YamChops, at College and Montrose, is the latest player in Toronto's vegetarian game. The family business opened its doors Monday, and brands itself as Toronto's first "vegetarian butcher shop." While points for branding creativity have to be awarded, I also have to ask YamChops patriarch Mike Abramson what, exactly, this means.
"A butcher is just someone who cuts and prepares food," he tells me. "We do that here [and] provide great-tasting alternatives [to meat]."
When you walk in, YamChops is set up just like a butcher shop. There's a long, L-shaped counter with a glass case full of vegetarian and vegan delicacies on display. These include "smoked salmon," (which I sample in the classic smoked salmon-capers-cream cheese combo on a cracker, and which is divine), as well as vegetarian spin-offs of chicken teriyaki, and "tuna salad" made from chickpeas (a recipe I have often tried and failed).
But Armstrong, the creator of the dishes, knows what he's doing. He's been a vegetarian for 40 years, and wants to share the health benefits with others. So he left the world of advertising after 27 years, decided to open a business, and nine months later, YamChops opened its doors to College Street. He stresses that he's trying to sell healthy and interesting vegetarian alternatives, and not peddle a moralistic lifestyle.
"This is not about tree-hugging," he tells me, kind of sternly. "Well, we do, on occasion, hug trees," his daughter Jess protests. "Especially me."
Jess left her career in sales to help develop YamChops, and she's responsible for their juice line, the cleverly-named Au Jus ($9.50-$10.50). The juices leave nothing to be desired.
They're a larger size than many juices on the market, so they give you a true nutrient pick-me-up, and Jess gets creative with spices. Pineapple Express is ideal for summer, with its simple combination of pineapple, apple and mint. The juices are magical, too, apparently: The Beach is my favourite so far (featuring kale, cucumber, ginger, celery and pineapple) and it apparently also cleanses blood, purifies skin, and relieves congestion, so.
Like any butcher, Yam Chops sells condiments to complement its main attractions. Fridges in the back hold jars of their own pickled daikon and carrot and Mongolian beef sauce, as well as pickled treats from Manning Canning.
Most of their creations are wonderful, and my one major beef with them is that they don't do sandwiches. I pushed the point with them, and they said they've only been open for a few days, and to give them time.
I will be returning soon to see if they have decided to make my dreams a reality.
Photos by Jesse Milns.