When I think of vegan gluten-free restaurants, I immediately picture a restaurant called Gorilla Food in downtown Vancouver that greatly resembles the Amazon room at the Vancouver Aquarium in both smell and decor. Think of a muggy, dimly lit basement room filled to the brim with all sorts of vegan paraphernalia, from spirulina smoothies and sprout salads to dehydrators and gluten-free fudge.
No judgement – I have been to Gorilla’s more than once for their fresh salads and fruit drinks; however, for some people, ripe dungeon ambience could take away from the experience, especially as a lot of vegan food is more expensive due to its specific ingredients. Cut to Montreal’s Café Verdure: a clean, bright, vegan gluten-free restaurant that in no way resembles the Amazon!
Located on Mackay near Sherbrooke on the main floor of a walk-up, the large front windows were letting in the afternoon sunlight as we wandered to the counter at the back of the room. The walls were decorated with mint green and white wallpaper, and the high ceilings and clean minimalist look made for a serene experience. We sat in a window seat next to two big pots of flowers. It was immediately evident that my friend and I were the only people in the restaurant – though another customer did come in to buy baked goods as we were ordering.
I ordered the Italian veggie balls with tomato sauce, cheese, brown rice and garden salad, and a green tea. My friend ordered the butternut squash, carrot, and rosemary soup ,and an iced coffee sweetened with almond milk and maple syrup. Our food took half an hour to arrive, and because they are going for cafeteria-style service, we had to get up and walk across the empty room to get our meals from the only waitress working at the cash.
Nevertheless, the food and drinks were delicious. The veggie balls were flavourful and had a good texture, despite their lack of meat or gluten. The salad was simple but complementary – fresh greens, sprouts, and pea shoots with a citrus dressing. The soup was rich and tasty, though it was hard to taste the rosemary under the strong flavours of squash and carrot. The iced coffee was also excellent – a good strong coffee on ice with whipped almond milk poured overtop. The maple syrup as a sweetener surprisingly complemented the nutty almond milk nicely.
Ultimately, Café Verdure seems like a good place to go for full meals or just coffee and dessert. The food is also relatively inexpensive, with most entrees around $10; however, the slow service was a drawback, especially for the amount of people in the restaurant. But as the restaurant has only been in business for one month, the service may quicken with time. Another annoyance is the lack of a bathroom; when I asked the waitress she said it was for staff only (my friend and I had been biking that afternoon and at least wanted to wash our hands before we ate). Finally, we both had to change our orders twice because three items on the menu were not being offered that day. It would have been nice if the waitress had warned us of this before we made a decision. Alternately, Café Verdure could adapt their menu on a daily basis to avoid tempting customers with food they don’t have.
Though it was a pleasant experience and the food surpassed my expectations, there are still a few wrinkles in the customer service that this brand-new restaurant needs to iron out.
In Vancouver, it is evident how the vegan lifestyle is becoming increasingly mainstream, aligning with the fit and healthy vibe of the city against its idyllic backdrop of mountains and ocean. My friend who worked at Gorilla Food this summer often told stories of local celebrities visiting her little dungeon cafe (e.g., the Real Housewives of Vancouver). It’s hard to picture figures such as those in a place like Gorilla Food unless they happen to be slumming. It seems that restaurants like Café Verdure have picked up on this, offering instead to meet the mainstream where it lives.