The Hogtown Vegan is the second restaurant in a little over six months from the vegan restauranteur trio responsible for Kensington Market's all vegan doughnuts and burrito joint, Hot Beans. Having already amassed a strong following, these vegans are multiplying fast.
Upgrading from take-out style counter service to a causal dining sit down model, Hogtown Vegan is a deep South comfort food restaurant. Entirely animal product free version of seriously meaty American foods like chicken n' waffles, mac n' cheese and a classic Reuben are now available for those who have renounced carnivorous ways.
Apparently vegan Hogtonians were eager for a dose of comfort cuisine causing a food shortage on opening day. I have one friend who can already boast three visits in their first 10 days open.
We came in for lunch on an obscenely hot day but the weather outside and, though the A/C was undetectable, we were brought a plastic jug of water to sip. Dark wood trim and black tables are set against awkwardly bare turquoise walls leaving a sparse interior that will hopefully soon be filled.
We started with the "unchicken" wings ($7), a generous euphemism for deep fried tofu triangles. They were pretty good for slabs of tofu; the light batter, dill and hot sauce dip gave them a needed kick of heat.
The Reuben sandwich ($11) was the first dish that made me remember these were indeed the same people who make some of the best vegan burritos known to Toronto. A a mound of thin, tangled fries sits tall on the plate so intertwined you could easily pick up the whole lot with your fork. They were as delicious as they were innovative. The sandwich was packed with sharp and creamy notes, the pumpernickel rye layered with nippy sauerkraut, house-made strips of seitan (or wheat gluten strips) with horseradish mayo and garlic butter.
The staple of many a Canadian childhood, mac n' cheese ($7) was a disappointing and bland dish with thick white pasta noodles and a thin 'cheese' sauce. There's nothing non-vegan about white pasta, but for $7, I sure would have like wholewheat noodles with a thicker sauce.
The most disappointing dish of the day was the biscuit sliders ($12). Their unfortunate appearance reminded my friend of the food she used to serve in a seniors home and translated into a similarly drab tasting dish of mushroom gravy and veggie sausage over a dry biscuit. The tasty collard greens on the side were definitely best part of the dish.
We were all pretty full but decided we had to try both of the desserts. We started with the key lime 'cheese' cake ($6 plus $2 per scoop of ice-cream) that left us all emphatically making "mmm...mmmm!" sounds with each bite. The thick custard was soft and tangy while the ice cream refreshing. A moment later my friend firmly declared, "you /have/ to try this," after taking the first bite of the flowerless, gluten-free, vegan chocolate torte ($7). We were all blown away by the obscene richness of the soft chocolate and professed we must return one day soon to have it again.
We came out torn about our meal; some of our dishes were phenomenal while others were confusingly bad. Tainting the experience even more was the off-putting service from our waitress who kept all customer interaction to a bare minimum even when I tried to ask about some of the food.
I decided to go back and try what I nearly ordered the first time around, the roasted sweet-potato sandwich ($10) with Caesar salad on the side (lead photo). A tender layer of sweet-potato was topped with marinated red onions and a tangy smothering of kalamata tempenade, a Mediterranean olive spread. The sweet and savoury combination on the sandwich was delicious but in the in salad the sharp taste of romaine lettuce came through more than the Caesar dressing.
Transforming traditionally gritty dishes from the American South to vegan form is a mighty undertaking. Our favourite menu picks, the Ruben, fries and both deserts, were outrageously delicious while other dishes left us scratching our heads. The menu is playful and imaginative leaving me curious to see more of their dishes and how the restaurant will settle in as new genre of vegan dining in Hogtown.