Table for Two at Table 17 – Sunny Fried Eggs, Polenta, Bolognese, and The Sloppy Giuseppe Brunch!

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If I asked you what you loved most about your favourite restaurant or what you loved best about a relaxing meal out, how would you answer that?  Maybe you love the variedness of the menu, the relaxing atmosphere, the decor, the hustle and bustle, or being immersed in a dining room full of people abuzz with excitement over their meals and their weekend plans, soaking in the energy.  Or maybe you just love it because the food is delicious and being out and about gives you the opportunity to sit back and enjoy life with a glass of wine.  At Table 17, located on Queen Street East in Riverside, you can enjoy every single one of those qualities while savouring weekend brunch by day and wine and bistro dishes by night. 

While the term bistro is often associated with French cuisine and classic French cafe fare, Table 17’s menu isn’t exclusively devoted to French food.  Table 17 is a wine bar and bistro with a menu that seeks its inspiration from European flavours and techniques such as Italian and British in addition to French, and integrating these influences with North American fare and local ingredients.

Table 17 is the type of restaurant that does dichotomy incredibly well – with their atmosphere and with their menu.  When you eat here, you simaltaneously feel like you’re in a sleek and modern dining establishment and a relaxing country barn kitchen.  It’s contemporary mixed with warm, rustic country chic with its black restaurant front and chairs, and brassy chandeliers that cast a warm glow in the restaurant.  Their dining area is divided into two, where one feels more communal and intimate and the other with a more open and airy vibe with big windows, adjacent from the wine bar. 

Their menu is the perfect mix of local and global: Ontario beef, Ontario cheddar, brie, and mozzarella, and Québécois creton juxtaposed with British scotch eggs, French pain doré, bistro classic steak frites, and Sicilian arancino rice balls.  Some of their dishes have more obvious and transparent European aspects while others, such as the wonderful brunch dish I had, are much more nuanced and subtle.

While their dinner menu is still waiting for me, I finally got the chance to relish in my long-awaited wonderful weekend brunch here and after a fabulous meal, I fully intend to go on a whirlwind brunch tour cycling through the entire brunch menu!  Most of Table 17’s brunch prices come in at $10 with a few breakfasts ringing in at $12.  The brunch menu offers both brunch mains and individual sides, along with drink specials including mimosas, caesars, and more. 

While Table 17’s brunch menu is incredibly varied, the menu itself isn’t sloppy.  The whole menu is made cohesive with a common theme and thread stringing many of the dishes together: eggs!  They do brunch justice by offering all different types of dishes with both North American and European  ingredients and flavours: poached neapolitan eggs, farmer’s breakfast with scotch eggs, weekly egg scramble accompanied with seasonal ingredients, grilled cuban sandwich, nicoise breakfast of Italian tuna, boiled eggs, and nicoise olives, and my pick, The Sloppy Giuseppe!

The Sloppy Giuseppe is a dish comprised of 2 fried eggs served overtop Bolognese sauce and friend polenta alongside a green salad.  Have I ever professed my love of eggs?  If I haven’t, I will now: I love eggs.  So much.  While I often err on the side of overeasy, there is just nothing like fried eggs with their beautiful bright sunny yolks, bubbly egg whites, and groan-inducing crispy edges.  Weekend brunch is made sunnier with beauitful eggs like these.  My eggs were sprinkled with chives and cracked black pepper and they daintily sat atop wedges of fried polenta and traditional Bolognese sauce (absolutely no tomato in this) alongside a bright, fresh, crisp green salad of arugula and red leaf lettuce. 

The polenta and Bolognese were delightful.  The exterior of the polenta was golden and crispy and inside was a creamy smooth mixture of cornmeal that meshed deliciously with the ground beef Bolognese.  The ground beef was wonderful because it wasn’t ground to the point where it was mush, but it still had that distinctive ground meat texture.  The dish was incredibly savoury in the best way possible.  The yolks from the eggs paired easily with the creaminess of the polenta while the salad lended a brightness and crispness that cut through the fun greasy spoon style dish.

The Sloppy Giuseppe is the perfect example of how Table 17 executes the juxtaposition of North American and European.  I can’t help but marvel at the cleverness and creativity of the dish, not only in composition but also in name.  If we break it down, you see exactly how Italian and American are fused together into this one dish: the name Giuseppe is the Italian name for Joseph, Bolognese sauce is a traditional Italian pasta sauce originating in Bologna, and the Bolognese itself is a play on an American classic, the ground beef sloppy joe.  I don’t know if anyone else finds the complexity and nuances as fascinating, but I just love it.  I loved the dish, I adore their brunch menu, and the atmosphere is wonderful.  Judging by the hustle and bustle of the crowds, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.  

*****

Table 17 is located at 782 Queen Street East in the Riverside district of Toronto in the east end.  They are located on the north side of Queen East, east of Broadview Ave. and west of Boulton Ave.  They are open 7 days a week for dinner at 5:30pm and are open for weekend brunch at 10:30am.  Brunch is served until 2:30pm.  Follow them on Twitter @table17, check out their Facebook page here, and their site here.

The Fall Harvest Series – Stuffed Bell Peppers in Cauliflower Soup and Curry Cauliflower Risotto at Mela Cafe

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The chilly fall season wouldn’t be complete without a warm, comforting, fall harvest meal from my favourite Italian vegetarian place!  I know that even though it’s technically still fall, we’re sort of in a weird place right now where the leaves have fallen, the trees are naked, and we’re donning sunglasses in the mild weather one day and bundling up to our ears in winter clothes the next.  Winter hasn’t taken over just yet though so I think it’s safe to continue doing Fall Harvest posts, especially when they’re as bright, vibrant, and colourful as this!  Roberto’s amazing, delicious vegetarian and vegan food has never failed to brighten up a meal, but this fall comfort lunch was like rainbow artwork on plates. 

I’ve been eating at Mela for over a year now and I’ve loved watching the seasonal fluctuations and changes in ingredients and dishes.  The everyday stand-bys such as the breaded eggplant panini and homemade ravioli with ricotta are present at all times, but menu items such as the vegan coconut lime cream tarts and summer vegetable salads have summer sunshine written all over them, while warm comfort foods such as rice and potatoes with root vegetable like beet and rapini provide that sense of warmth and coziness during the cold winter months.  I got the chance to see and eat some wonderful fall food this time and it was beautiful, artistic, and of course, delicious.

This time around I stuffed my face into a new menu item as well as a consistent classic: curry cauliflower risotto and veggie stuffed bell peppers!  The orange bell peppers were grilled and stuffed with rice, tomatoes, onions, and broccoli and were super soft with that perfect blistered skin.  One thing that really delighted me was the artwork on my plate.  Roberto had created a soup painting beneath the stuffed bell pepper!  Check it out.  I couldn’t believe it.  Forget latte art, bring on the adorable shapes made out of soup!  Roberto had poured the cauliflower soup into the tomato sauce in such a way that the shape of an apple formed right under my lovely bell pepper.  I literally did a double take when I saw it and I almost didn’t want to disrupt the masterpiece by cutting into the pepper.  But alas, nature called and I was hungry so I captured eleventy billion photos of it before it went away.  Food artistry at its finest.

Here’s the thing though: I DON’T EVEN LIKE CAULIFLOWER.  I’ve grown to love many foods I used to wrinkle my nose at when I was younger, but cauliflower has always remained on my “I do not fancy you” list.  Which begs the question, “why did I decide on these dishes if I don’t even care for cauliflower?”  Simply put, I wanted to give broccoli’s much paler cousin a shot.  This fall, my mum started integrating more cauliflower into our vegetable dishes at home and I found myself enjoying it so much more when she made them.  Call it bias toward my mum’s home cooking, call it a foodie epiphany; I didn’t hate it as much as I used to.  However, I only preferred it the way my mum cooked it because to me, and forgive me for saying this, every other cauliflower experience has tasted awful.  I might as well have been eating cardboard.  Which means my choosing a dish with cauliflower in it at Mela was a big deal.  I was putting my faith in Roberto on this one.  The verdict?  You know food is good when you start scarfing down things you’ve disliked for years.

Although I enjoyed the stuffed bell pepper (goodness do I ever love the char and blistered pepper skin done right), it was the curry cauliflower risotto that completely won me over and had me “mmm”ing for a good half hour straight!  It was so incredibly delicious and flavourful and so colourful.  It was a joy to look at and an even bigger joy to eat.  I love risotto to pieces because the creaminess of it just makes me want to go into spoon-to-mouth shovel mode and I get so excited whenever I get the chance to eat it.  It’s like rice stew and the versatility of it means endless ingredient possibilities.

I have never had a curry risotto before.  Mushroom risotto, yes.  One of my friends even made a fabulous, homemade walnut, apple, blue cheese risotto for a dinner party a few years ago.  But curry risotto?  That combination hadn’t even entered my foodie universe.  The curry cauliflower risotto was served as a triangular “pie” slice with rich, creamy curry rice and chunks of cauliflower sitting in a plate of cauliflower soup with olive oil drizzle, topped with Mela’s famous piping hot tomato sauce.  The curry was like a bursting firework of savoury flavour and the risotto was perfectly creamy and smooth without being mushy.  You could taste every rice grain with the tomato sauce and curry intertwining into one mouthful of pure heaven. 

Every time I come to Mela I’m eating something wonderfully delicious and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to choose between items and to pick a favourite!  Hands down, the curry cauliflower risotto is in my top 3 favourite things here at Mela.  The ravioli is in this top 3 too, but that’s about the best I can do because I can’t settle on another item to round the list out.  Winter is quickly approaching and I’m looking forward to another visit and I can’t wait to see (and taste) the scrumptious goodies waiting for me.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.  All dishes are either vegetarian or vegan and prices range from $4-$8.50.  They are primarily a lunch cafe during the week, open until around 4:30pm-5pm from Monday to Friday, and with later closing hours on Saturday.  They are closed on Sunday.

Scrapbook materials used: Poppy red, orange, pale yellow, neon green, and cappuccino cardstock; apron and oven mitt adhesive embellishments (In the Kitchen by Karen Foster Design); alphabet stickers (K&Company); floral die-cuts (K&Company); 5-petal paper punch (ek success).

The Vegetarian Sandwich Series – Grilled Panini With Eggplant, Roasted Peppers, Artichokes and More at Fusaro’s Kitchen

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Things have been quiet on the Vegetarian Sandwich series front, so I thought it was definitely time to unleash some veggie goodness back into things!  I have my fellow Icing Sugar Queen at Le Dolci, Miya, to thank for the inspiration behind this post.  Not only have I learned so much about cupcake decorating and design during my time at Le Dolci so far, but Miya and Lisa have also introduced me to some fabulous good eats around the studio!  It’s fun bouncing ideas and recommendations off of one another; I tell Lisa and Miya all about my farmers’ market adventures, they show me another island of vegetarian sandwich paradise. 

When I saw Miya eating her veggie sandwich during lunch one day at the studio, I got curious because it looked so yummy and I asked her where she got her sandwich from.  “Fusaro’s Kitchen”, she replied, between bites.  I was quiet for about a nanosecond before the lightbulb went off and I almost literally face-palmed.  Fusaro’s Kitchen!  I knew where that was!  I had passed by it numerous times on the streetcar and walked past it another handful of times.  It was like deja vu all over again when I finally discovered Mela Cafe in Yorkville over a year ago after being in and around the neighbourhood so many times.  I felt so lame.  But I did what any dedicated foodie would do: I went and ate there.

Fusaro’s Kitchen, located on Spadina Ave. just south of Queen Street West, is an Italian eatery with hot and fresh pizzas, pastas, salads, and panini sandwiches.  I went in and instantly thought, “where have you been all my life?!”  Or rather, where in the world have I been?  Fusaro’s has a giant wall full of Italian grocery items including chocolates, wafer cookies (Quadratinis, my favourites!), sauces, olive oils, balsamics, and more. 

I know I don’t blog about it enough, but god do I ever love pasta.  Pasta is my weakness.  I love it more than rice and bread.  I suppose rice comes in at a close second when it comes to carbs and starches, but pasta makes me really happy.  Spaghetti, lasagna, linguine, macaroni, fettucine, I love it all and I would be a happy clam if I was just given a bowl of spaghtti with nothing but olive oil and herbs.  The pasta lover in me instinctively wanted to down a bowl for lunch, but I quickly remembered why I was there: to stuff my face with a delicious veggie panini.

Fusaro’s has menus dedicated to grilled panini sandwiches, pasta, salads, and dishes such as eggplant, chicken, and veal parmigiana, meatballs, and others.  Prices for pasta come in at around $10-$11, parmigiana and meatball mains at $8.50-$10.50, salads from $4.75-$10, and panini sandwiches from $7.50-$8.  Fusaro’s has two vegetarian sandwich options and I chose menu item number five (cinque), a grilled panini with grilled zucchini and eggplant, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, baby spinach, and goat cheese.  I ordered a side salad ($2.50) to go along with it and waited in excited anticipation for my lunch.  I was so excited like you wouldn’t believe.  I know it’s “just” a sandwich, but I was excited about the veggie toppings (I rarely get to eat artichokes!  And you all know how I feel about things like roasted peppers, spinach, and goat cheese!) and I really believed this panini would be a knockout.

Grilled paninis have been touch and go with me.  They’re either a total hit or a dismal miss.  I love the idea of a grilled sandwich and when it’s executed well, it’s heaven.  When they’re a miss though, often times it’s not necessarily because they don’t taste good or that the flavour isn’t there, it’s because they’re either too small, they don’t have enough substance between the bread, or the topping combinations are ho-hum and nothing to write home about.  Sandwiches of this variety will always range from about $5-$11 depending on where you go, so a fabulous panini has to be bang for my buck and it has to have ingredients worth get excited about, especially when it’s a vegetarian sandwich.  It just doesn’t make sense to eat something with nothing but lettuce and tomato and a few strands of something else.

I loved this sandwich.  This sandwich makes me want to come to Fusaro’s every day of the week.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating.  But only a little.  For one thing, it wasn’t small.  This was a good-sized sandwich in both length and width, comparatible to a submarine bun from a bakery.  It wasn’t the size of a foot-long, but definitely larger than 6 inches.  I’d say it was closer to 8 inches.  The bread was so crunchy on the outside and so super soft on the inside.  The hallmark of a good sandwich is whether or not you can envision yourself eating the bread alone.  If the bread needs toppings to make it taste good, it means it isn’t.  The bread should make your mouth water all by itself and this bread does. 

And the toppings.  Oh my god.  Vegetarians rejoice.  There was so much going on in this sandwich and it was all amazingly delicious.  It was so stuffed with juicy vegetables and mouthwatering, creamy sauce.  A bed of leafy spinach sat on the bottom with strips of roasted red pepper, chunks of artichoke, eggplant, and zucchini on top with goat cheese wedged throughout.  The sauce was fantastic.  It was a cross between a cream sauce and a mayo and it was delightful.  I would eat this sandwich over and over again in a heartbeat.

Oh, and the salad!  The salad was a simple salad of greens, tomatoes, and cucumber and it was made especially delicious with an olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette and I’m telling you, their balsamic is top-notch.  I never used to like balsamic, but after an amazing meal at Southern Accent with a fabulous balsamic reduction and a great balsamic my mum bought, I’ve done a 180 and now I really enjoy it and can appreciate good balsamic.  I was so happy with everything about this meal and I can’t wait to eat here again.  Judging by the crazy line-ups here though, I’m going to have to luck out again next time.

 

*****

Fusaro’s Kitchen is located at 147 Spadina Ave., just south of Queen Street West on the east side of Spadina.  Fusaro’s Kitchen serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers a breakfast menu 7 days a week.

An Italian Vegetarian Feast at Mela Cafe! Fluffy, Crunchy Quinoa Salad & Vegan Coconut Lime Cream Tarts

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Even though these photos were taken a few months ago, these photos tell the story of a meal that was very memorable and pretty special.  I stumbled upon Mela Cafe in Yorkville last September and after raving on and on about it to my mum and brother, I finally took them with me this past May and it was a vegetarian Italian feast to remember!  They met Roberto and a few of the other girls, and my friend and fellow Mela lover, Jennie.  It was such a great meal full of amazing food and great company and I’m so glad my mum and brother were finally able to see (and taste!) what I loved so much. 

Since it was my mum and brother’s first time here, I wanted a mix of new dishes and old-time favourite so we ordered four dishes to share among the three of us: the vegetarian lasagna with layers of broccoli, cabbage, basil, and ricotta, covered in piping hot tomato sauce; the crunchy eggplant and basil panini sandwich; the to-die for ravioli made with fresh ricotta and parsley, bathing in their signature tomato sauce; and a plate of bright and crunchy quinoa salad!  I find that coming here with one or two others makes eating reeeeally fun because often times there are multiple things I want to try (and I can guarantee you that you’d feel the same way after coming here) and sharing a few dishes means everyone gets to try some of everything.  To me, the ideal dining situation is for two people to order three dishes. 

Ever since I had Mela’s watercress spring salad with its crunchy green beans, chickpeas, and fruity olive oil dressing, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the desire to eat each and every single salad Roberto dishes up each time I go.  I know it’s a business and I know new menu items keep customers coming back, but I’m still amazed at how many different vegetarian and vegan dishes Mela Cafe doles out every day.  They started baking and serving delicious vegan desserts on a regular basis earlier in the year (remember the amazing mini vegan banana cream pies?), and during my past few visits, I’ve noticed new dishes such as stuffed portobellos and giant stuffed bell peppers with brown rice and vegetables. 

Obviously I’m not there every day (part of me wishes I was), but every time I do pay Mela a visit, there are always several dishes that are completely new to me and I find myself feeling like I’m on a perpetual hamster wheel, attempting to keep up.  I don’t mind at all though because it means there will always going to be something new to look forward to along with reliable everyday favourites.

The salad for that day was the quinoa salad dressed in their delicious olive oil with fluffy quinoa, crunchy cabbage, juicy tomatoes, green beans, shredded kale, and lots of parsley!  The salad was so crunchy and juicy from the chunks of cabbage and tomatoes and I can’t sing enough praises about the olive oil.  You will never want to eat a salad any other way after eating a salad from here.  Roberto always incorporates lots of vegtables, grains, and proteins with different textures and colours, really showing the breadth of vegetarian and vegan cooking.  His salads are the perfect example of how they can function as a main dish and how salads don’t have to fall into that awful “lettuce and tomato” stereotype and rut.

A fresh batch of homemade vegan coconut lime cream tarts ($4) finished the meal off.  These tarts were out of this world.  Even though my best friend and I loooove their mini vegan banana cream pies to death, these coconut lime tarts were wonderful too.  The cake was so moist and zingy and the coconut cream was light and airy with a generous sprinkling of toasted coconut on top.  The tarts had this amazing lightness to them with subtle hints of ginger flavour.  After you eat these creamy tarts, your mouth feels cool and fresh all over and its unlike any coconut dessert I’ve ever had.  They’re not too sweet in the least but you get that decadence from the whipped coconut cream and soft cake.  Roberto’s lovely lady vegan baker is responsible for Mela’s sweet eats and on any given day, you’ll see either tarts, pies, muffins, and other individual desserts.

I am craving Mela’s ravioli like nobody’s business right now and I’m really hoping I can make my way over to Yorkville sometime this week to get my fix!  With my love for their salads and my desire to try so many other dishes of theirs, I can’t even promise myself that I won’t waver and change my mind when I’m there.  I think it’s time for another visit 😉

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.  All dishes are either vegetarian or vegan and prices range from $4-$8.50.  They are primarily a lunch cafe during the week, open until around 4:30pm-5pm from Monday to Friday, and with later closing hours on Saturday.  They are closed on Sunday.

Scrapbooking materials used: to be added!

The Vegetarian Sandwich Series – A Closer Look at Mela Cafe’s Eggplant Panini With Fresh Basil & Tomato Sauce

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A picture post for the Vegetarian Sandwich Series dedicated to Mela Cafe’s crunchy, savoury, flavourful breaded eggplant panini sandwich!  I’ve raved about Mela on the blog many times and I couldn’t imagine not including this everyday staple in the series.  The panini is outfittedwith large slices of crispy breaded eggplant, fresh leaves of basil and served with Mela’s sweet tomato sauce.  The eggplant panini is a permanent, everyday menu item at this Yorkville Italian vegetarian spot and the saltier crispy breaded parts along with the fresh bite from the basil are my favourite things about this sandwich.  By 11am, these sandwiches are made fresh and piled high on the kitchen’s display stands and are made with the utmost of love and care by the cafe’s owner, Roberto.  Mela epitomizes fresh food and vegetarian/vegan love in a home-is-where-the-heart-is Italian kitchen with its fresh market vegetables and creative, delicious dishes.  For my original Mela Cafe blog post featuring this sandwich (and other Mela Cafe posts and scrapbook layouts), click the links below.

*****

Mela Café is located at 7 Yorkville Ave., north of Cumberland St. and just west of Yonge St.

Mangia, Mangia! An All-You-Can-Eat Italian Feast at Frankie Tomatto’s

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I’m so excited to finally post pictures from Frankie Tomatto’s!  Not only is this my first AYCE post for the blog, but it’s also a post that’s very near and dear to my heart.  My family and I went out to Frankie’s a little over a week ago to celebrate my brother’s birthday and this outing was just one out of the many we’ve had as a family over the last decade.  Me and Frankie Tomatto’s go waaaaayyyy back.  I feel like I’ve grown up with this place because, just think, I’ve been going here to celebrate birthdays (mine, my brother’s, my mom’s, and my grandpa’s) on and off since I was 13.  I’m 25.  Do the math!  Even though my dad isn’t the biggest fan of pasta or Italian food, the rest of my family and I looooove Frankie’s and we always enjoy our time and meals here (dad just humours us.  It’s 3 against 1.  If he wants to eat, he’s going to have to, ha).  It’s one of the few places that’s been a part of my family’s foodie history for years and it’s a happy celebration staple for us.  They have hilarious birthday packages and I remember they sang to me on my 14th birthday! 😀

Taking and posting these pictures has been a process in the making.  Taking pictures at an all-you-can-eat buffet is extremely difficult.  Think about it: for one, you’re concentrating on visiting station after station of delicious food and bringing your plate back to the table and devouring it because, hey, the rest of your family ain’t going to wait around for you.  Second, it’s a self-serve buffet so there are people milling around EVERYWHERE.  You try to take a picture and you end up with someone’s arm in the shot.  You’re scared that if you’re not careful, your hand will slip and your camera will fall into a dish of spaghetti and meatballs.  And then there are the blurry pictures of eggplant parmesan and bruschetta because you were trying to be discreet and you took the pictures too fast.  It takes patience, my lovelies, so congratulate me on getting one decent shot for every five bad ones!  I couldn’t get any decent ones of the dessert bars though.  There were lineups up the wazoo at the icecream and sprinkles station!

Frankie Tomatto’s is an all-you-can-eat Italian feast located near the intersection of Woodbine and Steeles Ave. West in Markham, and if you’re a sucker for themed restaurants like me, you’ll love it here.  The decor is adorable (think faux wine cellars and Roman architecture) and the selection of food is just fantastic with the multiple stations of Italian fare and good old fashioned comfort food.  Antipasto, seafood, pizza and bruschetta (a section that is referred to as “Al Forno” meaning “from the oven”), vegetarian, and yes, plenty of pastas and desserts! 😀  Some notables and favourites: eggplant parmesan, grilled salmon, veal with lemon butter, spaghetti, tomato tortellini, Italian rice balls, cheese gnocchi, fettuccine, roast beef, salmon wellington, Italian potato pancakes, rice pilaf, chicken tetrazzini, steamed vegetable medley, and lots of salads, pizzas, and bruschetta and crunchy breads!

Frankie’s also has really great price promotions and deals throughout the week.  My family and I took advantage of the Friday early bird dinner special the week before: from 5pm-5:30pm, dinner is only $13.99 which is insanely cheap for a Friday evening all-you-can-eat!  I mean, I know I’m accustomed to eating earlier because, well, I eat at all points in the day and I know others aren’t really used to that, but seriously, take advantage of the deal if you can because it is so worth it.  And maybe next time I can get those pictures of dessert for you all.  Mangia, mangia!

*****

Frankie Tomatto’s is located at 7225 Woodbine Ave., 2 blocks north of Steeles Ave. West on the east side of Woodbine.  It’s also easily accessible from Highway 401, 404, and 407.  Click here for information on prices, hours, birthday packages, and specials.

A Vegetarian Discovery to Rememeber – Italian Vegetarian Magic in Yorkville at Mela Café

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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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