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THE STEADY CAFE (1051 Bloor West, at Havelock, 416-536-4162, thesteadycafe.com) Complete dinners for $35 per person, including tax, tip and a cocktail. Average main $12. Open for dinner Wednesday to Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Café open daily from 9:30 am, bar till close. Closed Monday, Tuesday, holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: bump at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Other than Woodlot, there aren't a lot of local restaurants where carnivores can eat alongside herbivores, especially if the latter happen to be vegan.
Add the Steady to that very short list. Launched last July, the modest Bloordale beanery wears several ironic hats - all-day café, late-night alterna-queer dance club and early-evening supper spot. Ex-Hogtown Vegan chef
Vanessa Robak helms the tiny kitchen, which explains the presence of gluten-free vegan corn chips with guacamole, warm refried beans and spicy pico de gallo on the carte.
But there are also baseball-sized crab cakes kicked into gear with a nifty mustard 'n' dill dressing (both $8) and a very good cheeseburger, made from locally grown grain-fed hormone-free chuck laced with oatmeal and spinach, naturally. And that's one terrific jalapeño, corn and fingerling potato salad on the side ($10). Roback calls the combo her "ode to the backyard barbecue."
Draining the last of our UnSteady cocktails - a potent mix of grapefruit, lemon and tangerine juices with frozen cranberries that makes even rye palatable ($7) - we're soon polishing off her vegan pizza, a barely-there kidney bean crust dressed with diced peppers, tomato, onion and Daiya faux cheese ($8). But despite a hollowed-out bun, the very Sloppy Vegan ($11) layered with smoked tofu, eggplant and zucchini in sweet tomato sauce can't help but be a mess. Don't say she didn't warn you.
You'll also end up with your face and fingers smeared with sauce - in this case bourbon-spiked barbecue - if you go for the Steady's slow-cooked side ribs instead.
A clever carrot and cashew slaw in apple cider vinaigrette counters the sweet and the heat. Only what the menu describes as "exotic" red snapper and watermelon ceviche (both $13) fails to blow us away, more starter than main, though we're way crazy for the cheesy biscuits that come with it.
Deciding on dessert's a bit of a no-brainer when there's retro key lime pie with sea-salted chocolate sauce ($5). Vegans will have to make do with the flourless chocolate cake ($6). Have another Forbidden Fruit cocktail - tequila, apple cider, maple syrup and a sprig of rosemary the size of a small tree branch ($11) - and no one will notice.
But aren't vegans a particular bunch? How does the kitchen avoid cross-contamination?
"We do our absolute best within the restraints of a very small space to keep everything separate," says Robak. "We have designated areas and colour-coded utensils to keep vegan dishes from getting meaty."
And vice versa, we should hope.