The Fall Harvest Series – Getting to the Root of Great Food With Weekend Brunch, Butternut Squash & Beets at Hotel Gelato

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I’ll never forget the moment I felt my mouth start to quiver, my breathing grow shallow, and my eyes tear up.  This could not be happening, I thought.  Not again.  My Veggielicious hopes crushed and my plans for Veggielicious bliss foiled right before my eyes on the last weekend of an event I had been looking forward to for over a year.  The timing couldn’t have been worse.  I was stunned and rendered speechless, sputtering my discontent in sighs of frustration.  I couldn’t believe my rotten luck.  Right then and there, I wanted to throw in the towel on blogging anything altogether.

Melodramatic?  Maybe a little.  Heartbreaking?  To a foodie like myself, positively absolutely.  But!  Let’s remind ourselves though that, like any great drama, there can still be excitement and joy amidst the angst and turmoil.  So get comfortable because this is a story of initial heartbreak gone right, silver linings, the bright side, and new doors opening after others close.  This is the story of the Veggielicious that never happened and, given the circumstances, just wasn’t meant to be.  This is a story of food at Hotel Gelato.

Let’s rewind to last weekend, the last weekend of Veggielicious 2012.  I was so excited I was almost skipping down the street.  After my plans for Veggielicious at E.L. Ruddy had fallen through the weekend prior, all cylinders were raring to go and my sights and tastebuds were set on Hotel Gelato and their Veggielicious menu: spinach and kale salad with chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes and tahini dressing, quinoa and sweet potato chili, and lentil cakes made with red lentils and zucchini with a root vegetable salad.  I was salivating even before I walked in.  My heart was pumping a bazillion clicks a minute and I was beyond ecstatic.  And then, the world came crashing down around me when I was delivered the news: because of weekend brunch, Veggielicious was only going to be around from 3pm onward over the weekend.  On any other day it would have been available during the day, for lunch, what have you.  But for the weekend?  Not so much.

I wanted to cry.  Again.

On the way to Hotel Gelato…

The unthinkable had happened.  I had messed up both Veggielicious plans and there was nothing I could do about it.  I couldn’t come back for dinner because I had promised my mum I’d come home for a great meal she had in the works.  And I wasn’t going to pack up and leave.  I adored Hotel Gelato and the thought of up and leaving didn’t seem…right.  So I sat down in my seat, moped for all of a few minutes, and snapped out of it.  Okay, so Veggielicious was no longer within my grasp.  But by golly, there were shiny pumpkins on their mantle and I thought, come hell or high water I’m going to enjoy my weekend brunch here and make the best of it!

And I did.  With one of the most fabulous vegetarian fall salads EVER to grace my tastebuds!

Introducing Hotel Gelato’s fluffy fall-inspired quinoa salad ($13) with butternut squash, beets, arugula, roasted shallots, and toasted pine nuts, tossed in a fresh lemon basil dressing and topped with some crispy beet chips on top!  Talk about getting to the “root” of fabulous food!  Fall vegetables with a light as air, crisp and clean dressing with an equally light as air quinoa?  Perfection.  What a fantastic salad and brunch dish.  As part of Hotel Gelato’s permanent weekend brunch menu, it had such an air of lightness to it, like it was only meant to be enjoyed during a peaceful zen moment.  The quinoa was fluffy and the vegetables, which were mostly diced, were beautiful in colour, taste, and texture.  There was crunch from the nuts, juiciness from the squash and beets, air pockets from the quinoa, that great peppery, leafy bite from the delicious arugula, freshness from the dressing, and warmth, coziness, and savouriness from the roasted shallots.

Here’s a very important tidbit to know though about this dish: the online menu says sweet potato in the salad but when you’re dining in, the menu clearly says butternut squash and it is butternut squash that you will receive!  Just by looking at them, sweet potatoes and butternut squash look nearly identical in appearance, especially when the flesh is scooped out and diced.  But, based on taste and texture,  it’s obvious when you eat it which one is being used in the salad.  Sweet potatoes have a much higher content of starch whereas butternut squash is juicier.  I am definitely not complaining about the difference in dine-in and online menu though because butternut squash floats my boat so finally, some good vibes coming my way!

And this was by no means a piddly serving.  This was a ginormous dish!  The salad was served on a huuuge square serving dish with a salad gift that just kept on giving!  I brought home leftovers, shared them with my mum who’s an absolute fiend for beets, and she loved it so much she wishes we had 10 more plates of it!  THAT is how wonderful this brunch salad is.  The colours and flavours scream fall and comfort and it has to be one of the healthiest, most satisfying vegetarian and vegan brunch dishes.  For those who love cheese there’s an option of adding crumbled goat cheese for $3 and grilled chicken for $4 for the meaties.

I was so, so happy and relieved in the end.  A heart-sinking moment of dread turned into a memorable, delicious dish that I would come back for in a heartbeat.  Veggielicious or not, I got the chance to try a vegetarian and vegan dish I had never tried before and I got to eat some butternut squash which is so fitting for fall!  What seems meant to be sometimes isn’t and sometimes, the best things are right under your very nose.

*****

Hotel Gelato is located at 532 Eglinton Ave. West just west of Heddington Ave. between Avenue Rd. and Bathurst Street.  They serve breakfast and lunch every day from Monday to Friday with a weekend brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays.  Their breakfast menu is available from 8am-11:30am and lunch all-day.

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Baked Omelettes With Asparagus, Roasted Red Pepper & Goat Cheese – Checking into Hotel Gelato for Breakfast!

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I LOVE finding new breakfast, brunch, and lunch places!  The thought of relishing a good meal in a comfortable cafe makes me feel all dreamy and floaty on the inside.  And if you can believe (which I think you all can), I spent a good deal of time last week circling spot after spot in one of my Toronto magazines of all the places that offered breakfast and weekend brunch.  Aside from cupcakes, sushi, and pasta (my three great food loves), nothing gets my engine running more than a great breakfast and lunch cafe. 

I love the vast array of menu items, I love the feeling of freshness during the day (and admittedly, it makes my life easier taking photos in the daytime), and I just love the idea of sitting down to a great sandwich, brunch dish, and/or cafe drink with dessert.  I enjoy dinner, yes, but as Daphne Oz on The Chew reiterated on one of the more recent episodes, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper”.  Although in my case, I’d change that to a queen and a princess.  But you get the idea.  And it does, in fact, ring true for me.  I eat dinner almost out of necessity rather than want.  The star of the show is my breakfast and lunch and I sure as hell eat like it.  So, what’s my latest breakfast/brunch escapade?  Hotel Gelato on Eglinton West!

Hotel Gelato is a beautiful sit-down breakfast, lunch, and gelato cafe with an open, airy, inviting atmosphere.  Located on Eglinton West in the Upper Village neighbourhood, iIt’s exactly the type of place you envision yourself relaxing in during an easy Sunday morning or afternoon brunch, a midday coffee break, or a bright and refreshing weekday lunch with your best friend.  With its sleek black and white decor and upholstery, it’s pretty and fancy pants without being overly frou-frou and pretentious. 

In all honesty, I was taken aback when I stepped inside.  I knew it was pretty from the photos I saw on their official website, but I was not expecting it to be THIS pretty.  Chandeliers clothed in sheer black, clear plexi tables and chairs, comfy black upholstered chairs by the cafe’s front window, black and white wall decor, a beautiful fireplace mantel with candles, orchid flowers, and a sleek espresso bar and machine in acid bright turquoise!  In a nutshell, Hotel Gelato is NICE.

I was overjoyed when I viewed their menus online.  In addition to the gelato that makes them famous (and oh boy is there ever a ton of gelato goodness to devour!) and the cafe drinks and desserts that can ordered up at the front, they serve weekday breakfast from 8am-11:30am, weekend brunch, and all day lunch.  Although a number of their daily breakfast items appear on their weekend brunch menu, their weekend brunch menu does have some very special items that are not available from Monday-Friday including their challah French toast and their – wait for this – LEMON RICOTTA PANCAKES!  I almost bounced off the walls when I found out they served this.  Weekend brunch would have to wait though as I decided to stick to their daily breakfast menu first. 

Menu items include breakfast sandwiches with either peameal bacon or smoked salmon with eggs, flavoured mayo, and different cheeses, baked eggs, waffles, breakfast parfait, smoked salmon and cream cheese with bagels, and more.  Prices range from $8-$12 for most items, with a separate set of prices ($3.50-$5) for extra sides including daily scone, basket of mini almond, chocolate, and apricot croissants, peameal bacon, and toasted ciabatta with butter and preserves.  As much as I wanted to inhale a breakfast sandwich or smoked salmon (and, come to think of it, their waffles), I went with their baked omelette because I got to choose my fillings and toppings! 

The baked omelette ($8) is made with three eggs and herbs and comes with crusty bread to go with it.  Filling and toppings ($0.75 each) include aged cheddar, goat cheese, Jarlsberg, portobellos, sauteed spinach, smoked ham, bacon, asparagus, and roasted red peppers.  Wanting to inject some veggies into the meal, I chose asaparagus (how very spring-like!), roasted red peppers, and goat cheese because I love goat cheese like crazy. 

T0 my surprise, my omelette and bread were accompanied by a dish of fresh fruit (how sweet!) and my omelette, just like the menu said, was literally baked!  I don’t know why I forgot about that detail, but I was delighted when my breakfast was brought to my table.  The omelette was baked into a small baking/casserole dish, almost like a skillet or casserole and the fillings dotted my baked eggs like a beautiful mosaic.  It was piping hot and so unique to any egg dish I had ever had.  And I was also pleasantly with how much bread I was given – almost like a little mini sliced loaf of delicious crusty bread!  I know the menu specifically said grilled flatbread as opposed to crusty French baguette, but frankly, I didn’t care because the bread was so good and so darn cute!

The asparagus was crisp and flavourful and the goat cheese in the omelette was to die for.  There were creamy, tangy pockets of goat cheese throughout the entire dish and it truly went a long way in making the omelette burst with flavour and dimension.  The eggs were light as air and so, so fluffy.  Keep in mind though that the eggs for this particular dish are baked and thus well done and thoroughly cooked.  If you’re like me and you like your eggs a little runny, just mention it to your server because the dish is cooked well done by default. 

It’s really just based on preference because my mum, for example, reeeeally doesn’t go for runny eggs and prefers hers cooked from top to bottom.  If you love your eggs the way my mum does, no sweat.  If you like yours the way I do, ask them if they can undercook them just a tad and if they can’t (which I can’t imagine them not being able to do, but for the argument’s sake let’s just throw that our there), just choose another menu item.

I am so, so looking forward to coming back because there’s so much more to try!  There’s the gelato (hello, creamsicle and strawberry shortcake oh my god), the drinks (teas, pumpkin spice lattes, and pot of hot chocolate?!), the lunch paninis and sandwiches, and yes, the multitude of breakfast and weekend brunch items waiting for me!  Like those lemon ricotta pancakes.  It’s only a matter of time.

*****

Hotel Gelato is located at 532 Eglinton Ave. West just west of Heddington Ave. between Avenue Rd. and Bathurst Street.  They serve breakfast and lunch every day from Monday to Friday with a weekend brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays.  Their breakfast menu is available from 8am-11:30am and lunch all-day.