“I really like meat, don’t get me wrong, but that place is legitimately delicious enough to convert a carnivore.”
After this tried and true testament from a (very much so) meat-eating male coworker of mine, I knew I was heading to the right spot for dinner last weekend. He was rightfully raving about the sensational vegetarian/ vegan restaurant Fresh – a restaurant that has after one sitting become my absolute new favourite – although it’s by no means new to anyone else in the city.
Is this newfound obsession because I’m a vegan and have finally found a proper dining experience to soothe my savoury eating-out cravings with a little choice? Yes and no. I’m more so newly infatuated – along with the rest of the constant line-up of patrons out the front door – with the abundance of only the freshest ingredients in the Big Smoke which combine to create sublimely fascinating flavours that one would never guess lack meat or dairy.
Without being a Ma and Pa restaurant boasting organics from the backyard or an incognito hole in the wall bakery, Fresh is aesthetically stunning and trendy. Decked in colourful walls and grandiose chandeliers, the restaurant prides itself on the smoothest of service and every chance to mold your meal into exactly what you’d like it to be. Just because your onion rings are made of quinoa, veggie burgers are topped with mouth-watering combinations and heaps of soy (or regular) cheddar — doesn’t mean you’re grumbling stomach is going to have to wait twice as long while the bustling restaurant is served their unique creations. Fresh is fast, efficient and has crafted a menu that will – guaranteed – make your decision nearly impossible to make.
I literally had little veggie stars in my eyes. As I scanned the menu sections – tropical smoothies, boosters, starters, gigantic salads, energizing “bowls” of rice or noodle dishes, regular entrees (with fancy vegan twists) and mouth-watering cakes, cupcakes and cookies – you would never realize you were catering to any sort of dietary restriction, because if anything, this menu is more diverse than most non-vegetarian restos I’ve visited in months past. Both my friend Mallory and I settled for the Prix Fixe – an incredibly underpriced four-course meal ($24 for a smoothie, starter, main and cookie) that resulted in takeaway containers and puffed out tummies after all was said and eaten. I ordered a strawberry, banana and coconut smoothie to start along with a hearty bowl of barley, mixed veggie and cracked pepper soup. At this point, I could have called it a night. But then I saw my “Ninja bowl” wander over; a gaping white dish of soba noodles, wasabi dill dressing, countless greens, sundried tomatoes and crispy tofu tangled in chopsticks. Despite laying claim to a huge appetite, I was practically done for after five scoops of creamy noodles…until my big chocolate chunk cookie was plopped in front of me.
After a moment of silence, staring and
semi fake tears of happiness, my friend laughed and asked when I had last eaten a cookie. I thought about it briefly, and came to the conclusion that it was last November. NOVEMBER. Sure, I had made some lovely desserts for myself – but for the most part, I’ve come to the realization that the restaurant world is made of eggs, milk and cheese, so I’d rarely gone on a hunt for something I could enjoy that had been made by someone else. And isn’t there something just so lovely about eating food you didn’t have to whip up yourself? So, with a little belch and a belt loosen (cute, right?) I ate that cookie with the utmost enthusiasm and happiness. In fact, the experience was so moving, I could have forked in the entire gooey vegan fudge cake staring at me from the cake plate on the nearby bakery bar – because I have always wholeheartedly believed I have a separate pocket in my stomach for dessert after an enormous meal.
Oh, and another thing? They serve wine and beer – good ones, too. I was a set on enjoying the decadent fruity smoothies and food, and didn’t want anything to interfere with that, so I opted out. But this is always something that’s great – if not incredibly important – to note.
If you have 20 to 40 minutes to go early for your dinner, make your way to any of Fresh’s three Toronto locations and tirelessly wait in that line-up. Do. Not. Give. Up. It’s worth the crammed crowd, it’s worth the bloated belly and it’s especially worth the delicious leftovers for lunch the next day. Because really, very few things feel better than a satisfied tummy – especially if it’s full of very, very good (and fresh) things.
For the full Fresh menu and dining locations, see http://www.freshrestaurants.ca/main.asp