly how I felt when I discovered Mela Café, an adorable Italian vegetarian and vegan eatery in Yorkville, just west of Yonge, this past fall.
Yes, you read right. Italian vegetarian! 😀 A place that serves authentic delicious Italian pastas and sandwiches and soups and desserts, all free of meat and incredibly affordable. I love this place so much. Not just because the food is amazing and so fresh and wholesome, but because of where the passion for the food comes from and the feelings of comfort the café evokes. If I had to choose one word to describe it, it would be “homey”. The decor is very cute; bright blue, green, and dark orange paint on the walls, huge cans of crushed tomatoes are stacked on the kitchen shelves, and a blackboard menu shows the day’s vegetarian and vegan eats.
As for the passion, chef and owner Roberto Granata was born and raised in Italy*, and transforms simple vegetables and ingredients into authentic Italian fare. The kitchen is clearly visible from the dining area and Roberto shows off his cooking skills from morning to night, preparing the day’s dishes. The daily menu changes, but think fresh vegetarian lasagna with lentils, broccoli, and carrots, ricotta stuffed ravioli, breaded eggplant panini, potato and mushroom pie, mashed sweet potatoes mixed with rapini, and tiramisu and freshly baked muffins. Oh, and lots and lots of fresh tomato sauce. And this list isn’t even exhaustive!
Just recently I enjoyed the eggplant panini sandwich and oh my goodness is this ever delicious to the max! Sandwiched between a crusty baguette are lots of crispy, mouthwatering wedges of breaded eggplant and fresh basil leaves, served on a plate with lots of tomato sauce for dipping! This panini sandwich is all sorts of amazingness. It packs so much flavour and eating it is seriously like having a flavour boxing match in your mouth. The large basil leaves give the sandwich a punch of spicy freshness, the breaded eggplant has a delicious crispy saltiness to it, and the soft crusty bread sops up the juiciness from the tomato sauce. I could eat here every day for a month and not miss meat.
The prices here are also fantastic. Every dish is under $10 with most of them hovering around $6-$8.50, and soups and desserts come in at around $4.50. This place is lovely and so cozy and homey and even though the space is small (definitely keep that in mind during lunch and dinner rush hours!), it’s the perfect place to have enjoy a quiet meal on your own while perusing through Yorkville and to enjoy a lunch date with a friend. Or in my case, with my boyfriend 🙂 Along with Kale Eatery and King’s Café, this is an absolute vegetarian & vegan goldmine and one of the best foodie discoveries ever.
Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.
* = source from The Toronto Star, April 18, 2010
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