Curried Chicken & Quinoa Meatloaf & Fluffy Quinoa Salad – Comfort Food from the Heart of Her Royal Highness, Queen Mother Cafe

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*Trumpets and horns tooting in the distance*  “Hear ye, hear ye!  We are gathered here today to mark the celebration of winter comfort food in the wake of the treacherous weather that has descended upon our fair land.  Winter comfort food shall not be taken lightly; it is of utmost importance that we, the masses, surround thyselves with warmth, flavour and heartiness over the coming months in efforts to warm and soothe thy soul and fill thy belly amidst snow, rain and freezing cold.  Thou shall read this post and proceed to drool over the plethora of scrumptious delights Her Royal Highness, Queen Mother Cafe, has to offer: the brightest and heartiest of salads, the most mouthwatering of sandwiches, the savouriest of pasta and noodle dishes, the most scrumptious of burgers, and the most decadent of desserts.  Take note my fellow foodies, for there is only one Royal Highness in the land.”

It’s time to cozy up to some really awesome comfort food in the downtown core on Queen Street West at Queen Mother Cafe!  After passing by this beautiful establishment (serving food in the city since 1978!) more times than I can remember over the years, I fianlly put my foot down and said, “I’m going, no more putting this off!” back at the end of November.  And after that first time, I mentally slotted Queen Mother Cafe into my top 10 favourites, just like that.  It drives me crazy (in a good way!) when I find or visit a place that I end up loving so much I want to go back over and over forever and ever.  It’s one thing to want to come back on your own, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to tell others that they MUST ALSO GO OR ELSE.

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And you all know me well enough to know that it’s rare for me to order the exact same thing from a place because 1) I like variety and 2) I can’t blog about the same dish twice so I purposely choose different things so that I’ll always have new content for Ate by Ate even though there might be one particular dish that I adore to pieces.  Well, I’m confessing that I broke my own rule because I actually went back in December and ordered the same thing because IT WAS THAT AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS.  I didn’t order a salad the first time though and I ordered a different dessert so at least I did that!

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There are so many things to love about Queen Mother Cafe.  For starters, it’s cozy and warm and intimate and homey with Victorian flair.  Second, it’s so close to Osgoode subway station and walkable from Eaton Centre.  Finally, and most importantly, their menu and food leaves me awestruck.  Multi-faceted doesn’t even begin to describe how fantastic it is.  There are meat dishes, vegetarian and vegan dishes, light fare, hearty fare, bar food, comfort food (which, to some, could be one in the same!) and so many different textures and ethnic flavours: Thai, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and French just to name a handful.  There is no shortage of variety on their menu as well, with choices ranging from Thai noodles to grilled sandwiches to grain salads to mouthwatering burgers, providing the perfect landscape for picky eaters and larger parties with different diets and preferences.  In addition to their regular menu, they offer daily specials and a weekend brunch menu on Sundays.

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What we have here is their fluffy quinoa salad and their to-die-for curried chicken and quinoa meatloaf burger (oh we’ll get to dessert in the next post!  And if you’re wondering, no, I did not eat all this by myself!  I shared.)  If you love quinoa, you need to have these dishes in your life because they are game-changers.  Their quinoa salad ($10.95) is a meal-sized salad consisting of quinoa, chickpeas, crumbled goat cheese, sundried tomatoes and red peppers, a little bit of diced red onion, lots of fresh flat-leaf parsley (I love parsley like nobody’s business so I happily inhaled it all) and baby salad greens, all tossed in a light and refreshing vinaigrette of lemon, herbs, garlic and olive oil.

The great thing about this salad is the lightness and all the different textures in it.  The goat cheese is very creamy, you have the crunch from the parsley and chickpeas, a little savoury flavour from the sundried tomatoes and peppers and the greens complement the quinoa giving it even more body and fullness.

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Okay.  The curried chicken and quinoa meatloaf burger ($13.95; all burgers and sandwiches are served with your choice of Yukon gold fries or salad).  I honestly didn’t know what to expect when they brought my plate to me.  I just knew I wanted it because it sounded so delicious from the description: “lean ground chicken and quinoa with onions, celery, bell peppers, lime leaf and curry, oven baked and nestled on a toasted bun with baby arugula and roasted tomatoes”.  Would the meatloaf be like a big meatball on a bun?  Would it be a round grain patty?  Would it more like a sloppy joe type of style?

When my plate was placed down, angels sang and harps started playing.  I could not believe how beautiful it looked.  A perfect 1-inch loaf slice of, hands down, one of the juiciest, most amazing things I have ever tasted in my life!  The curry flavour was bang on, the meatloaf was so moist and the ground chicken and quinoa complemented each other so well because the ground meat gave it depth and body while the quinoa kept it from being too stodgy or heavy.  The roasted tomatoes lent a little bit of juicy acidity to it and the arugula kept it bright and crunchy.  It was one of those dishes that struck the perfect balance.  It was hearty and made you full without making you feel uncomfortable in the end.  On the contrary, this will leave you feeling energized and so good afterward.

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And the bun!  I’ll be the first to admit that I shy away from sandwiches and burgers sometimes because I’m just not a fan of some of the buns people serve.  Sometimes they’re too dry, too hard, too doughy or too bland (or even a combination of all of them).  But on this burger?  Holy mother of pearl.  The toasted bun is so soft and light on the outside and crispy on the inside and more than capable of holding the entire meatloaf burger fillings together.

I can’t praise Queen Mother Cafe enough; it is a gem in this city.  In the next post, we’ll talk dessert!

*****

Queen Mother Cafe is located at 208 Queen Street West in the downtown core just steps away from Osgoode subway station, situated between St. Patrick Street and Duncan Street.  They are opened 7 days a week, serving lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (11:30 am to 1 am) and weekend brunch and dinner on Sundays (11:30 am to midnight 12 am).  You can visit their official website HERE to view their info and menu.

Frittata Sandwiches, Edamame with Avocado & Arugula Salads – Fresh Flavours & Fall Comfort at Yorkville Espresso Bar

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This fall is shaping up to be an amazing season so far.  I’ve done some baking, I’ve got my blogging back on, and I can’t even begin to describe how freakin’ excited I am for Thanksgiving this year!  The quintessential “day of turkey” is one week away and I’ve spent most of the weekend sticky-noting recipes and planning the menu for my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, not to mention packing as much foodie goodness as I can into the holiday weekend with my boyfriend, family and friends.

While I do have pumpkins and apples (cooked and baked because of my raw fruit allergy!) and squash on the brain, part of me knows it’s still waaaay too early to be in full comfort food mode.  We have plenty of time for that in the dreaded “w” word in the coming months!  Fall food is so inviting because it incorporates both cozy comfort with bright and fresh flavours: fruit and veg soups, bean and vegetable salads with comforting herbs, fruity vinaigrettes and dressings, and tender meats with root vegetables and juicy cooked fruit.  I love how the weather is cool but still pleasantly balmy on days and how I can still enjoy the lighter fare without sweating to death and hiding from the fierce sun like I do during the summer!

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Which brings me to a teeny confession I have to make: this post and these photos were supposed to be on Ate by Ate over a month ago.  Possibly even 2 months ago.  But life happened and this post just never did.  Long story short, Yorkville Espresso Bar owners Rita and Tony invited me to the cafe for return visit to share a meal, to watch chef John Vetere cook and work his magic on the cafe’s many delicious menu items in the kitchen studio, to try some of the cafe’s various gluten-free bakery items from coffee and baking master Drew Randall and to basically talk food, blogging and community.  It was such a fun day and it was such a cool experience seeing the cafe menu items that make us drool come to life right before my eyes.  These photos were taken at Yorkville Espresso Bar during the summer and part of me worried that I wouldn’t be able to make them relevant for fall.  Thankfully for me, their food is just as perfect for fall as it is for summer and I’m just happy I finally get to share with you guys!

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Yorkville Espresso Bar has introduced a number of different breakfast and lunch foods to their ever-expanding menu: frittata sandwiches oozing with eggs, herbs, veggies and cheese (oh and ham!), scrumptious wraps with creamy cheese and fresh vegetables, and a plethora of hearty but bright salads.  Aside from how yummy everything is, what makes the food so enticing to me is the price point.  Being located in Yorkville doesn’t exactly give you the reputation of being inexpensive.  Let’s face it, Yorkville isn’t known as Mink Mile for nothing; its poshness extends to the dining scene too.  But Yorkville Espresso Bar has made their dishes and food so accessible by making it healthy, fresh and affordable.  You have the frittata sandwiches and salads coming in at $4 and $4.50 respectively (under $5!) and their ginourmous wraps and artisan bread sandwiches coming in under $10 at $8.

Their food menu is a reflection of what folks in and around the community have asked for; Rita and Tony and their staff have taken so much of everyone’s feedback to heart and have put an enormous amount of thought and care into their menu, offering healthy food that isn’t run of the mill (nobody needs a limp lettuce and tomato salad that was packaged the day before thank you very much), made the morning of, and perfect for both dine-in and grab-and-go for the work crowd.  Their food menu includes herb roasted chicken wraps with crunchy celery and sunflower seeds, Thai tuna with basmati rice, and shaved carrots dressed in chili sauce, Italian meatball and mozzarella and rapini on toasted artisan bread and even Trinidadian doubles among other savouries alongside the mountain of baked goods and gluten-free items such as biscotti, muffins, pastries, tarts, scones, brownies, loaf cakes, macarons and more.

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What we have here are toasted and grilled English muffin frittata sandwiches stuffed with eggs, mozzarella, provolone and basil along with ham and cheese sandwiches, grilled sun-dried tomato wraps stuffed with creamy goat cheese, roasted red peppers, zucchini, eggplant, greens and mushrooms and two amazing, fantastic salads: white beans infused with fresh sprigs of rosemary with edamame, avocado and red onion vinaigrette and an artichoke salad with grape tomatoes, olives, arugula, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finished with a red wine vinaigrette.  I love English muffin sandwiches like nobody’s business.  At home, I toast English muffins and eat them with cream cheese and nothing else at times.  Yorkville Espresso Bar does a special daily frittata sandwich each morning and on this day my tastebuds were treated to two of my favourite things enveloped in eggs: cheese and basil.  It makes my stomach growl just thinking about it.

Next, we have the sun-dried tomato wrap.  This thing is HUGE.  I was watching chef John make it while I was taking photos in the Kitchen Studio and I was all bug-eyed when I saw the size of tortilla he was using!  For those who loooove grilled wraps and vegetarian sandwiches, you need this in your life.  The goat cheese and eggplant totally do it for me and it’s just gorgeous to look at.  It is a thing of beauty and so soft and flavourful with a hint of smokiness from the grilled vegetables and grilled tortilla wrap.

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Finally, the salads.  The scrumptious, mouthwatering salads.  They are perfect as an accompaniment to the sandwiches but also just as perfect on their own.  They are truly top-notch and for $4.50…you really can’t ask for more.  I watched as Chef John cooked the soaked white beans, infusing them with warm rosemary flavour in a giant pot of boiling water with onions and brightening them at the same time with crunchy edamame and soft, creamy avocado in the finished product.  It’s a beautiful fusion of warmth and comfort with lightness and it’s definitely a winning combination you don’t find at other places.  To finish off: the arugula and artichoke salad.  I love arugula so much and the red wine vinaigrette that the salad was tossed in was delicious.  The tomatoes in the salad balance out the briny flavour of the olives and artichokes and peppery bite of the arugula, and parm just elevates the savouriness to another level.  These are the types of salads I always wish for because their hearty with substance but still light and fresh in flavour.

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The menu and the people here make the espresso bar such an inviting place for coffee, tea and lunch and I feel so lucky to have been able to enjoy the food and learn about it at the same time, watching Chef John make the food from start to finish and getting to know the people and the cafe from the inside out.  Rita and Tony made me feel just like family.  It’s almost the first anniversary of my first visit (October 21!) and I think it’s high time I went back again to try even more of their delicious menu.

*****

Yorkville Espresso Bar is located at 3 Yorkville Ave., just west of Yonge Street and north of Cumberland St.  They are open 7 days a week from 7:30am-7pm Monday to Friday, 8am-6pm Saturday, and 9am-5pm Sunday.