Vegetarian and vegan options at local restaurants are plentiful – especially at this time of year with the generosity of fresh produce coming from area farms.
As the pandemic has disrupted supply lines and seen food prices, including animal proteins, continue to rise, demand for more vegetables and vegan options is strong.
More chefs are reducing the amount of animal protein that finds its way to the center of the plate. Also, more and more chefs are adopting vegetarian diets – and they welcome the fresh local produce that is available now more than at any other time of the year.
“More than half of our menu is vegetarian, and although it is not our only focus, I like to eat that way and I like to cook that way,” said Marc Lecompte from Princess of Waterloo’s Café. “Many of our customers also lean in that direction.”
Princess Café recently won an award at a Uptown Waterloo food event for the most delicious dish. Their “Big Marc” vegetarian was a grilled halloumi sandwich in the hamburger classic (with its 1970s TV buzz): special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions in a bun with sesame seeds, but without two beef potatoes. Big Mac.
Cheaper and cheaper products
Using local vegetables, especially at this time of year, can save restaurants on food costs. You will regularly find Kitchener 271 West’s Zeljko Loncar shopping at the Kitchener Market, a trip he says he makes every week.
Flexibility is also key. At Yeti Café opposite the Kitchener Market, most dishes can include substitutes to make them vegetarian or vegan, according to chef Harrison Phillips.
“You can basically control the menu and change and add what you want. We try to accommodate as much as we can, but everything is basically vegetarian and vegan fit,” he said.
Although it has faced skepticism, fast food restaurants like A&W have greatly promoted their plant-based endeavors and sustainability. But many of the region’s finest dining restaurants — Wildcrafts and Bauer Kitchens dining scene — have also grown their plant-based menus dramatically.
At the same time, smaller hot restaurants that have made their name in serving vegetarian and vegan dishes have increased the demand for what they prepare while calculating the cost for the meat-eating environment, including the amount of water needed in production his.
Since moving from Charles Street to the corner of King and Water Streets in Kitchener, Café Pyrus has long been a vegetarian and vegan option — and their ongoing search for sustainable products, including packaging and environmental management.
Customers have climate concerns
The Waterloo region recently experienced a smoky mist in the air caused by fires in northern Ontario; that phenomenon practically coincided with the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its alarming findings.
Pyrus operations manager Tory Shantz says many of their customers say they are looking at food choices in light of the (foggy) environmental concerns.
“I think people are definitely more aware of the climate crisis we are in and eating vegetarian, vegan or vegetarian mainly plays a big role in this. I think people are more aware of this than they have ever been,” he said. Shantz Me
Pyrus cuisine, Shantz said, focuses on local, seasonal and accessible to the community.
“Many of them are found in our monthly specials with products we can only get during the summer. This month, we are featuring local microgreens,” she added.
The source for those greens is the Work Center Garden.
Of course, in an era where some diners have been reluctant to go back inside the dining rooms, restaurants are eager to satisfy and want to make sure they are accessible and attractive to all potential and hard-earned customers.
At Abe Erb Waterloo, the kitchen is revamping its menu as it reopens under new management, to ensure there is a wide appeal for more than those diners who want a hamburger with their fresh, local beer.
“There will be a lot of vegetarian items,” said Abe Erb chief executive Mike de Jonge.
“Our side-going vegetables will change, so we will have more fresh and local. It is more or less too much to make people who have dietary restrictions or religious reasons be able to come in and enjoy the food. But also, you do not want to go to a place with heavy meat as a vegetarian and feel bad at a party. “
With her group of dedicated customers and fans, Phillips at Yeti says their popular French omelette uses local vegetables and greens from Fertile Ground of St. Louis. Agatha, adding that good quality products simply come from good relationships with manufacturers.
“The best way to do that is with local farms,” Phillips says of how many consumers value fresh produce. “Local Ontario farms are some of the best. Those connections make our end product much better.”