Vegan restaurants are an elusive species in Ottawa. Even vegetarian restaurants tend to gather mostly in the downtown area. So what is a discerning vegetarian living in Kanata with no wheels and zero tolerance for the OC Transpo supposed to do? Cook their own food? Well, Grow Your Roots café has the answer for starving vegans in the Kanata area.
Grow Your Roots seems to have a different approach to hospitality as a whole. The café nestles itself in a business district between law firms and is nearly impossible to accidentally stumble upon. Inside, the dining room is as charming as it is confusing. Approximately 10 mix-matched tables populate the dining area and a wall made entirely of mirrors gives the impression that the room is much larger than it is. A dessert fridge filled with delectable treats provides a coffee-shop aesthetic and a dark-roasted aroma lingers in the air. If you peek over the counter, you can see right into the kitchen, which is tidy and organized. A faux staircase jutting from the wall, with ornaments ranging from ceramic pumpkins to children’s drawings adorning its steps, stirs a sense of curiosity.
What Grow Your Roots boasts in appearance, it lacks in organization. The café operates on a seat-yourself basis, but does not give any indication of this, resulting in an awkward period of drifting around the cash counter. While waiting for service, the cramped quarters of the dining room become noticeable as the din of the bustling café drowns out any potential for quiet conversation. With one server for the entire café, it takes them a while to get around to every table, but they do so with a smile, a friendly demeanour, and a menu. The menu is printed on a sheet of computer paper and reassures that every meal is vegan while highlighting the gluten-free options.
With menus firmly in hand, the experience starts to take off. The appetizers are a battle between avocado wedges deep fried in beer batter and french fries tossed in parsley, cashew-parmesan, and lemon zest served with a garlic mayo. While avocados are trendy little green devils, the alluring power of deep-fried potatoes never fails. The fries are a heaping plate of fresh-cut, chip truck-quality potatoes. Parmesan on fries is nothing new, but the parsley and lemon zest provides a whole new world of refreshing flavour.
For main courses, Grow Your Roots’ arsenal consists of eight sandwiches served with a choice of salad or the soup of the day. The presentation is clean, if not a little plain, but the food is anything but ordinary. The frazzled server brings a BBQ’d Tofu sandwich filled with sweet potato, kale, caramelized onion and smoked cheddar cheese, with a side of apple parsnip soup. The sandwich is a toasty hug of sweet smoky flavour and the soup was the perfect complement with its aromatic root vegetables cut by a sour apple punch. A sandwich known as “Mel’s Fav” is a panini packed full of spinach, apple, caramelized onion, and cashew mozzarella. Each bite of the sandwich seems to last a lifetime both in flavour and in the sheer amount of time it takes to chew the bread. A beautiful and rather large salad comes with the sandwich, but the sandwiches and soups steal the spotlight from the greens.
After the meal, dessert saunters onto the table along with a delicious cup of coffee. The vegan Nanaimo bars are creamy, decadent, and top any other Nanaimo bar. It is difficult to resist the temptation of purchasing the entire plate of the chocolate coconut treats.
Your experience with Grow Your Roots might start shaky, but you’ll walk away with your taste buds tantalized, your belly begging for mercy, and a longing for more great sandwiches. The café strikes the perfect balance between the needs of vegan diets and exciting flavour palettes. The main issues of the café are simply that it was loud and that service was slow during the lunch rush. Considering the herd of humans stampeding through the tiny restaurant and only one server to satisfy them all, these issues are forgivable. For the lazy vegans and vegetarians in Kanata, or just anyone at all, Grow Your Roots is an adventure that will leave you hungry for more.
Steve is a second-year student of Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program. He spends most of his days dwelling in the depths of a restaurant’s kitchen. When not slaving over a hot stove, Steve can be found hunched over a keyboard, pounding out a review of Germany’s latest post-ambient, country sludge metal band. His incoherent ramblings are graciously hosted on Metalblast(dot)net.