Hello, Post-Meat Explorers! It’s been a while since I last wrote here, but I am alive and well. This is a post I have been sitting on for quite some time. The information is hardly outdated, but I am writing about events that occurred in February. My efforts to blog on a consistent basis have been thwarted by all manners of procrastination, so I definitely appreciate the patience.
Toronto, you are the home of my heart, mind, body, and dreams. Past, present, and future, I’m yours… Though I must leave, on occasion.
The most common reason for leaving the city is to visit my parents. My transition to a vegan lifestyle has seen numerous stages of emotions from my mom and dad, usually starting with bewilderment, but ultimately ending in peaceful acceptance.
My father and stepmother live in Richmond Hill. When I visit them, I coast along the outskirts of the Greater Toronto Area and drift happily to their dinner table. There, we eat a meal that has been confirmed with an “okay” over texts and e-mails and has been crafted from consideration, excitement, and love. Conversations swirl out, beyond our lips, as interest and inquiry fills the air. We catch up and, in the process, they learn a few more things about being vegan.
My mother lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I’m no stranger to the Niagara region, as I spent four years of my life there. My mother has always eaten very healthy, and she carries herself with a grace that suggests that. She has taken giant strides of involvement with my lifestyle. Her fridge and freezer are always filled with vegan options for Christina and me, regardless of how much time may go by before I can make it out to see her. Vegan cookbooks have started to collect on her kitchen counter, much like the ideals of veganism have begun to collect in the hearts of all of my family members.
I recently sat down with my mother’s side of the family for a decadent Easter feast. I can happily say that, after eight months of being vegan, I have moved past the awkward initial gatherings where I was the uncomfortable star of the show with my new lifestyle. This year found us all enjoying mashed potatoes made with Earth Balance vegan butter and soy milk. A Tofurky roast was also present, along with vegan gravy, courtesy of St. Hubert.
Finally, for dessert, we found room for some sweets purchased from St. Catharines’ own Rise Above (thanks, Mom!). Let’s talk about this restaurant today.
120 St. Paul’s Street
St. Catharines, ON
Shortly after Valentine’s Day, Christina and I ventured out to the Niagara region for a dinner with my mother. She took us out to a fantastic restaurant called Rise Above.
The aesthetics of the restaurant were immediately noticeable to me. The front area was furnished with a full bookcase and soft seating, and the walls were adorned with artwork. Each table had its salt and pepper represented by a different pair of animal shakers. In the back was a bustling bar with piles of freshly baked vegan treats (the same treats I would enjoy for Easter dinner).
I would recommend this restaurant to anyone looking to open the eyes of a non-vegan. Not only are all vegan terms defined on their menu, but the food is especially welcoming. Pizza, mac & cheese, chili, and stew are all present, which should be pleasing to the eyes and mouths of those who are looking for something familiar in a vegan setting. While this place isn’t as comfort-food–focused as, say, Hogtown Vegan, the creativity, style and menu stand out as an entirely new brand of comfort.
Buffalo Seitan Bites
In the post-meat future, there are no chicken wings. In their place I invite you to enjoy these seitan bites. We started our meal with these deep-fried snacks, and I was quickly rendered silent and wide-eyed. The bites were perfectly crispy and covered in an outstanding “wing” sauce. Christina looked at me and asked me if I was the happiest boy in the world (I was).
The ghosts of meat visit me on the odd night. They curl their bony fingers and beckon to me from dark forest pathways, illuminated by the dim flames of old habits. Every time I discover a food experience like this, my visits with those phantoms become shorter and shorter. This appetizer is simply sublime, for all the reasons why anyone would nod their head towards comfort food.
We also enjoyed a special treat of arancini, which are lightly fried balls of moist, almost-cheesy rice, smothered in tomato sauce. These aren’t regularly available: they were remnants from a recent feature menu. The arancini were delicious enough to make me wish I could return for them in the future; fond memories and this picture are all that remain.
For entrees, we each enjoyed our own dish. My mother had the cauliflower steak, which struck a fine balance of firm and soft in texture. The “steak” is a cross section of a head of cauliflower, which is marinated, pan-fried, and baked, simply. Christina and I are both self-proclaimed cauliflower-haters, but we both thought this dish was fantastic. Aloo gobi used to be the only exception to the we-don’t-eat-cauliflower rule, but this dish may find a home under that umbrella as well. Unfortunately, I don’t have a direct picture of it, although you can see a bit in the following image, at the top.
You won’t find any shepherds in the post-meat future, and so Christina had an exceptionally flavourful gardener’s pie, which came with smooth mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. The pie used a great vegetable mix consisting mainly of lentils for the “meat” of the pie, and it was very moist.
Comfort indeed. There’s not much to say about this one (but only because some of the most delicious meals are the most simple): garlic-sautéed kale, mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, and more crispy seitan bites. Every element was fantastic. I absolutely destroyed this meal, and I look forward to the next time I see it. I was left with a crippling fullness afterward, and dessert was still on its way.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of our desserts, which is likely due to the short amount of time the chocolate–peanut-butter blondies remained in front of us. Some might say the dessert didn’t sit long enough for its photo to be captured; scholars debate if the blondie even existed in the first place, it disappeared so fast. It is truly a mystery for the ages.
If you’re vegan and traveling through the Niagara region, you would be foolish to miss a meal at Rise Above. Actually, I suggest you travel for this restaurant. I love Toronto and all of its wonderful eating establishments, but while I have been to, and enjoyed, many Toronto locations, Rise Above still fills me with intense wanting.
Until next time, friends. Thanks very much for reading, and I hope your travels to neighbouring cities are safe and pleasant. Follow me @danegreatness for updates and short, clever sentences.