The Fall Harvest Series – Potato & Mushroom Pie with Parsley, Kitchen Fun, & a Return to Mela Vegetarian Cafe

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Welcome to Mela. Welcome home.

Frowning in concentration, I leaned over my steaming hot plate of food, pointed my camera at it, promptly lowered it, turned my plate 45 degrees, pointed my camera at it again, looked at my screen, and smiled.  Ahhh.  That was the shot I wanted.  Click.  Time for a top down shot.  Click.  Gotta get one head on at eye level from the side.  Cli-

“May I ask what your occupation is?”

And just as I was about to click, I abruptly froze, camera in mid-air.  I looked over to my right and was greeted with two very amused facial expressions and two pairs of male eyes staring back at me curiously and expectantly.  I chuckled shyly.  “You must be wondering about the photos and the camera.”  And so began my spiel about how no, this wasn’t my day job exactly, but something I did on the side every day, something that was very much a part of my life in every way that counted, and yes, I write a blog and do a lot of food scrapbooking and photography, and oh, would you like my business card so you guys can check it out?!

Beet risotto with broccoli and Mela’s famous tomato sauce.

With the sounds of sizzling skillets on the stove top, the smell of fresh tomato sauce bubbling away, and two scrumptious and delicious plates of warm, steaming, comforting Italian vegetarian food in front of me, I felt right at home.  It never gets old seeing the curious gazes of nearby patrons watching me snap away, it never gets old pointing my camera at my food, and it never gets old sitting in my foodie home away from home, the Italian vegetarian magic that is Mela Cafe.

A giant wave of joy washed over me as I sat inside my favourite vegetarian spot, Mela, for the first time in 8 months.  8 months!  My last Mela Cafe post was 7 months ago, my last visit 8.  Since that unforgettable first meeting back in October 2010, I’ve never gone that long without a meal from here.  And I was feeling the pangs of withdrawn, especially during this chilly fall weather.  Mela does spring and summer fabulously, but I have to say, nobody kicks it in the pants during fall doing fall comfort food like Mela.  And were Roberto and Rachel ever dishing out and cooking up a comfort food storm!  Eggplant parm, beet risotto with broccoli, fresh ricotta lasagna with tomato and basil, cauliflower and soy pie, a spaghetti frittata with lentils and vegetables, red lentil soup, apple, beet and carrot salad, and of course their famous crispy, savoury breaded eggplant and basil panini sandwiches.

Fresh homemade eggplant parm, ready to get sizzling hot!

Roberto in the kitchen (with Rachel in the background!), whipping up a batch of pizza dough from scratch!

This was such a special visit.  For starters, it felt so wonderful being back after so many months, eating such yummy food.  Second, it was fun talking to fellow foodies about food and blogging.  And third, I was beyond giddy when Roberto waved me over into the kitchen to watch him make pizza dough from scratch.  I got to stand in the kitchen!  Well, colour me absolutely ecstatic!  It’s just one of the many reasons why I continue to love Mela so much.  I don’t feel like I’m a “customer” here.  There’s no wall, no barrier, no pretentiousness.  I feel like I’m part of a family.  We talk about our lives.  I make new friends.  I stay awhile and soak in every experience to its fullest.  I never feel like I’m a nuisance with the photo snapping.  And best of all, I make unforgettable memories each and single time.

This time around, I sunk my hungry teeth into a giant slice of potato and mushroom pie ($8.41) doused in their famous tomato sauce, as well as a dish of beet risotto with broccoli ($8.41).  I was in heaven.  Absolute vegetarian heaven.  I have to apologize for the lack of beet risotto photos though.  The tomato sauce and beet risotto were so close in colour family that I couldn’t get a good enough distinguishing photos.  But take it from me, it’s wonderfully delicious and I took most of it home for my family to try, especially my mum who loves beets.  Their potato mushroom pie was inches tall and piping hot with chunks of potato, sauteed mushrooms, and parsley melting into every forkful and bite.  Comfort food at its best.  The parsley was the perfect touch, giving little bursts of freshness and greenery to the dish.

When I was younger, I never used to like parsley.  I would always pick it out of my Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.  Now?  I love it and get so excited when I see it garnishing or sprinkled onto my dish.  The parsley played a starring role in this one, cutting through the inherent “meaty” texture of chunky potatoes.  The potatoes were chunky yet soft; meaty enough to hold its own as a hearty meal with that great potato starchiness but soft enough to sink your teeth right through them.  The whole potato and mushroom pie was lovely because it sopped up the tomato sauce so well – I didn’t have a lick of it left by the end of the meal!

And oh gosh, the top of the pie was fantastic!  It was crispy and golden brown and tasted like a cross between a hash brown and rosti.  The dish is a fab variation of the traditional mashed potatoes, potato salad, and plain roasted potatoes and with the generous amount of tomato sauce, all the flavours were lightened up and intensified.  I mmmed my way through the entire meal, loving every minute and bite of it.  I waved goodbye to Rachel and Roberto and as I was opening the door to leave (as much as I didn’t want to!), Roberto smiled and called out, “don’t be a stranger!”

I won’t, ever.  I promise.

*****

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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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.

The Freshest, Lightest Tomato Sauce: Homemade Ravioli at Mela Café

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Spring is upon us (I begrudgingly set my clock forward by an hour last night and lost an oh-so-precious hour of sleep, grrr) and that means garden fresh ingredients and light and savoury food!  It’s understandable to eat warm and hearty in the winter, especially if you live in snowland like me.  The heartier meals give you that “cozy” feeling and during the warmer, summer months, we shred the clothes as well as our heavier appetites (well, at least some of us do, ha!).  Our eating habits reflect this kind of cyclical nature throughout the year because a lot of us also eat based on what’s available seasonally.  It’s exciting thinking ahead to all the amazing outdoor farmer’s markets that will be setting up in the city, and when I think of all things fresh and light, I think of Mela Café.  The first time I set foot in Mela Café was last September and my very first entry on Mela Café was written back in January.  And what strikes me about this amazing vegetarian eatery after having eaten here a few times now, is how the food reflects both warm and hearty dishes, and yet maintains a level of lightness and freshness in its taste and ingredients.  Case in point: Robert’s homemade ravioli swimming in delicious tomato sauce.

The homemade ravioli dish is the epitome of lightness.  Words that describe it: airy, delicate, bright, flavourful.  You ask, “but how can that be??  It’s pasta!”   True.  Pasta dishes traditionally have a reputation for being heavier food fare.  It’s a starch after all, and functions much the same way rice and bread do in terms of filling up an appetite.  But let me tell you, the ravioli, with its homemade ricotta cheese, is so soft and the pasta just melts in your mouth.  The ricotta cheese is smooth, light, and creamy and doesn’t overwhelm the ravioli, but rather complements it.  Along with the tomato sauce, (which is truly one of Mela Café’s most special and defining touches) it goes down the hatch like you wouldn’t believe.  When you’re eating this, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to collapse into a food coma.  It makes you feel satisfied and healthy and GOOD.  Even though I ate this back in January in the dead of winter, it had the effect of making me feel like I was eating inside a spring garden with the sprinkling of herbs and bright green snow peas.  And the wedge of breaded eggplant on top was the perfect touch of crispiness and savouriness to round out the whole dish.

So many of their dishes have this dual nature to them where you can eat them during the winter and still feel as though they were plucked straight out of a garden.  Sweet potatoes and rapini.  Black rice and vegetables.  Stuffed bell peppers.  Fresh vegetable lasagna.  Banana muffins.  Beet risotta pie.  Red lentil and split pea vegan soup.  Mushroom and potato pie with broccoli and asparagus.  And the menu just continues on and on from there.   Even eating here makes you feel revitalized.  Bright light streams in through the large window, bright green, blue, and orange are splashed on the walls, and you sit back and feel like you’re in a bustling Italian kitchen with wonderful people around you to talk to and eat with.  Genuine Italian homemade at its freshest and finest 😀

*****

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

Scrapbooking materials used: buttercup yellow, emerald green, tangerine orange cardstock (Recollections); medium scallop circle paper punch (ek success); cardboard and cardboard frame embellishments; aluminum foil; corner paper rounder.

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

Scrapbooking materials used: neon green and orange cardstock (Recollections); sky/ocean blue cardstock (DCVW); magenta cardstock (Best Occasions); flower embellishments (K&Company); cardboard frame embellishments (Winners); journalling card (Anna Griffin, Darcy Collection); 5-petal flower paper punch (ek success); circle paper punch (ek success); medium scallop circle paper punch (ek success); corner round paper punch (ek success); aluminum foil.