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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Heirloom Tomatoes, Cherries, & Fresh Homemade Fruit Jams – The Summer Farmers’ Market at Liberty Village!

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The farmers’ market trek goes west this week with a visit to the Liberty Village farmers’ market!  It’s been months since my last visit (we’re talking last fall with pumpkins and cranapples!) and since I gave the east end some love last week with fresh summery posts on the Leslieville farmers’ market, brunch, sweets, and drinks at Hammersmith’s in Riverdale, and sweet tooth treasures at Sweet Bliss Baking Company, it was time to mosey on over in the other direction.  This week we welcome some fresh faces to the lineup from the west side of the tracks including goodies from Parkdale and The Junction.

First up: the Sunday summer market in Liberty Village!  What a difference a year makes.  Liberty Village continues to grow and thrive as a community and as a dining destination with new additions to the neighbourhood including the Softchoice Lunchtime Office Market on Wednesdays and the brand spankin’ new quesadilla cafe, Maizal, on Jefferson Ave. serving fresh corn tortillas, quesadillas, and weekend brunch.  This growth is also apparent in their farmers’ market.  Even though the market itself hasn’t grown larger physically, I felt like there was more to see this time around and I had myself an absolute ball snatching up some goodes and snapping photos!  Along with gorgeous, vibrant heirloom tomatoes, zucchini flowers, carrots, and peppers, the market was bursting with fresh farm fruit: cherries, cantaloupe/musk melon, apples, raspberries, strawberries, baby golden plums, and peaches were all on hand and ripe for the pickin’.

Up and at ’em on a Sunday morning!

And effectively, Liberty Village gave me a very delicious out and solution to my raw fruit allergy problem: fresh homemade fruit jam!  Cue me squealing like a 4-year-old!  I love jams and this is the first maket I’ve been to that has had a spread like this.  There were tables set up in a ‘U’ shape and each table carried one type of fruit with a corresponding display of homemade fruit jam and dish of bread and jam samples.  A cluster of raspberry jam jars were surrounded by a moat of raspberry pints, the strawberries with strawberry jam, and the baskets of peaches with bright, juicy peach jam.  It was so pretty to look at and even tastier to eat!  In addition to fruit and jam, there were tarts and shortbread cookies made with jam and jars of pickled vegetables including pickled beets.  I picked up a jar of pickled beets ($3) for my mum (she loves beets the way I love cookes), a jar of the most delicious peach jam ($5), and a sweet shortbread cookie sandwich ($1.75) with a star cutout in the center revealing juicy raspberry jam inside.

I am dying to make peanut butter and jelly cookie sandwiches and this peach jam would be perfect for them, along with the jar of apricot jam sitting pretty in my pantry.  Oh!  And thumbprint cookies!  And accompaniments to pound cake!  All the jams and jellies I’ve come across during market visits have been so yummy and amazing (like the mango chutney at the North York market at Mel Lastman Square) and I only wish I could have some of everything without creating a pantry avalanche in the kitchen.  I’m really happy with my little market purchases though and I’m glad I came back to the Libery Village to see how far its come and how much its grown.

*****

The Liberty Village farmers’ market takes place every Sunday from 9am-2pm in the Green P parking lot on East Liberty Street between Atlantic and Hanna Ave.  Liberty Village can be accessed from King Street West and Dufferin Street.  You can view Ate by Ate’s very first Liberty Village farmers’ market post HERE.

Fiddlehead Galettes, Root Vegetables, & Lush Purple Eggplants – The North York Farmers’ Market, Part I

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Fiddlehead galettes with Monforte cheese by Breadsong Collective!

A bevy of lettuces and colourful root vegetables

The beautiful Mel Lastman Square grounds

Gorgeous cherries! Perfect for juicy baked goods and pastries

Stunning purple and white streaked baby eggplants

Mushrooms and funghi of all kinds! Check out those yellow ones

*****

The North York farmers’ market by the North York Civic Centre at Mel Lastman Square is located at 5100 Yonge St. just across the street from the North York Centre subway station off Hillcrest Ave.  The farmers’ market is located on the west side of Yonge St. and runs every Thursday from 8am-2:30pm from May 31st to October 25th.