An L.A. import in Parkdale and Doug McNish are turning vegan food into the hottest grub in town

An L.A. import in Parkdale and Doug McNish are turning vegan food into the hottest grub in town


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Despite being on the “secret menu”, the vegan Mac Daddy at Doomie’s has been a popular hit

Image: Doomie’s

The hype started back when the streets were still littered with snow. Parkdale, land of the hot restaurant, saw a recently shuttered space decked out with notices in its otherwise white windows: #whatveganseat. After much wonderment and a dollop of sass (some cheeky knob transformed the sign’s marquee letters into M-E-A-T), the grand reveal was made: L.A. spot Doomie’s was set to open.

Last year’s Toronto Vegan Food and Drink fest first intro’d locals to the resto, and since day one, the narrow space has been packed. Outside, hordes of cool kids in vegan (and real) leather jackets lounge, waiting for the two-hour queue to dissipate. Inside, neon lights proclaim the #whatveganseat catchphrase, ’90s hip hop plays overhead and diners snap selfies in a room created for said sport. 

The food is all comfort. Here the game changer is the secret menu item: the Vegan Mac Daddy. Two non-beef patties — whipped up from wheat, soy and veg proteins — are sandwiched between soy-based cheese, house-made vegan mayo, shredded iceberg and pickles. All is tucked into a sesame seed bun trio — the resulting burger far more photogenic than the McDonald’s original. Taste-wise it’s on point, but the main thing is that you won’t be feeling (either mentally or physically) those post-McD’s blues. Funny thing is that exec chef Doomie himself (he’s a one namer, like Madonna) isn’t actually vegan — he just grew weary of eating ho-hum vegan food with his vegan pals so took things into his own hands.


(IMAGE: CJ BAEK)

 

Meanwhile, at Doug’s Public Kitchen, staunch vegan chef Doug McNish has been working tirelessly to get Torontonians to rethink the meaning of the once-forbidden word. It takes one look at the chef’s Instagram to see the hubbub his dishes create. Although it’s mostly tantalizing images of food, occasionally you’ll stumble across heartfelt reminders of why you should go vegan. (One such example? 2,500 gallons of water are needed for a single pound of beef.)

For McNish, Saturdays mean Brick Works pop-ups, and the rest of the week he’ll head up the kitchen at his Marlee Avenue space. Regardless, keeners line up for their share of his ogle-worthy grub.

“I’m a classically trained chef, and so I know what flavours go well together,” he says. His tostada structure stands tall, with dehydrated carrot and corn tortilla shells paired with layers of guac, re-fried beans and pico de gallo, all doused in the cream-free crema (hint: it’s cashews). Brunchers can get their mitts on the popular egg-free Benedict. McNish replicates the egg with seared tofu, fried tomatoes and egg-free hollandaise, resulting in a dish that’s smoky and savoury and will more than satiate.

Those really feeling his plant-heavy approach can pick up garb that furthers the point, with “Kale Is the New Beef” writ large on T-shirts — an honest message from McNish, who used to sling countless steaks until an animal rights video (shown to him by a girl that had his heart) saw him switching teams. He’s been vegan for 12 years now, with a tattoo on his arm to prove it.

Part of the reason why veganism lacked the cool factor is that talking about a bowl of basic greens isn’t particularly thrilling. Nobody makes friends with salad, right? This, paired with meh interpretations of meat (think tofu wearing a mask of BBQ sauce) kept the excitement pretty low. But when places like Apiecalypse Now! — kitty-corner from Christie Pits — turn out tasty pizzas that just happen to be plant based, folks get revved up.


(IMAGE: CJ BAEK)

 

Chef-owner Jennifer Bundock’s popular pizzas include the Fat Mac: basically a Big Mac spread over a ’za, with soy-based “meat” and Daiya cheddar paired to great effect. The Pig Destroyer Destroyer is for vegan meat lovers: meatless pepperoni, BBQ pork, bacon, chorizo and chicken sit atop the pie.

Over the years, Bundock swung back and forth between vegetarianism and veganism and has now been 100 per cent vegan for more than seven years. But it wasn’t until she had her feminist a-ha moment that Bundock went full vegan: “I realized the difference between vegetarian and vegan was a female connection.” 

Once she saw the way the lives of female animals were being controlled —  perpetual pregnancy, endless milkings for the sole purpose of feeding humans — there was no turning back.


(IMAGE: CJ BAEK)

 

Bringing things full circle is Bloordale’s Through Being Cool, which plucks its badass name from an album by American punk outfit Saves the Day. Chef-owner Amanda Somerville built her bakery four years back and has watched her vegan fare rise in popularity. The Widow Maker sandwich is one such pick. Beefy seitan gets heat from horseradish mayo and pickled jalapeno, set atop Daiya cheddar-style shreds and crispy fried onions. All is tucked into a freshly baked white roll, resulting in a hearty ’wich that’s loaded with flavour.

TBC is also known, naturally, for its sweets, turning out a roster of baked goods including up to 20 different doughnut flavours a day. Think everything from cinnamon sugar to fig and vegan honey. Understanding the science behind food is the key to vegan baking, she observes. Although Somerville originally went vegan for the animals, “Now it’s also very much for environmental issues as well as my own health.” 

Black bean brownies and watery salads? Old news. This is the new vegan. 

More spots to grab stellar vegan eats

Grasshopper
Tuck into dishes like their chick-un banh mi, chili and quinoa mac ’n’ cheese at this mini chain that just spread its wings to the Junction.  

Kupfert & Kim
Vegan food for those in a hurry. Check out one of their downtown locations for all-day brekkie like congee or a waffle with coconut–cashew cream. 

Yamchops
A vegetarian butcher? Correct. They do vegan too: BBQ pulled “chicken” and beet burgers come ready to hit that grill.

Bunner’s
This bakeshop got its start in the west end before expanding to hippie central, Kensington Market. Gluten-free peeps be happy munching here too. 

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Karolyne Ellacott is senior editor at Post City Magazines. She can oft be spotted at Toronto’s most nostalgic diners wearing glittery heels and pink faux fur. Follow all of her eclectic writing interests on Twitter @kellacott and Instagram @itismekar.

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