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For this round of "Good or bullshit", lettuce judge a new crop of salad and grain bowl spots
Early January is when many of us roll back to work after the holidays feeling like golems made of cheese, butter cookies and various nogs. For those of us looking to clean up our act nutritionally, there’s a host of new quick-service, health-focused joints eager to trade metaphorical lettuce for actual lettuce.
But are they worth the money? We find out in this latest instalment of a NOW Magazine favourite: good or bullshit?
We begin in the PATH, Toronto’s number-one spot for desk lunches and epicentre of all things grain-filled and box-shaped. Hopscotch, a London, Ontario-based salad-bar concept devised by brothers Aiden and Wyatt Booth, opened its first location in Scotia Plaza a year ago, with Queen West and Fort York locations set to open in 2018.
While the Queen location will feature seating, the original is a straight-up takeout counter with friendly staff wearing “world’s okayest salad maker” shirts mixing up the magic to order. Bowls and salads range from $12 to $14.50 depending on ingredients. For the peckish, there’s also a few versions of the millennial’s great weakness: fancy toasts!
No build-your-own-bowl or salad option is offered here, but the staff seemed to have no problem adding or removing items from the existing offerings. I tried a Kimchi Kick grain bowl with brown rice, chicken veggies and sesame dressing, plus a Kale, Caesar!, a chicken-bacon-kale salad zhooshed up with the welcome addition of avocado, kimchi and crispy chickpeas.
Each order got a thorough, 15-second tossing (I counted) with a pair of tongs. The result: full topping and dressing incorporation, with a decent chunk of chicken, avo or bacon to be found in nearly every bite.
Those two bowls ended up being well portioned enough for me to keep in the office fridge and spread out over several servings. I had zero complaints in the flavour department, though the health halo on the kimchi bowl did wear off slightly thanks to a heavy swirling of gochujang mayo. But it was delicious, and what MyFitnessPal don’t know won’t hurt it.
Mixing thoroughness: 6/5
Presence of kimchi: 5/5
Good or bullshit: good!
40 King West, 416-792-5588, eathopscotch.com
Yorkville has never lacked for salad options (most Freshiis per capita in Toronto!*). But this new fast-casual outing by the chi-chi Chase Hospitality Group aims to give the usual rabbit food a foxy makeover.
Palm Lane’s first and only outpost is in the recently redeveloped Yorkville Village mall, in a suitably stylin’ centre-island seating area done up in plenty of posh marble and gold.
As you might expect, Palm Lane’s prices are higher than comparable spots – bowls and salads range from $13 to $15, but only a select few come with proteins, so you might run up your tab in a big way depending on your appetite and cravings.
Mercifully, though, there’s cheaper ways to bulk up your dish, like poached (!) or hard-boiled eggs for $1, alongside that splashy seared tuna option ($8). And if none of the bowls are to your liking, they’ll let you build your own.
The menu also takes great pains to be as inclusive as possible, with lots of vegan and gluten-free alternatives among the 80-strong ingredients list – a worthy reason for a higher price tag. I didn’t miss the dairy one bit in my Azteca bowl, which featured hearty helpings of fresh and pickled veg, lime dressing and cashew crema to offset the filling brown rice.
With that bump in price also comes a little boost in hospitality – a facet I’ve always found lacking in fast-casual spots where you shell out $20 to get your stuff and leave.
While I people-watched at my bar seat, the staff brought me a bottle of water and glass, my dinky $2.50 cup of Sloane tea (come on, y’all, hot water’s free), and even sugar, just in case. Later, I got a Middle Eastern-inspired Niloo salad to go, and they took a sec to Sharpie “tahini” and “pomegranate molasses” onto the sauce containers – nice touch!
That takeout choice came back to bite me later that night, however, as I dumped the allotted molasses on my salad without realizing how massively bitter it would be. Hey, Palm Lane: Can your plans for global fancy salad domination include personal salad concierges who will come to my house and make sure I dress your salads properly? It’s an unfilled niche! (Think about it!)
* = This is probably false
Writer’s ability to judge appropriate amounts of salad dressing: 0/5
Good or bullshit: good, plus a 10 per cent markup
55 Avenue Rd, 647-349-1085, palmlane.ca
Combo plates with grilled broccoli, maple lentils and carrots, roasted beets, grilled tofu, cauliflower and mac and cheese from Mary Be Kitchen.>
We’re in the middle of a cold snap, and I wouldn’t blame a single one among you for taking one look at these heaps of brown rice and quinoa and immediately sprinting for the nearest steamy plate of mac and cheese.
Fortunately, Mary Be Kitchen offers the best of both worlds – a style it calls “whole food for the soul.” The sleek uptown café, done up in wood tones and pastel cabbage-print wallpaper, offers a build-your-own-platter style menu of hot and cold dishes and proteins, customizable to your hunger level (starting at $9.90 for two items).
The options are overwhelmingly vegan and GF-friendly, including a variety of roasted veggies, green salads and grain dishes. And, yes, comfort food junkies – there’s also real-deal mac and cheese, with sharp cheddar and panko crumbs.
Takeout is of course an option here, but in my opinion, your best bet is to bring a couple of work buds, stock your plates with different items and nosh your way through the menu while complaining about Gail in accounting.
My picks for a killer combo plate: the savoury masala cauliflower, sweet roasted beets swathed in a creamy lemon-mint sauce, and a super-moist char-grilled chicken breast with salsa verde that threw my taste buds for a glorious loop after the cold, cubed poultry I’d encountered all week.
Oh, yeah – and after a week of salads and brown rice, that mac really hit the spot, as did the tahini chocolate cookie I snagged for dessert. It’s got tahini in it, so it’s good for me. Don’t try to convince me otherwise.
Presence of mac and cheese: 5/5, and hallelujah for that
Good or bullshit: good!
21B St. Clair West, 416-792-7596, marybekitchen.com
email@example.com | @nataliamanzocco