In the past few years, Toronto has become a bona fide meat-tropolis, with a new charcuterie-heavy joint, barbecue smokehouse or gourmet burger shack opening faster than you can braise a veal shank (which admittedly takes some time). But that hasn’t stopped the trio behind Kensington Market’s popular vegan takeout place Hot Beans from expanding its burgeoning meat-free empire with the newly opened Hogtown Vegan. Though Hot Beans serves strictly burritos and donuts, owners Madeleine Foote, Scott McCannell (Foote’s boyfriend) and Ross Corder have decided to tackle a decidedly trickier trend, one that’s already popular in both New York and L.A.: vegan comfort food.
“The idea is that vegans like to eat junk food and comfort food just like everybody else,” says Foote, who had originally intended on using the Bloorcourt locale as a prep kitchen for the claustrophobic, always-crammed Hot Beans. But the ambitious restaurateurs figured that if they were going to have to pay rent, they might as well turn the space into a fully operational restaurant. So with the help of some contractors, they laid the floor and built the dark wood tables, banquettes and bar themselves. The room is still sparse, the turquoise walls noticeably free of the customary new-Toronto-restaurant antique kitsch (or much of anything else at the moment).
While most restaurateurs wait at least a few years before expanding, Foote waited just six months, which she blames on being “young and a little bit crazy.” She sees Toronto as a vegan-friendly city whose community is still growing. Dishes like jack ’n’ slaw, featuring shredded jackfruit cooked in a chipotle and molasses barbecue sauce ($11)—meant to simulate pulled pork—and chipotle mac ’n’ “cheese” ($7) are set to test her theory. Other comfort classics with a vegan twist include unchicken and waffles ($12), which uses breaded, deep-fried soy cutlets instead of chicken, and a Reuben sandwich ($11), which features house-made seitan in place of corned beef. As for the reaction of non-vegans? Foote doesn’t seem to concerned: “When you open a vegan restaurant you’re not doing it for money. You’re doing it because you have a philosophy and you think that the food should be out there.”
The Hogtown Vegan, 834 Bloor St. W, 416-901-9779.