RADICAL ROOTS (International Student Centre, 33 St. George, at College, no phone). Complete meals for $7, including all taxes and a bottle of water. Average main $5. Open Monday to Friday 9:30 am to 4 pm, lunch from 11:30 am. Closed Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
You won't find slumming A-listers standing in the "huge-ass line" - as the erudite first-year engineering major in it behind me wisecracks - at Radical Roots, the organic vegan cafeteria in U of T's International Student Centre. Not that they wouldn't be welcome. Everyone is at this high-ceilinged room in a former Georgian mansion.
Because, as the worker-run non-profit cafés mission states, Roots exists to promote equitable access to good food. Can celebrity haunts like Truffles in the Four Seasons or Lobby make such claims?
There's certainly nothing unfair about Radical's prices.
For a tax-inclusive sticker of five bucks, frugal diners chow down on an ever-evolving card of earnest grain 'n' bean veggie combos like its unthreatening chili of kidney beans, crunchy carrot and sweet peppers over brown rice sided with a garden-ripe salad of green beans and tomato in the slightest of vinaigrettes.
On another visit, curry-powdered lentil mash over bulgur is just the kind of amateurish fare that gives student cooking a bad reputation. But its side salad of steamed, then chopped bok choy, scallion and crunchy purple green beans in a light peppery dressing has textural contrast and bite. Must be that yin-yang thing I vaguely remember hearing about all those years ago in Humanities 101.
Changing daily, six-bite-max sandwiches ($3.50) like Saran-wrapped brown bread spread with under-spiced lentil purée and gently pickled red onion, zucchini and crisp, raw celery stalk would be greatly improved if they were toasted. Roots' double chocolate brownie ($2) tastes mostly of carob, while its blueberry muffin du jour ($1.40) would be great slathered with butter.
And also very, very wrong.