Monday, April 30, 2012

Toronto Day 2

April 22, 2012
Toronto skyline behind a massive double-crested cormorant colony

I'd arranged my flights so that I had a full day spare in Toronto before work obligations kicked off. This served two purposes: eating as much great veg food as I could find and heading out to do a bit of birding. I woke up obscenely early and decided to start wandering to Tommy Thompson Park, hoping that I'd stumble across a bakery or something that opened before 8am on a Sunday. Queen Street East is loaded with hip-looking cafes, bars and restaurants, all of which looked like they'd be unlikely to open before 11. And then there was Lady Marmalade - already open and with a menu in the window that looked very promising indeed. When I got home I discovered it's on a bunch of 'best breakfast in Toronto' lists - good fortune indeed!

Lady Marmalade is a cute little place - a mix of old-fashioned diner stylings and trendiness. At 7:30 on a Sunday it's pretty empty but by the time I left at 8:15 there was a queue forming. The menu (pdf is here) is mostly savoury - lots of egg dishes, a (slightly terrifying sounding) breakfast poutine and savoury waffles. There are a few sweet options - the crepes in particular sounded promising. I considered the tofu scramble but in the end couldn't go past the vegan adaptation of heuvos rancheritos (scrambled organic tofu with chilli, smashed beans, guacamole, chipotle salsa and wholewheat tortillas, $12.50).

What a delicious start to the day! The beans (hidden behind the coriander pile) were a teeny bit smoky and were soft and smushy - perfect for smearing on the tortilla. The scrambled tofu was rich with what seemed like a part tomato, part chipotle sauce and were dotted through with little (mild) chilli pieces. Shake on some hot sauce (as I did) and you're in Mex-breakfast heaven. The service was lovely (although things were starting to get a bit slower as the room filled up) and the setting was a warm and quiet oasis from the windy streets.

A short walk later I was at the park, which only opens on the weekends and was full of joggers, bike-riders and fellow bird-nerds. The icy winds meant that this wasn't my most enjoyable birding experience ever, and I think I was a few weeks early for the full range of migratory birds that turn up here, but I still managed a few hours racking up lots of new birds. It's a pretty lovely park anyway and is well worth a wander if you find yourself at a loose end over a Toronto weekend.

A song sparrow doing what it does best

By the time I'd walked all the way to the end of the park and back I had numb fingers and was starting to get hungry again. So I pulled out my veg map (The Toronto Vegetarian Association leaves piles of vegetarian directories around the place - I found mine in a bookstore - which include great little maps of most of the veg restaurants in the inner city) and headed for Sadie's Diner just off Queen Street West.

This place fully embraced the diner aesthetic and had a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere (this was probably due to the lateness of my lunch - by 2:30pm there weren't too many other customers about). The weekend menu here is all about brunch and is a mix of vegetarian and vegan dishes. I went for the vegan brekkie burrito, which seems like their signature dish ($10 + $3 for a side of guacamole).

The chunky home fries were completely unmentioned on the menu - I get the impression that in North America you're just supposed to assume that your breakfast will come with a side of fried potato. I wasn't complaining. The burrito itself was a solid effort - a mix of rice, vegan cheese, tofu and chilli packed expertly into a tortilla. It was a much less messy proposition than the Trippy Taco alternative, but was a bit milder in flavour as well - luckily hot sauce seems to be a staple condiment, so I could give it the little kick I thought it needed. This place seemed like a pretty reliable veggie brunch option - they offer vegan French toast, more huevos and vegan-huevos dishes and a few other bits and pieces. The service was efficient if a little stand-offish, and they were happy to leave me sitting reading while I rested my feet for the walk home. Plus they've got a great wall of Pez dispensers!

The jet-lag was kicking in pretty hard by now, so I slunk back to the hotel to crash out for a while. By the time dinner rolled around I was still stuffed from all the spuds and too tuckered out to venture very far away from the hotel. Luckily, there's a veg restaurant right next door! 

Commensal is a very plain buffet-style place, where you load your plate up and pay based on weight. There are eight or so hot dishes, heaps of salads and some soups to choose from. 

For about $10 I got a decent sized plate filled with salad and a few pieces of the ginger tofu. 

I had high hopes for the tofu, but it was a bit lacking in flavour. Still, the salads were just what my body needed after a day of airline food followed by two big beany breakfasts. They were fresh and tasty and were a healthy way to end the day. Commensal has absolutely no atmosphere to speak of - you go there to load up on food and then you leave. But if that's what you're after (and it was for me) then it does a good job of it - I wouldn't put it on my must-visit list for Toronto but it'll fulfil a need for a lazy, healthy lunch or dinner around the middle of town. They have plenty of clearly labelled vegan and gluten-free options as well.

So my first full day in Toronto was a success - some great birding and three pretty decent meals. Toronto has loads of vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants and I managed to sneak a few more meals around meetings, so stay tuned for more soon!

A quick poke around the web turned up lots of bloggers raving about Lady Marmalade - check out some recent reviews at Lick My Spoon, Food Pr0n, lace and lemondrops, Food  should be yummy, Where Jess Ate, Amy's Food Adventures, Henry's Highchair, Eat Here Next, Relish and Quaff, Yours Edibly and Run Eat Read. /L/ was a bit less impressed.

Similarly, there's much love for Sadie's Diner. See: koshersamurai, Chronicles of a Hungry Man, Vegan Butthole Explosion, Veggie Tales, Vegan Band Dude, Ate by Ate and highheeledherbivore, although Until We Eat Again, Iliana's Palette and Drawn and Devoured were all a bit disappointed by the lack of flavour in some of the dishes.

Commensal has less blogger enthusiasm - I could only find a fairly mixed review from Eat Here Next and a more positive write-up from yuzulife.

Lady Marmalade
898 Queen Street East, Leslieville
647 351 7645
Veggie breakfasts: $7.50 - $11.50 (plus tax and tips)

Sadie's Diner
504 Adelaide Street West, Fashion District
416 777 2343
Veggie brunch dishes: $5 - $12 (plus tax and tips)

655 Bay Street, Toronto
416 596 9364
Pay by weight - $10 - $15 gets you a good sized meal

Accessibility: All three of these places had reasonable accessibility - no more than a small step on entry and reasonably spacious interiors (although Lady Marmalade gets a bit tight as it fills up). At Lady Marmalade and Sadie's you do all your ordering and payment at the table, while Commensal you pay at a low counter. The buffet at Commensal is about waist high. 


  1. Sadie's! I went there, and ate french toast, and vegan sausage, and home fries, and hot chocolate. Andy had tofu scramble. Tim had banana choc chip pancakes. We were all ridiculously happy with our meals, but now I wish I had gotten the breakfast burrito!

  2. Sadie's diner looks so blue, cute and out of the place! and ooooOOohh savoury waffles sounds good for breakfast! We need more waffle places here! :P

  3. yay!! thanks for this I'm hoping to visit t-dot this year!