Why Hibiscus Cafe doesn't charge more for its delicious treats is one of Toronto's greatest mysteries. It seems to me that healthy food is like bikini material: the less there is, the more you pay. But for some reason Hibiscus Café has decided to buck the trend of overcharging for animal-optional, gluten-free delights, opting instead for reasonable prices, good service and a pleasant atmosphere. Masochistic fans of hipster pretense and unfriendly service are advised to quit eating and head to American Apparel instead, because while Hibiscus Café is bang-on the trend meter with its super healthy fare, the service is anything but snotty.
Excited by the full page of crepe selections on Hibiscus' small but varied menu, my lunch companion and I both ordered buckwheat-flour crepes: hers filled with mushroom, spinach and mozzarella cheese, and mine with basil, tomato and goat cheese. At $5.50 each, we had a little room in our budgets for more, requesting beet soup and a strawberry soymilk smoothie respectively.
My cup of soup arrived first, accompanied by a homemade cracker of apple, zucchini, and sunflower seeds. I was expecting a lot less for $2.75, but gladly accepted the generous steaming mug of sweet beets and roasted roots. I'm still finding it hard to believe that this incredibly smooth, immensely flavourful dish was completely dairy free, but my server confirmed it twice. At least I think he did. He was talking, saying something like "Blah blah blah dairy free" while I was intoning, "But it's sooooooo creamy".
My cracker was equally inspiring, unique for being plant-based, grain-free, house-made and delicious. Sweet apple, earthy zucchini and rich sunflower seeds have been joined in holy dehydration to create a union that is strong enough to withstand a good soup-dunking, but delicate enough to delight all on its own. The strawberry soymilk smoothie ($3.50) was just as yummy, providing an evenly blended mix of fresh strawberries and sweet soymilk.
Barely had my love affair with the beet soup begun when Hibiscus Cafe's signature buckwheat crepes arrived, delivering a kiss to my taste buds and a blow to my culinary ego. Many times have I tried to master the gluten-free pancake, but somehow the buckwheat flour always leads me to produce thick, heavy hockey pucks. Not so these crepes, which are flavourful enough to add pizzazz to the dish, but light enough to let the fillings take center stage.
And, oh the fillings! Basil is treated with the cavalier panache of lettuce, shredded and tossed liberally throughout the crepe. No mere accoutrement, the basil competes for stage time with a creamy goat cheese and luscious tomato slices. Roasted eggplant pesto spread thinly across the crepe's surface ensures that each bite delivers a savoury blend of fresh deliciousness.
The mushroom, spinach and mozzarella crepe is excellent, too. Despite being totally raw, mushroom slices are thin enough to add earthy tones to verdant spinach without overpowering. Mozzarella is light and soft, and the roasted eggplant pesto repeats its flavourful dance across crepe and tongue.
Although I was initially put off by Hibiscus Cafe's lack of green salad and their dark, pokey bathroom, they won me over in the end. For food this good, I will gladly abstain from my beloved mesclun mix and suffer the indignities of walking through the kitchen to get to the loo. Hell, for these flavours, I'd probably be willing to suffer poor treatment, slow service and dirty looks, but I'm grateful I don't have to.
For their fresh, innovative fare, excellent service and ability to be both super-cool and super-delicious, Hibiscus Cafe has earned my undying affection, and taught me that sometimes love can be spelled C-R-E-P-E.