The Vegan Chili Series! First Up: Vegan Chili Brunch With Grilled Tofu Steaks at Niche Coffee & Tea on Queen West

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I’m not quite ready to unleash Ate by Ate’s Fall Harvest series just yet, so I thought it’d be fun to do a bit of a lead-in to get us all revved up first!  The best thing about fall food is the warm and fuzzy comfort factor and chili and stews are some of the best meals to induce that great cozy cocoon feeling.  Enter the vegan chili series to Ate by Ate!  Over the past year, I’ve come across a number of places around the city that serve their own unique interpretations and versions of vegan chili and I’m so excited to start this new series, not only as an individual series, but also as tie-in to the upcoming Fall Harvest series on the blog. 

Why the interest in vegan chili though, and how did I become interested in vegan chili in the first place?  Let it be known that I absolutely hate beef chili.  I may not be vegetarian or vegan, but that certainly doesn’t mean I enjoy all meat dishes and beef chili is one such meal I’d turn the other cheek to.  I can see myself enjoying turkey chili and I’m actually really looking forward to making some of my own in the near future, but for the time being, vegetarian and vegan chili is my way to go.  I have so many vegetarian and vegan friends (some of you might be reading this right now!) and I thought this would be a great way to introduce some veggie meals and the places that serve them to you all so you can tuck the information away for future reference.  Or if you’re really into what I post, you might just run on over right now and try the dishes out for yourself!

The first time I had vegan chili was 3 years ago when I was a newbie grad student eating lunch at The Grad Lounge at York.  As an every day, permanent menu item, the vegan chili was one of the most popular meals and I was constantly seeing people order it with the cute little corn muffins for lunch.  Growing up though, I was never the biggest fan of chili (I blame the beef varieties for turning me off) so even though I knew so many of my friends and classmates enjoyed it, I shyed away from it at first.  Then temptation and curiousity took over and I said to myself, “to hell with it, I’m getting me a bowl!”  And from then on, my chili ways changed forever and their vegan chili became one of my favourites, especially during the fall and winter.  Granted, my chili remained vegetarian as opposed to vegan at times because of the side of sour cream I’d order, but the meal itself is vegan through and through and a well-loved meal among the graduate student community.

Now, let’s get started with the first post of this vegan chili series!  First up, the grilled tofu on vegan chili brunch at Niche Coffee & Tea Company!  I mentioned this brunch dish in my first Niche post almost two weeks ago and I was itching to have this showcased in the series the second I found out the dish existed on the menu.  Niche is a coffee, tea, and brunch cafe located on Queen Street West just west of Bathurst St. with everything from eggs benny to French toast to omelettes to banana bread with Nutella and cinnamon sugar.  Their vegan chili is served two ways: vegetarian with eggs, or vegan with grilled tofu, and both styles ($10.50) come with your choice of either homemade grilled foccacia or cornbread.  I was so excited to order this that I was fidgeting in my seat and probably grinning like a fool when the nice waitress came around to take my order.  And that excitement wasn’t die down when my food came.  Behold!

What we have here: a nice big bowl of chili made with spiced tomato curry puree, chickpeas, red kidney beans, diced carrots, celery, and corn, served with 4 grilled tofu steaks, strips of crunchy baked tortilla chips, a slice of fresh tomato, arugula (no guacamole for this time unfortunately, but that wasn’t a big deal), and grilled wedges of fresh foccacia.  Oh my goodness, there were so many wonderful things about this meal.  First, the chili had some kick to it!  If you can’t tolerate heat in the slightest amount, this might not be the most comfortable meal for you to eat, but if you’re like me and you can take a bit of kick, you will LOVE this!  The flavour is so different because it’s not your run-of-the-mill crushed tomato chili.  It’s almost like a fusion of curry, tomato, and chili and I enjoyed it so much. 

The grilled tofu steaks were perfection.  They were so cute, like mini decks of tofu cards 😀  The texture was firm, the flavour was savoury, and there was that slight crispness around the edges from the grilling that made it even more delicious.  The crunchy tortilla strips were a fabulous addition and the foccacia…oh man.  I think the grilled foccacia wedges I had with this meal might have been some of the most delicious bread I’ve ever had.  The edges and outsides were crisp and the insides were amazingly soft and the bread just melts in your mouth.  It had a wonderful rosemary-thyme and olive oil flavour and I literally said, “ohhhh my god, this is so good” out loud after I took my first bite of it.

The whole vegan chili and tofu dish worked so well because of all the different textures (soft, crispy, juicy, moist, etc.) and all the flavours.  Even though I was drinking water with my meal, the tofu and foccacia is the perfect complement to the heat from the chili because it mellows it out and you get the best of all the flavours when you alternate between all the items of food.

If you try this out, I hope you’ll all enjoy it as much as I did.  If you have suggestions or requests for the series, feel free to leave a comment!  This is the first of hopefully many more vegan chili posts to come!

*****

Niche Coffee & Tea Company is located at 626 Queen Street West just east of Palmerston Ave. and west of Bathurst St.  They serve brunch during all hours of operations and are open 7 days a week at 8am on weekdays and 9am on weekends, with closing hours at 5pm on all days.

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