The Vegetarian Food Fair down at Toronto’s Harbourfront this year was a cornucopia of good food, good-looking food, fake grass, and lots and lots of sunshine and people, unlike previous years I've been. I grazed my way from booth to booth, filling myself up on free samples and emptying my wallet on specials and baked goods. Lunch too. Most fare was vegan. These things seem to skip right over vegetarian delights on their way from meat to vegan. But never mind, as long as the vegan is good.
King’s Café, in Kensington, was the Fair’s Gold Sponsor and had a take-out counter. I had my first Chinese bun in years, a veggie one this time. No more barbecued pork buns for me after I went veggie. It was one item I missed. The King’s Café bun was good. Puffy, white, slightly sweet. The veggie filling was not filled with fresh or quickly sautéed vegetables so much as saucy filling of some sort. I would’ve liked more colour and flavour. Their spring roll was like vegetable spring rolls everywhere: crispy and greasy. The other item I had, a mock chicken skewer was bleh.
Bunner’s is on Dundas West and had a delicious-looking booth of cookies and cupcakes with a couple of savoury items: pizza or curry pastry pockets. I bought the pizza one, a red-velvet cupcake, and their Gypsy cookie.
The pastry for the pizza pocket was decent, a bit crumbly though. The filling included tomato, mushrooms, and diet mozzarella cheese. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of the latter. I do eat skim cheese or partly skim, but this did not taste anything like as good as what I buy at the store. So I think since the bakery is vegan it was not so much diet cheese as fake cheese. Soy and tofu are good substitutes for some things and can make tasty dishes, but I’m not a fan of many versions of soya milk (gag) and apparently not the cheese either. The mushrooms tasted like those ones from the old days in red-candled, dim pizza parlours. Not good. The tomato sauce was not all that flavourful. And something gave a chemically aftertaste; maybe that was the “cheese.” I don’t know what the calorie count would be, but it looked as hearty as a Cornish pasty. Too bad nowhere near as filling. I definitely needed dessert (well, is there any excuse not good enough for dessert?).
The Sweet Stuff
I stocked up on the sweet stuff from several bakeries and took them home, except for the sweet potato doughnuts from LPK’s Culinary Groove. I am a fan of this expensive-but-worth-it bakery and had not yet tried their doughnuts. And so when I saw they were freshly frying them, I had to try a cone of three. They’re tiny round balls dipped in maple sugar and piled into a paper cone. It’s a very attractive snack. The doughnut itself was crispy on the outside, soft and delicious on the inside, but the maple sugar’s flavour overwhelmed the dough’s. I would have much preferred raw organic sugar, which, I must admit, is what I like dipping my own homemade doughnuts in. A rare miss in LPK’s pantheon of delights.
Bunner’s red velvet cupcake is a dainty confection pleasing to the eye. But in my first bite, I received a strong taste of the fat, non-butter fat. Good butter is yummy. Coconut fat can be awfully good. But oils and other baking-type fats are best left as background tastes not dominant ones. The texture was suitably airy, and the icing awfully sweet, which I know in our sugar-saturated society, many like. Not me. I do have a sweet tooth, and some sweets like Indian sweets are meant to be oh-so-sweet, which is why they come in small sizes and pack strong flavours to balance the sugar. But too much sugar in non-Indian sweets is not a good thing. Cakes and cupcakes are meant to be a flavour harmony that lights up the taste buds and makes the mouth smile and the mind remember pleasurably for a long, long while. Too much fat and sugar just gives one an emotional overload that leads to an emotional trough.
I saved Bunner’s Supersonic Gypsy cookie for last. And I’m so glad I did. My stomach was satisfied, my taste buds were singing, and my eyes feasted on the deliciousness of deep red dried cranberries, a surfeit of chocolate chips, creamy-coloured oats, and seeds, all held together with yummy cookie dough. I should’ve bought another. And another.
Next on the sugar express is the pecan sticky bun from bloomer’s bakery. According to the veg.ca website listing, bloomer’s is a delivery-only bakery out of the annex or available only at select stores. And so this was a good way to try out their goodness. The gentleman who served me was the baker’s father and generous. I bought the bun as I was leaving the Fair. Back at home, I had a third of a bun first (I was getting a bit stuffed). My first bite netted me a hit of sweet, uncooked dough. A short stint in the microwave fixed that, a remedy I’ve had to use a few times with my own doughy recipes because I seem to have lost my sense of when bread is done (stupid brain injury). So either the baker is new at this or rushed because of the pressures of the Fair. Experience with bread baking and high-pressure situations will remedy this in time. The taste was yummy. And it wasn’t drowning in cinnamon like some sticky or cinnamon breads can be. Sticky with just-the-right-amount-of-sweet bread and crunch of pecan, it hit the spot.
Next up was the Kelly’s Goodies’ coconut cupcake. It didn’t survive the trip home too well.
But when I took it out of its carton, I found that it was only the beautifully rounded dome of icing that had been smooshed and only on one side.
The cupcake was fine and oh so moist. I detected banana; it seemed like it was layered in between the icing and chocolate cakey part, but I didn’t take the cupcake apart to inspect it. I was too busy eating to want to pause. The cupcake was decently chocolatey and not too sweet. Even better, the icing wasn’t overly sweet either. I think the coconut sprinkled on top thickly would’ve been better toasted, not only for a nicer crunch but also for the flavour. I noticed near the end of my cupcake feeding frenzy that fake aftertaste I’d noticed so strongly in Bunner’s baked goods. In this cupcake it lingered a few moments after I’d finished, long enough not to be pleasant but not so long that I went hunting for something else to eat to get rid of it.
Kelly’s Goodies’ is in Burlington, and its brownies come in at least three versions. At the Fair, they were handing out little samples of the plain-no-icing brownie. Smart. It got me to buy the Über or World Peace brownie -- a brownie with a thin layer of chocolate icing. For icing nuts, there was the Mile High brownie with a rising cloud of icing and what looked like a tiny brownie on top. The Über Brownie is chocolatey and moist, so moist it almost clings to your palate like peanut butter. The icing was chocolatey too; its sweetness didn’t cloy, and the sugar didn’t overwhelm the chocolate taste. Best of all, no fake or chemically aftertaste.
Apiecalypse Now! bakery doesn't have a storefront so the Fair was a great opportunity to sample their fare. I chose an individual fruit cobbler filled with strawberries and peaches and totally covered with pastry so that it would arrive home sans fruit spilling out. I can only eat so many desserts in one day, and so it sat in my fridge for a few days. I heated it up in its foil container, uncovered, in a 200°F oven. Warm is best for pies. And it was good. Its taste and texture were as if I had just bought it. A fluffy topping, full of flavour but not overpowering, its crust a golden bite. The filling was a fruity, not sugary, amalgam of strawberries and peaches. I have to admit I would've liked more fruit. But it was a very pleasing pudding, as they say in Britain.
After all this dessert goodness, you’d think I’d have had my fill for a month. Nope. I’m ready for trying another pie from Apiecalypse or maybe one of LPK’s genius vegan Nanaimo Bars that I savoured a couple of months ago from their bakery on Queen Street East. It was worth the special trip.