“Food is Fuel, Food is Medicine, Food is Love”. This passage, carved beautifully onto the metal plaque outside Cafe Belong, sums up, guides, and informs every menu creation, every culinary decision, every philosophical perspective, and every loving feeling towards food that Cafe Belong has. It’s a beautiful way to sum up how I feel about food. For me, food is my creative fuel. It makes me excited for things to come, open to new opportunities and experiences. Learning about food and being completely immersed in all its complexities has enriched my life in ways I never could have imagined and it truly is the fuel that drives my dreams and ambitions.
And food as medicine? That too. Just not in the way you might think. Being a foodie is therapeutic for me. Hunkering down and zoning out while I’m scrapbooking my food photos puts me in my happy place. And when I’m convinced I’m too tired to blog or to go out and get stories, I use that love of food to push myself a little harder and to remind myself that I have so much fun doing it. When my fingers hit the computer keys, everything’s good. Food is love.
In the context of Cafe Belong, this passage has to do with the integrity of food in all its facets (preparation, cultivation, presentation) and treating food, and the land it grows on, the people who make it, serve it, grow it, and eat it, with the utmost love and respect. This is much easier said than done, but that is what makes the joy and experience of eating and cooking that much more rewarding. It’s the same joy and pride you feel when you pluck a ripe tomato off the wine in your own backyard and when you snip chives off from your herb pots. This is not to say that the farm-to-table, locavore way of eating and living is without flaw; only that the guiding principles behind this way of eating provides an alternative or at the very least, a way of envisioning one.
What makes me SO excited about Cafe Belong and its food are their ever-changing menus based on the seasons. I LOVE seasonal fare and with 3 different main menus to eat from (lunch and dinner, 4 to 6, and weekend brunch), there is so much fabulous, delicious food to go around. Menus are divided into hot and cold “kitchens” and sides, with each section highlighting seasonal ingredients. Cold plates include things such as fresh vegetable, cheese, and grain salads (tomato salad and pot barley), cold plates with fish and seafood (cured fish and fennel, tuna ceviche, spring lobster salad with fingerlings), cured meats and cheeses, and yogurt and granola brunch among others. Hot dishes incorporate fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits in ways that liven up warm comfort food such as smoked duck with squash, cranberries, and beans, lobster boil with leeks, potatoes, and greens, and cauliflower gratin and squash dumplings.
The menus are so inspiring and there is so much to explore and try and if I had to choose a seasonal menu to be the most excited about, it would have to be fall. My heart feels full to bursting at the thought of gorgeous fall colours and leaves outside the cafe windows and fall comfort food. It’ll take a very long time to cycle through a year’s worth of seasonal menu items, but I am definitely up for the challenge of enjoying one special meal here each and every season to get a well-rounded perspective an overall experience of Cafe Belong.
My first Cafe Belong experience was a weekend brunch one and I enjoyed it in the lively atmosphere of the dining room and kitchen, where the hustle and bustle of the kitchen was visible and the windows from where natural light streamed in seemed never-ending. People were ordering summer cocktails (brunch cocktails for those of you who love a tipple in the morning!), heaping mountainous plates of brunch salad, and wooden planks carrying brunch lobster rolls and other mouthwatering entities. While I’ll admit that it was a warm day in the cafe when I went, everything felt light and airy and relaxing with the large windows overlooking the lovely outdoor patio. I know it seems odd that I would give up a chance at dining al fresco (hello, summer patio dining series), but I didn’t feel like donning my hat while I ate so inside beside a window I stayed.
The summer brunch menu ($9 on the low end, $25 at its highest end) features dishes such as potato and egg tart wih apple and greens, lobster roll on brioche with cucumber, radish, and spinach, blueberry pancakes with whipped cream and maple syrup, poached eggs with hollandaise, honey-glazed ham, and savoury biscuit, and market flatbread in vegan, vegetarian, and carni form. My pick? The smoked trout and chevre quiche with tomato and cucumber salad ($18), a beautiful, colourful dish bursting with juicy, smoky, cheesy flavour! This was not your typical quiche though. From the menu, you would think of quiche with trout and chevre (goat cheese) in it with cucumbers and tomatoes on the side. Oh no, the dish was comprised of two baby goat cheese quiche tarts surrounded by thick wedges of smoked trout fish, sprigs of fresh dill, juicy tomatoes, and sliced cucumbers in a creamy, tangy, scumptious dressing that tasted like a lighter, airier version of a buttermilk thousand island dressing.
It was so sweet and adorable because the trout, tomatoes, and cucumber huddled around the baby quiches like a cozy igloo (I know, I know, it’s SUMMER, but that’s what comes to mind!) and the flavours just flowed between each other wonderfully. I love that the baby quiches had a crispy yet fluffy cornbread taste and texture to them and the sprigs of dill just heightened the flavours of the dish phenomenally. The tomatoes were ridiculously juicy and tender and basically melted in my mouth and the quiches mopped up the dressing very nicely.
There was creamy, tangy flavour from the dressing and goat cheese, warmth and comfort from the quiche which balanced out the “cold kitchen”ness of the dish, and insanely savoury delicious smokiness from the trout. It was like eating mouthfuls of cured fish with flavour that just did not quit. I really appreciated the amount of fresh fish on my plate and only wish the quiches were larger so I would have more to enjoy! What was lovely was how each ingredient played off each other. You could feasibly eat each one on its own and it would still be taste delightful, but together it was wonderful.
Cafe Belong is located at Evergreen Brick Works at 550 Bayview Ave. They are open for weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, and lunch and dinner 7 days a week from 11:30am-10pm from Monday-Friday, and 11am-10pm on weekends. Click HERE to view menus and to read more about this wonderful locavore cafe.