SOUL JUICE (258 Dupont, at Spadina, 416-926-1101) Tiny Annex juice bar serves up completely organic vegetarian dishes to eat in or take away. Complete meals for $12 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of fresh-squeezed juice. Open Monday to Saturday 9 am to 6 pm. Closed Sunday and holidays. Unlicensed. Cash-only. Smoke free. Access: one step at door, washrooms on second floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
lunch at tiny soul juice can be claustrophobic. Even with only three other patrons, this Annex juice bar is so small that it easily turns into a scene straight out of the Marx Brothers' A Night At The Opera. Imagine Groucho and the boys, stowed away in a cramped ocean liner stateroom, being joined by two maids, the ship's engineer, his assistant, a manicurist, a cleaning lady and four food-laden servers. Marxist mayhem.
True, it's not quite that crowded at Soul Juice. But the kind of over-intimacy that causes restaurant rage at pretentious boites like Rain is dealt with here as serenely as the Zen fountain burbling in the corner and the calming New Age muzak oozing from low-volume speakers. Chill, dude.
Soul Juice's completely organic menu is equally restricted, but owner/chef Denise Hubbard doesn't let that hold her back. The restaurant might be her first experience in the business outside the home cooking of her family's Guyanese kitchen, but she manages to create vegetarian fare that's not just good for you but tastes good, too.
Wheat-free muffins ($2.50) riddled with fresh blueberries and large wedges of mango and peach are easily twice as big as elsewhere, with two times the flavour.
Sandwiches ($3.75) -- one day a melt-in-your-mouth multigrain bagel spread with rice butter and stuffed with creamy vegan cheese, alfalfa sprouts, English cuke and remarkably ripe Roma tomatoes -- make a substantial lunch when paired with Dan Quayle-inspired leek and "potatoe" soup ($4), a deliciously smooth sage green puree spiked with black peppercorns, onion, garlic, red chili powder and fresh basil leaves.
Mains come in two sizes -- $5 small/$7.50 large -- and come sided with either brown rice pilaf or nutty, lemon-grass-scented rice vermicelli noodles. With these, there's a choice of three veggie toppings that change every day.
Of the mains I sample, my favourites include a tasty eggplant and potato stew that recalls Mexican refried beans, only with the Caribbean kick of thyme sprigs, bay leaves and curry. Another resembles chili, but with the traditional ground beef replaced by tamari-marinated TVP (soy-based texturized vegetable protein) in a spicy mix of carrot, onion and red pepper.
Herbed veggie loaf, a semi-terrine of tofu, literally doesn't hold together well, although it's still very palatable. As is butternut squash sauteed with zucchini and sweetened with fresh pineapple. A no-nonsense and un-dressed chef's salad features leaf lettuce, green pepper squares, slightly steamed broccoli spears, tomato, red radish and red onion rings. All organic, naturally.
Before dashing off, knock back one of Soul Juice's namesake cocktails, maybe something detoxifying like the beet, parsley, carrot, ginger and garlic combo ($4.50 14 oz/ $8 litre). And you'll be back for another bag of Root Chips ($2), a positively addictive snack of baked carrot, beet, sweet potato and parsnip crisps. My cat loves them!