STRICTLY ITAL (1720 Eglinton, at Glenholme, 416-784-1466) Complete meals for $16 per person, including all taxes, tip and a house-made juice. Average main $7. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 7 pm, Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 8 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Without getting into the finer points of the Rastafarian Ital diet, the edicts of Leviticus and whether you should eat fish more than 12 inches long, let it be said that if you are a vegetarian, a vegan or just not in the mood for jerk when walking along Eglinton West, you can step into Strictly Ital for some tasty animal-product-free Caribbean comfort food. Owner Richard Everton, who hails originally from Guyana, has been selling his Island vegetarian fare for just over a year.
While most of Ital's customers get their meals to go, there's something to be said for pulling up a chair in this bare-bones, ceramic-tiled room to dine under the watchful gaze of Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie while the reggae throbs - that is, until City news comes on. There are usually daily specials, but the real go-to item is the daily combination ($7 small, $10 large). On the Monday we attend, it consists of cabbage, chunks, pop choy, rice and peas and Rasta pasta.
For those of you unfamiliar with the vocabulary of Caribbean vegan dining, "chunks" are TVP (textured vegetable protein) and potato, "pop choy" is bok choy and "Rasta pasta" a noodle dish that more or less conforms to the preferred palette of green (peas), gold (the pasta is sort of yellow) and red (carrots). All of the above gets piled into a styrofoam takeout shell.
The cabbage and pop choy are supple and have a mellow, slow-cooked quality. Surprisingly, the chunks have some depth, a savoury meat-like flavour. Given the limited use of spices and herbs, it's not surprising that the rice and peas and the pasta tend toward the wholesome (read bland). But if you want to heat things up, Everton is always ready to add incendiary tiny marrie peppers to the mix.
All of this can be washed down with house-made juices ($5) laced with assertive quantities of ginger.
While not perfect, the daily combination is a pretty cool idea, and even if you eat lots of deaders (the Rasta term for meat), you should still stop in and get Strictly Ital.