CAMROS ORGANIC FOODS (25 Hayden, unit 6, at Yonge, 416-960-0723) Complete meals for $12 per person, including all taxes, tip and a bottled juice. Average main $5. Open Monday to Friday 11 am to 8 pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
All restaurants have an agenda. Most of the time it's to make as much money as possible by doing as little as required, but that's not true of Camros Organic Foods.
Instead of profit, this low-profile vegetarian take-away in the shadow of glamorous Yorkville is out to promote an environmentally friendly card in which "taste and health come together."
Camros also accomplishes this culinary feat for a remarkably low price. A preservative- and trans-fat-free combo plate of four Persian-inspired stews and salads goes for all of $8.99. The plate's biodegradable to boot.
But first you have to find the joint.
Hayden runs east off Yonge just south of Charles and, oh, 20 years ago, was a bustling block of Victorians home to counterculture cafés and shops. Forget the Uptown Theatre; anyone remember the Uptown Nuthouse?
The street's since been mostly levelled, making way for high-rise loading docks and parking garages like the one that houses Camros on its anonymous-looking first floor. Poor, near-invisible signage doesn't help foot traffic from nearby Yonge. Out front, an empty sidewalk begs to be put to use as a patio.
But once inside this five-month-old eatery, find a warmly decorated space laid out cafeteria-style, its sunny yellow walls hung with chalkboard menus inscribed with words of wisdom like these from one Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Every artist was first an amateur." If you say so, dude.
Long a fixture at Dufferin Grove's Thursday farmers market, owner/chef Mojdeh Shams's mostly vegan and generally organic lineup seems more about dishes that are good for you than it is about things that just taste good, but occasionally the two concepts do collide.
Like most of the mains, Tehranian-style stews of split yellow lentils thick with carrot, tomato and spuds, and red kidney beans in puréed spinach come accented with Himalayan crystal salt, while another of garlicky zucchini would make a terrific topping for spaghetti squash.
Side them with two different types of brown basmati rice ball, the first golden and scented with cinnamon and tastily stuffed with crushed walnuts and sweet, plump sultanas, the second green and loaded with parsley and chopped dates.
Salads - grated beet with carrot, black beans with diced red onion, nutty quinoa with broccoli and scallion, a garden green - come lightly doused in either a tahini or lemon vinaigrette made with healing apple cider vinegar.
Baked off-site in solar-panelled ovens, Camros's almond and chocolate chip cookies ($2.89) may not be entirely organic or dairy-free, but they're 6 inches square. Tear off a corner and convince yourself they're Peek Freans with extra roughage.
It might be hard to believe, but Camros's combo meals were even cheaper two weeks ago.
"We priced too low and would have priced higher if we were starting all over again," says Saeed Rouhani, Camros's marketing director. "One learns from one's mistakes and moves on."
A lesson we think even Emerson could appreciate.