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!

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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.

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An Explosion of Flavour and Texture – Vegan, Vegetarian, and Gluten-Free Delights at Hibiscus in Kensington

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Here’s a random fact about me: I’m allergic to hibiscus flowers.  I know, I might as well walk around in a bubble.  Not only do I have allergies year-round (I sneeze and blow my nose just as often and violently in April as I do in October), but I have a plethora of food  and non-food allergies and sensitivities, including hibiscus flowers.  Like all my allergies, I found about this specifc hypersensitivity the hard way.  While working at my flower shop job 5 or 6 years ago, my arms broke out into little red welts right after watering some plants outside during the summer.  I was watering hibiscus flowers.  So it’s ironic how much I adore a restaurant aptly named Hibiscus!  I am far from allergic to this fabulous haven of veggie food.  

Remember how I said that Kensington Market had an abundance of delightful vegetarian and vegan options?  Hibiscus is yet another wonderful place in Kensington Market that caters to the vegetarian and vegan crowd with its menu of vegetarian, vegan, raw, and gluten-free items.  Even though I firmly believe everyone and anyone should and could eat here, the reason why I say Hibiscus caters to the veggie crowd is because their menu is strictly vegetarian and vegan.  Some places are meat-centric with a few veggie options, some places serve meat dishes but are very veggie-friendly with many choices to choose from, and others, like Hibiscus, are veggie through and through with no meat in sight.  They’re not entirely vegan because they do serve cheese and nutella (which contains milk) with some dishes, but they offer vegan alternatives for the dishes that contain those food items.

Much like King’s Cafe down the street on Augusta, the food and atmosphere at Hibiscus has a subtle but noticable Chinese flair to it and I’ll explain one of the reasons why when I show you all the delicious meal I had here later on in the post.  You know you’ve found a gem when 1) you feel comfortable and at ease with both the atmosphere and the staff, and 2) you want to eat my through the entire menu.  Hisbiscus is a cozy, intimate-style eatery with plenty of foodie goodness on and off the menu.  They sell lots of tea accessories, fair trade coffee, and herbal tea (most notably from the Numi brand) and all of their non-menu food items can be purchased behind the cash. 

The menu itself isn’t particularly large.  Everything is listed on one page, but let me tell you, it’s quality waaay over quantity at Hibiscus.  If I had to break down their menu and succintly point out their hot spots, their specialities are 1) sweet, dessert-like buckwheat crepes and savoury buckwhweat crepes with vegetables, fruit, chutneys, and cheese, 2) non-dairy, vegan ice cream, 3) soy smoothies, and 4) salad bowls.  Prices range from $5.65-$9 for mains (small and large salad bowls, and sweet and savoury crepes) and $3-$5 for ice cream desserts.  Smoothies come in at $4.50 and other drinks are around $2-$3. 

Their menu is incredibly cohesive and focused, which speaks to the success of the restaurant.  It is BUSY here and there were people continuously coming and going even during the lull hour of 4pm!  One way of getting to know some of the menu items before you’ve tried them?  Discreetly take a peek around to see what everyone else has on their plate.  People were dining in and taking out and eating salad bowls like there was no tomorrow.

That’s right, salad bowls.  I know it’s easy to judge simplistic menu items and shrug them off as unworthy.  After all, don’t we all shudder at the thought of limp lettuce and ho-hum salad ingredients?  Don’t let the humble name of the menu item fool you though.  This salad bowl was an explosion of flavours and textures and I absolutely adored this and would eat this over and over and over again because it was delicious.  This is healthy, vegan food at its finest!  

The salad bowl was jam-packged with fluffy, crunchy quinoa, broccoli, shredded carrots, red kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu cubes, green beans, lentils, beets, cubed butternut squash, this delicious soy paste that mimicked the texture of creamy cheese made with onion and celery, and a yummy, crispy, raw cracker on the side.  The salad bowl was also topped with the subtle Chinese flair that delighted me: cellophane noodles (fun see in Cantonese) that oddly tasted much like the salty flavour of Chinese-style jellyfish!

That flavour completely threw me for a loop and I loved how so many flavours and textures worked together in this salad bowl.  It was savoury, sweet, crunchy, soft, smooth, everything.  The briney, saltiness came from the “fun see”-like noodle topper, there was a delicious mix of olive oil and balsamic with the beans, chickpeas, and tofu cubes, the sweetness of the butternut squash had hints of nutmeg, and the vegetables and quinoa provided so much texture and crunch.  This dish was fantastic and after eating just the small salad bowl (they offer both a small and large), I was so satisfied.  The salad bowl is a meal that keeps on giving because there are so many flavours and so many layers – it takes awhile for your spoon to hit the bottom of the bowl, literally!

I’ve wanted to eat at Hibiscus for so long now and I’m so happy I finally did.  I can’t wait to gorge on some of their vegan ice cream and truthfully, eleventy billion more salad bowls.   

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Hibiscus is located at 238 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.

Weekly Feature: The Grad Lounge – Chickpea, Quinoa, and Red Pepper Stew

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Yet another great healthy meal dished out by The Grad Lounge!  A warm vegetable stew of chickpeas, quinoa, and roasted red peppers served over rice with a side spring mix green salad.  It was the first time I had seen it on their daily specials menu and you know me and new things; I pounced on it!  Sometimes it really amazes me how many new things I’ve integrated into my diet over the past four years and how I can’t imagine my life without them now.  Lentils, falafel, avocado, okra, kale – I love them all, and I’m so glad that I’ve added quinoa to this list too! 

Pronounced “keen-wah”, it’s a great high protein, gluten-free alternative to wheat grains.  It’s a fantastic food for those who follow a plant-based diet and you eat it much the same way you would rice, corn, and cous cous.  When cooked, quinoa is fluffy in texture with a beady kind of bite to it.  It’s tiny-tiny like cous cous and is pale and a bit translucent.  The first time I ate quinoa was at Kale Eatery last September, with portobello mushrooms.  To me it tastes like cous cous, only a tiny bit chewier and fluffier 🙂  Although I enjoy rice, I really love eating other grains too and I’m excited to try other dishes with it and to use it in some breakfast yogurt!

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The Grad Lounge is located at 166 South Ross at the York University Keele campus.  Starting today (Monday, April 11th), The Grad Lounge will be changing their hours to summer hours until September.  Summer operating hours are from 12pm-6:30pm, Monday to Friday.