A Dish Called Wanda 421 Greenbrook Drive Kitchener, ON N2M…
Lunch for two with small soup and coffees: $30 (before taxes and tip)
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There’s good food. Then there’s good food with attitude.
While that has a bit of a Manilow commercial jingle to it, Kitchener’s Cafe Pyrus has both of the elements covered quite nicely: they serve good vegan dishes, and they are dedicated to fair trade and organic products and even, where possible, sustainable packaging. Pyrusites think about ingredients and food and how they get to the restaurant and then to their customers. It’s a process that isn’t thought of enough.
The cafe and meeting place has been around for several years now, across from the bus terminal — there is no doubt that they have been through the wringer and have experienced the hurley-burley of the LRT construction on Charles Street in Kitchener’s core. It’s been tough on all the businesses, and it’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.
And that’s why we need to go out of our way and be a bit inconvenienced to support such businesses if we want them around when the build-out is completed (I got a $#*$%^& bloody $20 parking ticket in making my way to the restaurant: I really would have thought that the City’s “wannabe-cop Meter Maids” would just give us a bit of a break during this difficult time).
Now, back to the food: I am an avowed omnivore with a penchant for carnivorous activity that needs restraining. I have incisors and canines for teeth which I like to use for ripping and tearing meat. I have a digestive system that has been designed over millennia to break down animal protein. But — most importantly — I have a brain. I think that is one thing (besides money) that Cafe Pyrus wants its customers to have.
It’s not to say that I don’t love a big juicy chunk of meat with some regularity. Over the past few years though, I think we have become more mindful of the way we eat and what we eat. I know I have: I try to moderate my animal protein intake and eat a diet more balanced with vegetables. It’s good for you and it’s good for the planet. Places like Cafe Pyrus can help.
The ambiance and vibe at the restaurant is hip and urban and very relaxed. There’s couches and comfy chairs where people might be reading or working on a laptop while sipping a coffee — Pyrus has what they call “fancy pants drinks:” those bevies start with coffee beans and teas that they study and research closely as ones that satisfy their philosophy and requirements. And the end result is that coffee tastes good.
There are about 20 menu items, from salads and wraps to soups and sandwiches. Nothing is over $12 or so. Also on-board are a gluten-free waffles with syrup for breakfast, Reuben Soho, Angry Vegan, Quinoa Salad, Pyrus Caesar, Spinachtacular and a Big Bang, which I will tell you about in a moment.
When you order and pay at the counter, you are given a kid’s little plastic animal (like a lion or a tiger) which corresponds to your order so that staff know where you are sitting to deliver your meal. You can see that’s there’s a sense of humour and playfulness in all of this.
Among the dishes, a mushroom soup, sampled recently, has good mushroom flavour but might be infused with a touch too much smoke for the fungi; the spinachy-kaley soup, also tried recently, has a nice bit of spice and reminds of a Portuguese caldo verde.
The tempeh burger is packed with flavour and served on an organic Kaiser with chips and a pickle, Romaine, tomato, avocado, a bit of red onion and some roasted-garlic aioli. It’s filling and moist and has a sort of meaty umami that is satisfying. It’s soft where it should be soft and crisp where it should be crisp. You can have non-cheese (daiya) or aged organic Cheddar.
Benwich and The Alt are variations on tempeh and toppings and have been on the menu some time — they are obviously favourites, and I’ve noted them before. (The Bieber, however, is gone.)
On another visit, the black bean burrito came to us piping hot — too hot to handle, in fact — which is always a good thing. Refried black beans are loaded into an organic whole wheat tortilla accompanied by the usual salsa, guacamole, rice, red onion and garlic aioli. It is a heavy and dense creation that could probably feed two.
It’s no theory that at $10 the sandwich I am most impressed with is “The Big Bang.” A good sized portion to eat, the organic Kaiser holds a patty of crisp and spicy tofu that is topped with a dill aioli and served with either chips or kaleslaw (I had the latter). It is very, very good. Eating kale can be good too, when it is treated properly: this batch was.
Pyrus wants to change the world, it’s clear, but in a relaxed and not a strident way. They point out to you, via table-top cards, that “you’ve saved 600 gallons of water,” for instance. That too is a good thing.
It comes down to a position that — omnivore and vegans alike — should eat mindfully and not mindlessly; the fact that you can eat wisely and eat well at the same time is the added bonus. At the same time that is happening, we need to make a special effort to visit Kitchener and Waterloo’s downtown businesses to help ensure that there is the opportunity for mindfulness and deliciosity in the future.