Saturday, September 29, 2012

Heartwood Revisited

Heartwood on Quinpool Rd
It was just this time last year that I ended up visiting Halifax, Nova Scotia's little vegan-friendly gem, Heartwood. After a decade of providing Haligonians with buffet-style eats, the place finally coughed up an ordinary menu from which its diners could pick and choose from a variety of delicious options. With the exception of a small handful of dishes using cheese -- which could so easily be substituted with either in-house made or commercial substitutes -- the menu is vegan-friendly. The ingredients used are mostly organic and many of the dishes are gluten-free or have gluten-free options.

When my host and I dropped by last Saturday, I had been anticipating diving into the wonderful vegan pizza I'd had there last year. A rich 9" inch affair piled with ingredients and too much for one person to handle, I knew that I wouldn't be having it when I returned by myself during the week while exploring Halifax, since carrying leftovers around wouldn't be an option. I was disappointed to discover that we were limited to the brunch menu on early Saturday afternoon, but only because I had been so very much anticipating pizza and knew that  this would be my only chance to have it without letting some of it go to waste. Heartwood's brunch menu, to be honest, still left me needing time to decide once the server swung by with our delicious organic coffee (with complimentary soy milk -- screw you, Starbucks). 
So many beverages from which to choose!
Would I have the TLT? The Portobello Mushroom Burger? The Tofu Scramble? How about the organic Spelt-Kamut Waffles with Blueberry Sauce and Fruit Salad? Curious, I asked what the deal was with the Wild Card Salad on the menu. I was told that it could be one of two things: I could either have a salad plate of whatever the cook had handy to toss together in the kitchen, or could have a combination of this salad and a sampler of some of the brunch items. I quickly opted for the latter while my friend Mike had the soup of the day (spicy bean, I think) with a side of gluten-free bread (which he said was almost as good as their regular absolutely perfect sourdough).

Heartwood's Wild Card "Salad"
The plate brought out to me had a salad of mixed greens and cherry tomatoes topped with a subtle dressing and sesame seeds. It was served with herbed roasted potatoes that had just the right bit of zing added to them. I was also given a portion of their tofu scramble which had a bit of a curry taste and included shredded zucchini and carrot (and maybe turnip?) and bits of broccoli and was bordered by a line of 4-5 whole thumb-sized oven-roasted beets. A few wedges of Heartwood's delicious sourdough toast were thrown in, as well. It was one of the best meals I'd had in a long time and thanks to our having indulged in delicious blueberry macaroons from Fruition and then decadent whoopie pies and an assortment of cookies from The Kind Cookie (all vegan and gluten-free) at the wonderful Seaport Farmer's Market earlier, we skipped dessert.
The place had been hopping and things were a bit more low-key when I visited again early on Monday afternoon. I was craving greens, but didn't want just greens or to order them on the side with something and to end up with too much food (or to end up spending too much money).  The Organic Bean and Veggie Burger came with steamed greens, as did the Organic Cajun Tofu. Both those dishes, however, were described as being topped with tomato sauce and I just didn't feel like having anything smothered in tomato sauce, so I opted for the Coconut Curry Heartwood Bowl. According to the menu, it came with steamed greens, roasted vegetables, tofu, sprouts and toasted seeds on brown rice. The greens were kale and red chard and the roasted (or otherwise) vegetables included red cabbage, carrot matchsticks, broccoli and bits of sweet potato. The tofu was crisp and would have been a little tasteless if not for the coconut curry sauce. The sprouts and seeds helped pretty up what was already an esthetically appealing dish (albeit served in a not so esthetically appealing chipped bowl). The rice was perfectly cooked and had onion mixed throughout it. It was a nice amount and a good variety of food, but for $14 or $15 it was a bit underwhelming since I sat there regretting not having ordered the ridiculously yummy pizza anyway (which would have cost the same), even if I'd had to leave some of it behind. The bowl was good, but was unfortunately eaten while I had that pizza on the brain.

The Coconut Curry Heartwood Bowl
Maybe it was just that I've always been wowed at Heartwood. Maybe it was just that I had really, really wanted that pizza and nothing else would have satisfied that craving. Hell, I'm even willing to admit that my experience was probably tainted by having gotten off at the wrong bus-stop on the way into the city and having had to walk for two hours after wandering in an industrial park. The dish was gorgeous and healthy and tasty and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who likes the idea of having a one-dish meal. I'm not sure that I'd get it again myself if I was just dropping into the city to visit and found myself with no more than one or two occasions to eat there. I think that if or when I do return to Halifax that Heartwood's vegan pizza will be a must and that I'll explore their soup and sandwich combo. Maybe, just maybe I'll get the greens on the side next time. I'll definitely have their coffee again. The bottom line is that the food is great, the service has almost always been absolutely stellar and the music and atmosphere are quite wonderful. If you're ever in the city, do stop by; if you have their vegan pizza, please send me a snapshot to tuck into my wallet and carry with me wherever I go until I get to have it again.

Heartwood Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon

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