The clever turn of phrase “Urban Herbivore” echoes a favourite of yore. In Belleville more than a decade ago I used to enjoy a place called “Urban Herb” whose vegan lore and hip décor made me always come back for more.
They’re much better at pithy prose than I.
I write this ostensibly as a review even though my relationship with the establishment is more intimate than that. I go to the Kensington location (Oxford & Augusta) virtually every day. There are days when I go elsewhere for lunch, mostly because I recognize most friends prefer meat. I am way past objectivity on this one.
I’ve been going there for so long that the years blur into one another. Has it been open a decade? I am not saying I was there at the beginning, because I am a creature of habit. I had other places I went to religiously. I stopped going to places with lots of starch (anyplace featuring lots of rice or breads or pastas) once Dr Ebringer helped me identify this blight upon my internal gut-scape. When my current dietary regimen fell into place –with the help of doctors, friends & the internet—Urban Herbivore became my regular place more or less by default. Where else could I get something healthy, low in starch, and close to my office? There are alternatives, but for now (that is, the past few years and for the foreseeable future) U.H. are my lifeline. Whenever I venture anywhere else I don’t feel nearly as well. On weekends in Scarborough, my diet can be all over the place. Heretical as it may be to some, U.H. have me saying “TGIM”.
As the business has grown (the restaurant Fressen + the other locations of Urban Herbivore) I recall gradual changes inside and out. In the past few months they’ve made the most exciting change, creating a large internal space, to go with the outer ring of seating along the windows + the seating outside the building (lovely in July, but not much use in January) that was there all along. Part of that renovation was the addition of display space for additional delights that I tested for the first time this past week, namely healthy cupcakes. Note to those who haven’t tried this place: “healthy” does not mean “boring”. In fact the astonishing thing about these sweets –that I had after my salad –is how totally comfortable I feel inside afterwards.
They have menu items I’ve never tried, because the few that I rely upon are etched into my thinking.
Today I’m in muffin mode, perhaps because I knew I needed multiple coffees to get me going. I was indoctrinated in their muffins by a family member who used to live across the street. The sweet potato date muffin is not my favourite –I find it somewhat sweet—but it’s been there as long as I can remember. I’ll order it when the others are all gone, something sweet & tasty but perhaps starchier than what I should be eating. The muffin I ate today for lunch is called “apple walnut“, but with several other ingredients, including spelt. When I begin it’s a dauntingly large muffin, yet before long I find myself sadly regretting how quickly it vanished. If I’m not able to get to the muffin (I almost always get take-out) it has a ridiculous shelf life, particularly in company with coffee. I have come in on a Monday to find a muffin I forgot to eat the previous Friday. It may not be as fresh as it was, but dunked into coffee is still preferable to anything I would get nearby.
Other days I am usually getting a salad + a muffin, where one is like lunch and the other becomes part of dinner (and the one going first varies depending on my mood & workload). When I say “salad”, forget what you know about salad, a word that may be holding you back from experiencing the possibilities inherent in food. The concept is modular, where they assemble your salad according to your preferences as follows:
- Pick greens, which means, possibly something like lettuces (“spring mix”?), or perhaps a spinach-arugula mix, or a romaine-kale mix, or some combination of the above.
- Pick a protein. I am hampered here because I only ever get one of the choices. I get the barbecued tofu, although I could get one of the others (hm… something gluten? I can’t recall)
- The protein is your first of six items combined with the greens. The remaining five are taken from a dazzling array, some simply clean fresh items like bean sprouts (boring… never get them) or cleverly prepared steamed broccoli (always), snow peas in something (often), cucumber with dill (usually), kamut, black beans, kimchee, and many others
- Then you select a dressing from the six offered (again, wonderfully tasteful… for the longest time I went with lemon & tahini, then their carrot-sesame-ginger-, then I tried mixing the two but my current fave is something called sweet & spicy, a name that only hints at its excellence) plus an assortment of seeds & nuts on top
There’s enough in the bowl to be eaten at two sittings, although when I am hungry it’s all gone in one.
The menu features other items that I try from time to time. At one time I was hooked on their sandwiches, which are on their own homemade breads (focaccia or whole-wheat), particularly the avocado sandwich, which make a nice change of pace if you’ve had a salad every day for weeks. And they also have a grain bowl that I have never explored for dietary reasons –starch—and not because I am not enticed. I figure “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, but yes, one of these days I will have to try those other menu options.
The other thing I get from time to time is juice. These are an amazing tonic if you feel a cold coming on or are recovering from a late night. Forgive me if this sounds like the ravings of a co-dependent but U.H. are in a sense enabling my worst behaviours, allowing me to get away with ridiculous late nights at the theatre: because they can make me feel so amazing the next day. Fatigue and sore-eyes should slow one down, but don’t hit so hard when there’s a kind of out-patient hospital right in my neighbourhood, serving you herbal medicines to keep you going when you should have stayed in bed. And they have fair-trade coffee that’s necessary when one surrenders to temptations (aka cupcakes or various other delights) right under your nose.
Yes I eat meat. It needs to be said that while nutritional concerns led me to U.H. it’s a matter of taste & quality that keeps me there. I am not creeped out by meat, indeed I am the other extreme. I found my way to U.H. only after visiting a notorious (former) Augusta neighbour since moved down to Queen St W, famous for their brilliance preparing different types of wild game. But why do people seem to freak out over the consumption of wild game, while seeming to be inured to the ongoing atrocities in our food supply? For example, read this (admittedly controversial) page from the Institute for Natural Healing with a headline proclaiming “Processed Meats Too Dangerous for Human Consumption”. Nobody wants to think about what’s in a hot dog, or whether that burger might make you sick, so if you’re going to protest, please concentrate on the places that are making literally thousands of people sick.
At some point I’ll write about La Palette, a place I mentioned in passing as part of my Queen W experience seeing Figaro’s Wedding. That’s more my evening guise.