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.

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A Veggie Gem in the Foodie Treasure Chest – Quinoa, Kale & Vegetarian, Vegan Delights at Lola’s Kitchen on Church Street!

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As someone who isn’t vegetarian or vegan, I sure do love my veggie meals and veggie food spots!  I adore my beloved Mela Cafe, Fresh, King’s Cafe, Earth & City and Sadie’s Diner and could feasibly eat my way through these places and others on my list) for an entire year and be just peachy (okay, not eating sushi would be crazy talk in my world but let’s just hypothetically envision it for this post).  But just when I thought I was content and satisfied with the yummy vegetarian and vegan options in the city, I am knocked off my feet by an amazing, wonderful, DELICIOUS accidental discovery!

After all this time, I had no idea Lola’s Kitchen existed.  LOLA’S KITCHEN.  By Bloor and Church St.  Smack dab in the centre of the downtown hub.  And right under my nose this whole time!  I don’t know whether to be disappointed in myself for having this allude me for so long or to be joyful that this dining destination is now lovingly in my life.  I think I’ll go for the latter, it’s happier.

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And it truly was an accidental discovery.  Long story short, I was googling red velvet whoopie pies in TO and found Lola’s Kitchen on the 2nd page of search results through a random yelp review with a red velvet whoopie photo!  Lola’s changes up their desserts on a regular basis though so the whoopie pies aren’t a regular fixture, but I don’t even care because that search led me to them!  And if you’re wondering why I was searching for red velvet whoopie pies…well, I can’t tell you.  It’s a secret, sorry guys!Anyway,  now that you’ve heard my preliminary gushing, write it down on a sticky note in red marker with exclamation points and circle it!  Oh and post it on your mirror.  Because you’ll want a reminder every day, trust me on this one.

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Lola’s Kitchen, located at 634 Church Street, just south of Bloor, is a fantastic eatery with more vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options than I can count on my fingers and toes!  Housed in a pretty Victorian-style house with a front patio to boot, Lola’s Kitchen dishes out lunch, dinner and weekend brunch to the masses (I know, I might as well float up to heaven right now) with plenty of salads, grain bowls, tacos, burgers, sandwiches and sides to choose from with prices ranging from $11-$14 for most mains, $3 to $7 for small plates, salads and sides.

It is such an interesting space to me, not just because of all the mouthwatering food they offer on their menu but because they are just so damn good at catering to all different types of appetites and people.  I love how they’re not one-dimensional.  Their menu offers a scrumptious array of bistro-style vegetarian and vegan dishes (with some meat dishes available as well!) that are simultaneously trendy and chic yet casual and comforting, surrounded by a halo of health and wellness.  It’s Fresh meets food truck meets bistro meets pub meets fine dining.  We’re talking quinoa and brown rice bowls with fresh vegetables on the one hand and vegan tacos, pulled pork, corn fritters and kale caesar salad on the other.

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Not only is there is there a juxtaposition in foods, there’s also a noticeable difference between clientele!  While I was here stuffing my face I noticed suit-clad business folks at one table and a student couple right next to them at the table to their right.  And then there was me noshing by myself.  I gotta say, it’s not something you see very often.  Let’s face it, we know some spots are very niche.  But Lola’s Kitchen just attracts everyone and that’s the beauty of it.  It’s incredible how they have the atmosphere and food to make a business meeting, friendly get-together, university student hangout and romantic date work in the same space.

While I had a reeeally difficult time choosing between all the awesome food (what else is new?), I opted for their California bowl ($14) because I LOVE grain bowls and rice bowls and the sheer abundance of kale in it made me salivate before my dish even hit the table!  So many of their dishes have veggies like sprouts, kale, beets, cabbage, spinach, peppers, sundried tomatoes and avocado and grains like quinoa, couscous, and brown rice.  The California bowl was a glorious mountain of shredded purple kale, a bed of quinoa, sliced avocado, sundried tomatoes, sunflower sprouts, sliced almonds and sunflower seeds and 3 wedges of grilled tofu, all drizzled with a yummy cider vinaigrette.  This is a pure bottomless pit of deliciousness!

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There was so much texture and colour and flavour and the vinaigrette, if you can believe it, made this dish!  It’s crazy how something so simple can make or break a dish.  I know I love quinoa and kale and avocado and everything else on this plate, so how does one elevate foods that are already so great on their own when they’re put together?  There’s the texture and crunch from nuts and sprouts, and then there’s the vinaigrette that gives the dish so much of its flavour and keeps everything moist.  And it was incredible just how much of it there was on the plate.  You don’t realize it until you start digging in but holy mother of pearl it’s the gift that keeps on giving and it’s exactly the type of meal that will fill you up and make you feel so good afterward.

If I could, I’d come here every single week.  There are that many wonderful options to choose from.  I want to attack their weekend brunch, I want to try their kale caesar salad (polenta croutons oh my god!), their vegan tacos, their black bean, mushroom and walnut burger, portobello and brie sandwich and SO MUCH MORE.  I’m so super excited to finally share this with you guys because I’ve been holding onto this for a month!  I love sharing different dishes from my fave places, but I know there’s nothing like brand new content and material to keep things fresh and exciting so I hope you’ll all try them out and enjoy the food as much as I did!

*****

Lola’s Kitchen is located at 634 Church Street, just south of Bloor St. East.  They are open from Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner from 11am-10pm and Saturday and Sunday for weekend brunch and dinner from 10am-10pm.  Visit their website HERE.

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.

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.

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