Corn Chips, Breakfast Potatoes, & Moroccan Flavour in a Tofu Scramble – Weekend Vegan Brunch at Disgraceland!

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Appearances can be deceiving.  There are some places that are decked out to the nines, but their food?  Nothing particularly special.  And then there are the diamonds in the rough.  The no frills, rough around the edges type of establishment with hidden gems and amazing food just waiting to be discovered.  The spots that completely take you by surprise in the best way possible because you’d never think, just by looking at them, that they would dish out such magnificent culinary brilliance.  And I have my dear friend, Wini, to thank for this latest scumptious epiphany!  With all the recent talk of the Vegetarian Food Festival going on at Harbourfront (this weekend y’all!) and the return of Veggielicious, it’s incredibly timely that I would make this post on vegan breakfast and weekend brunch today!  Yes, vegan brunch!  With veggie brekkie posts on Fresh, Table 17, Lady Marmalade, and Sadie’s Diner, it was due time to add another one to the mix.  And is this ever a fabulous one!  Make way for vegetarian and vegan brunch comfort food at Disgraceland in Bloorcourt Village!

Disgraceland is what I would describe as a dive bar.  If you didn’t see the booths from across the street, you would totally mistake the space for a motorcycle related shop.  I sure did.  And that’s if you see it at all.  It’s easy to miss because you just can’t tell from its exterior that’s a place to gorge on food!  And when you come up closer, all you really see is darkness.  Until it lights up at night according to Wini.  In short, Disgraceland would fit perfectly into Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives in the dive category because they have the look (jukebox, games, bar, booze, booths, diner fare and comfort food!) and they have the food to prove it!  My friend Wini told me about Disgraceland after a great dinner out and I quickly looked them up and was delighted to find that they had the full monty of menus on their site.  Perfect!  I can daydream about what I want to eat when I eventually go!  And there was certainly plenty of options to consider including meat, vegetarian, and vegan dishes.  A triple threat of a weekend brunch and dinner spot!

 

Disgraceland’s weekend brunch serves up 11 different dishes with a copious amount of brunch sides to choose from!  Prices for mains range from $8-$11 (most coming in at $11), additional sides from $2-$4, and the tax already included in all the prices.  They also only accept cash, so keep that in mind if you plan on coming!  Disgraceland is SO PERFECT for groups of friends and family with different tastes, preferences, and diets.  Not only can you customize your meals with different proteins, you can substitute a number of the items for meat or meatless equivalents.  Win-win for everyone!  Meat lovers, vegetarians, and vegans can all dine here without feeling like they’re being left out, without feeling like they need to sacrifice, and without feeling like they need to order something they’re really not into just for the sake of having something meaty or meatless.  

Not only does their menu cater to different diets, it also caters to different sweet and savoury brunch cravings.  We have the savoury English breakfast ($11) with eggs, pork or vegan sausage, baked beans, fried tomato, sauteed mushrooms, potatoes, and toast; brekkie burrito ($11) with vegan and non-vegan cheese, proteins, beans, and veggies; eggs benny with strip or vegan bacon and hollandaise over poutine ($11); cinnamon French toas ($8); and a BLT bagel with sides ($9) in both meat and vegan forms!

Because I’m totally smitten with tofu scramble, I pounced on their tofu scramble dish ($9) complete with a scramble of tofu with peppers, onions, spices, black beans, and jalapenos served with crunchy corn chips, fruit, and a choice of breakfast potatoes or greens.  Ever since that fateful first tofu scramble at Sadie’s Diner last year, I’ve been completely devoted to scoping out every single last tofu brunch item in the city and I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far!  I’m itching to do a tofu brunch post for the Flavour Favourites series, but I’m going to hold off on doing one right now just because I really want to get in a few more dishes before I do a big comprehensive post for it. 

I love tofu and I always have, even as a kid.  Granted, the way I ate it as a child is vastly different from the way I eat it now.  Growing up, my mum would put tofu in our Chinese soup and she would cook it up soft with meat and vegetables.  Now I have tofu “deli” slices that I can slap on the grill, egg tofu that you slice in coins, grilled tofu wedges, tofu scramble, you name it.  I feel so super fortunate that my soy allergy only extends to milk; I’d be so sad if I couldn’t eat tofu anymore!

There was so much to love about the brunch here and about this dish.  You get your money’s worth on fantastic portions, there are so many ways to customize it just the way you like, and the food is just darn good.  I loved my tofu scramble because of it how different (and of course, delicious!) it was from other tofu scrambles.  Disgraceland’s was almost like a tofu stir-fry scramble with their tofu chunky and cubed with their sauteed vegetables chopped and diced and woven in throughout the entire dish.  The flavours were amazing.  Because of the cumin and spices, I felt like I was eating something straight out of a Moroccan place, it was so delicious.  It was unlike anything I had ever had before and it completely epitomized warmth and comfort.  This is definitely a yummy fall and winter type of dish, and combined with the scrumptious corn chips and chunk, starchy, foodgasmic breakfast potatoes, it’s a hearty meal that surprisingly doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re in food coma afterward! 

I’m so happy there’s another fantastic vegetarian and vegan brunch eatery in the city for me (and many others!) to go to and the great food here just proves that you don’t have look red-carpet ready to give a star performance.

*****

Disgraceland is located at 965 Bloor Street West in Bloorcourt Village, between Ossington Ave. and Dufferin St. just west of Delaware Ave.  They are open only for dinner and weekend brunch from Monday-Friday, 4pm-2am and Saturday-Sunday, 11am-2am.  CASH ONLY.  You can view their site HERE.

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.   

*****

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

The Vegan Chili Series! First Up: Vegan Chili Brunch With Grilled Tofu Steaks at Niche Coffee & Tea on Queen West

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I’m not quite ready to unleash Ate by Ate’s Fall Harvest series just yet, so I thought it’d be fun to do a bit of a lead-in to get us all revved up first!  The best thing about fall food is the warm and fuzzy comfort factor and chili and stews are some of the best meals to induce that great cozy cocoon feeling.  Enter the vegan chili series to Ate by Ate!  Over the past year, I’ve come across a number of places around the city that serve their own unique interpretations and versions of vegan chili and I’m so excited to start this new series, not only as an individual series, but also as tie-in to the upcoming Fall Harvest series on the blog. 

Why the interest in vegan chili though, and how did I become interested in vegan chili in the first place?  Let it be known that I absolutely hate beef chili.  I may not be vegetarian or vegan, but that certainly doesn’t mean I enjoy all meat dishes and beef chili is one such meal I’d turn the other cheek to.  I can see myself enjoying turkey chili and I’m actually really looking forward to making some of my own in the near future, but for the time being, vegetarian and vegan chili is my way to go.  I have so many vegetarian and vegan friends (some of you might be reading this right now!) and I thought this would be a great way to introduce some veggie meals and the places that serve them to you all so you can tuck the information away for future reference.  Or if you’re really into what I post, you might just run on over right now and try the dishes out for yourself!

The first time I had vegan chili was 3 years ago when I was a newbie grad student eating lunch at The Grad Lounge at York.  As an every day, permanent menu item, the vegan chili was one of the most popular meals and I was constantly seeing people order it with the cute little corn muffins for lunch.  Growing up though, I was never the biggest fan of chili (I blame the beef varieties for turning me off) so even though I knew so many of my friends and classmates enjoyed it, I shyed away from it at first.  Then temptation and curiousity took over and I said to myself, “to hell with it, I’m getting me a bowl!”  And from then on, my chili ways changed forever and their vegan chili became one of my favourites, especially during the fall and winter.  Granted, my chili remained vegetarian as opposed to vegan at times because of the side of sour cream I’d order, but the meal itself is vegan through and through and a well-loved meal among the graduate student community.

Now, let’s get started with the first post of this vegan chili series!  First up, the grilled tofu on vegan chili brunch at Niche Coffee & Tea Company!  I mentioned this brunch dish in my first Niche post almost two weeks ago and I was itching to have this showcased in the series the second I found out the dish existed on the menu.  Niche is a coffee, tea, and brunch cafe located on Queen Street West just west of Bathurst St. with everything from eggs benny to French toast to omelettes to banana bread with Nutella and cinnamon sugar.  Their vegan chili is served two ways: vegetarian with eggs, or vegan with grilled tofu, and both styles ($10.50) come with your choice of either homemade grilled foccacia or cornbread.  I was so excited to order this that I was fidgeting in my seat and probably grinning like a fool when the nice waitress came around to take my order.  And that excitement wasn’t die down when my food came.  Behold!

What we have here: a nice big bowl of chili made with spiced tomato curry puree, chickpeas, red kidney beans, diced carrots, celery, and corn, served with 4 grilled tofu steaks, strips of crunchy baked tortilla chips, a slice of fresh tomato, arugula (no guacamole for this time unfortunately, but that wasn’t a big deal), and grilled wedges of fresh foccacia.  Oh my goodness, there were so many wonderful things about this meal.  First, the chili had some kick to it!  If you can’t tolerate heat in the slightest amount, this might not be the most comfortable meal for you to eat, but if you’re like me and you can take a bit of kick, you will LOVE this!  The flavour is so different because it’s not your run-of-the-mill crushed tomato chili.  It’s almost like a fusion of curry, tomato, and chili and I enjoyed it so much. 

The grilled tofu steaks were perfection.  They were so cute, like mini decks of tofu cards 😀  The texture was firm, the flavour was savoury, and there was that slight crispness around the edges from the grilling that made it even more delicious.  The crunchy tortilla strips were a fabulous addition and the foccacia…oh man.  I think the grilled foccacia wedges I had with this meal might have been some of the most delicious bread I’ve ever had.  The edges and outsides were crisp and the insides were amazingly soft and the bread just melts in your mouth.  It had a wonderful rosemary-thyme and olive oil flavour and I literally said, “ohhhh my god, this is so good” out loud after I took my first bite of it.

The whole vegan chili and tofu dish worked so well because of all the different textures (soft, crispy, juicy, moist, etc.) and all the flavours.  Even though I was drinking water with my meal, the tofu and foccacia is the perfect complement to the heat from the chili because it mellows it out and you get the best of all the flavours when you alternate between all the items of food.

If you try this out, I hope you’ll all enjoy it as much as I did.  If you have suggestions or requests for the series, feel free to leave a comment!  This is the first of hopefully many more vegan chili posts to come!

*****

Niche Coffee & Tea Company is located at 626 Queen Street West just east of Palmerston Ave. and west of Bathurst St.  They serve brunch during all hours of operations and are open 7 days a week at 8am on weekdays and 9am on weekends, with closing hours at 5pm on all days.

Home Cooking and Warm Comfort Food to Wind Down a Busy Week – Pork and Tofu & Seafood with Chinese Broccoli

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It’s been a tiring but really fun week.  My legs and feet are sore from all the walking I did and I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend at home scrapbooking, baking, and playing around with lip gloss!  I have lots of new layouts that I’m working on and plenty of Veggielicious related material to post, so the next few days and the following week are going to be super fun on the blog, especially with Easter just around the corner! 

Today’s foodie menu is mum’s home cooking and comfort food: lean ground pork and silken tofu, and seafood atop freshly steamed Chinese broccoli vegetables.  The pork and tofu dish is one of my absolute favourites.  It has the consistency of a meat stew and I spoon the stuff over my rice and it’s so warm and yummy.  I love the pork and tofu with green onions and chili flakes and even though it’s delicious on its own, sometimes I’ll eat it with either a bit of Worcestershire sauce or sweet chili sauce. 

And ever since I was a tot, my family and I have always had Chinese vegetables regularly for dinner, rotating between bok choy, Chinese broccoli (guy lan), yow choy (choy sum), and others.  My mum recently cooked up a shrimp, scallop, and Chinese broccoli dish for dinner and it’s dishes like these that are really reminiscent of home cooking at my house.  I looove shrimp with just about everything: curry, dumplings, seafood chowder, and plenty of dim sum! 

Happy Friday night, everyone!  I hope everyone has a fabulous weekend 😀