Dessert with a side of inspiration

This article originally appeared on www.westerngazette.ca

By Ellis Koifman

Marky’s Crepe Cafe is a small, intimate spot at the end of the Richmond Row where you can enjoy a large selection of crepes and enjoy the inspirational messages covering the walls.

Owned by Milica Markovic, this little shop offers 20 different kinds of crepes. While people may typically associate crepes with the Nutella-filled joys you can find at various places around the city, here you’ll find a huge selection of crepes that can be eaten for a meal or dessert.

“If other places have waffles or crepes it’s only one or two kinds because they serve other food. Here, we are specifically crepes and waffles,” says Markovic. “We also make crepe cakes. Nobody does that in London. 15 layers of crepes and different fillings. Really unique cakes for birthdays.”

The crepes range from “Fruity Hazelnut” with Nutella, strawberry, banana and whipped cream to the “Omelet” with scrambled egg, bacon, onion and tomato. They even offer some chicken crepes. Markovic emphasizes there are also vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

Beyond the food lies the heart and soul of the business — Markovic. She is at Marky’s seven days a week working hard to ensure every customer has a great experience.

“It never gets boring because you always have somebody to talk to, to laugh with,” says Markovic. “Lots of our customers like our store because we have a friendly image; they come and say they feel like family.”

In the years since the restaurant opened it has also gained a number of regulars who come in and chat with Markovic and the staff. Some couples even started dating at Marky’s and now bring their children with them to enjoy the crepes.

Despite being popular amongst students today, Marky’s had a rough start. She attests her success to being patient.

“Impatient people, they expect big success, they get disappointed and they close,” she says. “Patience, patience, patience, always…. I could go in some different field, but if [you’re] good in something I think you should keep doing that.”

An entire wall of the small restaurant is covered in inspirational messages, some of which Markovic says had real changes on the customers’ lives. Students sometimes take pictures and then later return to tell Markovic how much of an impact they had.

Markovic came to Canada 25 years ago from Yugoslavia and started from almost nothing, having lost her nutritionist credentials in the move, only to persevere and open a successful crepe cafe in London. She uses this experience to impart life advice on her customers (typically students), acknowledging today’s difficult job market and emphasizing patience.

“I believe if you like something, if you think you are good at something, then you should keep doing that because results will come.”

Marky’s Crepe Cafe can be found at 484 Richmond St. and is open seven days a week.

Glassroots – local food from the heart

This article originally appeared on www.westerngazette.ca

By Ellis Koifman

Glassroots is the newest dining experience to come to Richmond Row. After a hugely successful summer of dinner service, they’re soon opening for lunch with reasonable student prices.

The idea behind Glassroots is its grassroots approach to everything from décor to construction to food. Everything is local; everything comes from the heart.

“We are fiercely local. Almost everything we do comes directly from farmers, directly from local buyers,” says Mike Fish, co-owner and front-of-house manager. “A lot of our cherry tomatoes and our herbs come from our patio. We’ve got 22 planter boxes that surround the patio.”

Located where Veg Out was open for several years, this new restaurant with new owners is entirely vegan. But you won’t find the word “vegan” anywhere in the restaurant. Instead they want to be known for their environmentally friendly and healthy experience.

“For us it was like every other restaurant, the food just happens to be vegan,” says Fish. “We get people in all the time… They’ll leave not having a clue that they just ate at a vegan restaurant. That’s really neat.”

If you check the Glassroots website, you’ll be able to find last week’s menu with items such as the mushroom melt burger and the late summer barbeque bowl. Whereas most restaurants will change their menu quarterly, they have a new one every week. “After the end of one calendar year we’ll have done 50 menus, which would take a restaurant 13 years to do,” says Fish.

Fish shares ownership of the restaurant with Glassroots’ chef Yoda Olinyk. The pair’s lives have always been surrounded by food.

When Olinyk was 18, her parents split up and she was left with the responsibility of cooking a decent meal for her dad and herself. “I bought a cookbook and pretty much since that first meal I made… I just loved it,” says Olinyk. Since then she has worked at several restaurants and ran the first plant-based catering company in southwestern Ontario, often serving at vegetarian and vegan events.

Fish’s story is similar. He discovered a love for food and worked in the food business. At the age of 18, he got into bartending and learned the “artistic mixology experience” at the Whistler Fairmont in British Columbia. He has spent years working as a wine rep and has become known for his drink-mixing skills.

Sitting down for a meal at Glassroots will provide you with more than just a vegan dining experience — you’ll get to join the intimate atmosphere that Fish and Olinyk have created. With their limited hours — only open five days a week — they’re able to prioritize interacting with their patrons.

“That’s why our tagline is ‘A food and wine revolution’ — we really want to change the way people think about food in general,” says Fish. “Everyone can be comfortable here.”

“At the same time, we wanted to have a place where vegans or anyone dabbling in that lifestyle could come in and not just have a kale Caesar,” adds Olinyk. “We’ve got everything from Creole food to Mexican food to Italian food to Asian-inspired dishes.”

On Sept. 30 Glassroots will be opening for lunch. Olinyk emphasizes the value-driven reasonable prices for take out items like fresh soup and salad. If you’re downtown and in the mood for a new experience, Glassroots is the place to try.

Glassroots can be found at 646 Richmond St. and is open from 4:30-11:00 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday (soon opening for lunch).

Londonlicious

Londonlicious is London’s take on Toronto’s notorious Summer- and Winter-licious events. Unfortunately, the pricey menus leave little room to explore local cuisine.

The event features prix fixe menus offered at a collection of popular London restaurants. This provides people an opportunity to taste popular dishes, without paying full price. If you have a really good experience during the event, maybe you’ll come back for the full menu, ready to dish out more cash.

Londonlicious includes a good number of top London restaurants, but most menus have shockingly high prices that leave you little room to “try” anything and hardly give you any real bang for your buck.

One example is Fellini Koolini’s, an upscale Italian restaurant downtown known for its quality and reasonably priced dishes. You would think Londonlicious would be a perfect opportunity to test this place out before suggesting it for a special night out.

Among other high priced items, the lunch menu includes a seven-ounce New York striploin for $35 (with appetizer and dessert).

Other top restaurants offer more of the same. Dinner at Garlic’s is $35/person, as is dinner at Blu-Duby and Che Restobar.

With prices like these you’re better off paying the same (in some cases a bit less) for their full menu, where your options aren’t limited to a prix fixe menu of questionable value.

Fortunately, Tamarine, an upscale Vietnamese restaurant offered a dinner menu for $25/person, so I was able to give it a try without having to dish out a ton of cash.

The owner said things have been very busy, especially on weekends.

That said, the restaurant was already busy with plenty of reservations being made when I visited on a Tuesday evening.

Tamarine’s Londonlicious menu features several dishes spread into appetizers, entrées and desserts.

A waitress commented that the Londonlicious menu has Tamarine putting its best foot forward.

The food was fantastic, which combined with the reasonable price made it a saving grace of upscale Londonlicious restaurants this season.

With such a significant student population in London it would be nice to see more affordable menus offered by restaurants participating in Londonlicious.

Hopefully in future years the student population will have more of an opportunity to taste the culinary diversity the city of London has to offer.

Review: Tamarine by Quynh Nhi

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Once recommended to me as a top restaurant in London, Tamarine is an upscale Vietnamese place that easily lives up to its reputation.

The atmosphere sets the tone for the meal: an elegant display of unique lighting fixtures and paper lanterns, which help make the restaurant warm and welcoming.

Staff were extremely friendly, pacing each dish perfectly and frequently checking to ensure the meal was to my liking.

The cocktails are all in-house specials that complement each and every one of the menu options.

While looking at the drink menu the owner came over and talked to me. He knew my name (presumably from when I called earlier to confirm the reservation) and asked where I was from and how I had heard about the restaurant.

In addition to offering a warm welcome, he suggested getting the Mekong Martini to drink– a sweet and sour cocktail with a strong taste of lychee, lime and mango.

Food

Canh Chua Soup:

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Tamarind soup base, chicken, plenty of vegetables including baby okra, pineapple, two large pieces of tomato, cabbage, slivers of celery and plenty of sprouts; garnished with basil & chili.

A fresh, spicy soup with plenty of vegetables. You are given the option to remove the chili, which otherwise gives the soup an extra spicy kick.

Chicken Pad Viet:

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Vietnamese rice noodles, chicken, baby bok-choy, celery, green onions, sprouts and fresh chives; garnished with crispy shallots and served with chili-lime soya sauce.

The light soya sauce adds a sweet undertone that brings out the best of every ingredient. Chicken isn’t as much a pronounced feature as it is a well-portioned complement to the rest of the dish, which offers a nice medley of flavours.

This is a fantastic dish in all of taste, portion and aroma.

Black Eyed Pea Che:

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A petite sticky rice dessert that offers a light, fluffy and creamy blend of perfection in a coconut milk reduction. The dish is accented by black eyed peas that bring a nice contrast.

Each bite is a heavenly bliss.

If you’ve never had sticky rice before, this is absolutely the place to try it.

Conclusion

As a Torontonian I admittedly had a combination of high expectations and low hopes, but Tamarine shone through and really impressed me. I highly recommend giving this place a try!

Rating: 5/5

http://www.tamarine.ca
118 Dundas St.

Cheers,

Ellis Koifman

FreshBooth: Fast food with a healthy twist

Students in the downtown area looking to get a quick and healthy lunch should try out FreshBooth, the newly opened restaurant by two Western students.

Located at 201 Queens Ave., The restaurant is a modern looking single room with solid white and green walls, only decorated by a few photographs hanging on one wall.

There are a few tables that can seat a total of 12 patrons, plus several bar seats facing the window looking outside. Otherwise, the place is pretty empty.

The radio plays loudly in the background, tuned to a station playing trendy music and advertisements. It could benefit from being turned down, but perhaps it is more for entertaining the people who are working there or waiting for their food.

The four staff at the counter were all very helpful and friendly as I struggled to decide what to order. Two managers showed up while I was eating and asked me for feedback and to let them know if I needed anything.

They were slower than expected to prepare my burrito, taking about 10 minutes. On my second visit to FreshBooth, my salad came very quickly, leading me to believe burritos just take extra time.

Everything comes in take out containers, presumably to encourage getting your meal to go.

They seemed to be turning orders pretty quickly, avoiding any real build up as a couple dozen people came in over the course of an hour or so.

Menu items include several different salads, wraps, burritos and bowls, all for around $10. Everything is customizable and has the option of adding protein for an extra $1-2.

Drink options were limited to Coke, Coke zero, juice, water, coffee and tea. The sign outside the restaurant advertises smoothies, but when I inquired about them on my second visit I was told smoothies wouldn’t start being available until a few days later.

What I ordered:

Rio Burrito with Spinach Pita: Rice, corn, beans, onion, tomato, cheddar cheese, lots of chicken, very light on the sweet onion sauce. Somewhat sweet overall and good medley of flavours. Pita bread is phenomenal. Pretty filling, but could be a bit more substantial.

Green Tea: Decent, nothing special. Came scorching hot to the point of being undrinkable even after 10 minutes.

Kale Caesar: Not very filling. Long pieces of tofu, tomato, romaine, kale, parmesan, crispy wontons and standard Caesar salad dressing. Unique take on a Caesar, but could benefit from a better dressing.

Rating:

Price: 4/5: Everything is well priced for a light meal, but could be more filling. Given the healthy ingredients, things were fairly reasonable.

Atmosphere: 3.5/5: Very modern and simple design that fits with the healthy clean feel. Background music could be better. Feels very empty.

Service: 4/5: Really fast overall but the burritos take a while. Everyone was very friendly and helpful.

Food & Drink: 3.5/5: Excellent burrito and pretty good salad. Sizable variety of healthy menu options. Limited and fairly unhealthy drink selection, plus scorching hot tea that wasn’t great.

Overall: 3.5/5

(Source: Western Gazette, written by me, edited by the Gazette)

If you want to try it yourself:
201 Queens Avenue
http://www.freshbooth.com/

Olive R Twist

If you’re looking for a filling meal to go along with your alternative pub experience, you should check out Olive R. Twists down by Covent Garden Market.

Olive R. Twists is good for going out with a group of friends for some drinks and bistro food, but don’t expect it to come cheap. However, there are coupons in the Western Student Guide that could make for a less expensive trip, including a free brunch offer!

Since they do not take reservations, I had to wait for about 20 minutes for a table in the packed restaurant.

The restaurant is dimly lit with black tables and offers a less crowded, somewhat upscale pub-like atmosphere with a full bar on one side and many TVs lining the walls. It seats around 60 people inside, plus a large outdoor patio that curves around.

Conversation was made difficult by the noise level, though I made the mistake of accidentally coming on a London Knights game night. The restaurant may usually be quieter.

We were seated at a corner table. Despite the restaurant being packed, the service was fast and the waitress took time to kindly offer menu suggestions when asked.

The very expansive and diverse menu has bistro, pasta, seafood and chicken dishes, along with a few Asian dishes for around $18 each. Pastas appear fairly expensive at around $20 each. Steaks are all $20 or more. Martinis are offered for $5 on Fridays.

Top Picks

Brisket Stacker for $13.99: Lots of red peppers, brisket and excessive sauce that dripped out, making a mess. Difficult to eat as the stuffing easily slips out. Bread is somewhat bitter. The beef was fatty and fairly salty but otherwise enjoyable and substantial. Very filling.

House Soup (came with sandwich; other options were salad or fries): Creamy potato broth, thin slices of potato, bacon and chives. Topped with a bit of sour cream. Initially has a creamy potato taste that is quickly overwhelmed by the heavy salt that ruined the soup.

1lb of Wings for $12.49: Came with 8 jumbo wings that, while large, were still on the pricey side. Got the recommended JD BBQ sauce, which was fairly sweet and a bit salty. Crispy skin, pretty heavy on the sauce (ask for extra napkins). Also came with four small lettuce and carrot sticks and ranch dip.

Overall Rating

Price: 4/5: For the most part a good bang for your buck, especially with entrées.

Atmosphere: 2.5/5: Great pub-like feel, but the noise level makes having a good conversation while dining difficult.

Service: 3.5/5: Was quick for the most part but forgot some requests like more napkins (she needed to be reminded) and was really slow to bring the bill.

Food & Drink: 2.5/5: Good variety but everything was overly salty, making multiple drink refills a must.

Overall: 3/5

(Source: Western Gazette, written by me, edited by the Gazette)

If you want to try it yourself:
130 King St. (London, ON)
http://olivertwists.ca/

Black Walnut Bakery Café (London, ON)

Newly opened on Richmond Row, Black Walnut Bakery Café has become my new go-to for off campus studying.

When I went here the first time I had an excellent experience. Super friendly and enthusiastic service, a nice homey atmosphere, and delicious homemade baked goods galore.

With several more visits in tow, I feel its time to deliver another review of this location.

Service

Each time I go here, I feel like I am being greeted by friendly acquaintances of mine. When I make a customized order they are genuinely interested in how it turned out (such as my rather unsuccessful green tea london fog with a shot of vanilla).

I usually like to include at least one shortcoming or a general area they could improve but I honestly can’t think of a single thing.

They are lightning fast, super friendly, and go over the top to make your visit an absolute pleasure.

Atmosphere

In my article for the Western Gazette,  I described Black Walnut as being a homey alternative to Starbucks and an excellent new study location (despite the relatively early closing time).

The past few visits have all been unique in some way. While there are certainly always students about with books and laptops, the crowd has a lot of diversity.

Lunch time is often met with an older crowd, who fill the café with conversation. The late afternoon, such as now when I write this at 3:30PM on a Wednesday, has few people sitting down, providing a quieter atmosphere that is perfect for studying (or writing in a blog).

Tables are abundant but can fill quickly during the busiest times of the day (lunch time and after work). There is also an outdoor patio that you should get good use out of while the weather stays warm.

There is always nice music playing in the background, adding to the relaxing atmosphere of the café.

The downside to picking Black Walnut as a study location is the lone outlet. Unless you are lucky enough to nab one of the two plugs, you’ll find yourself leaving as soon as your laptop dies.

Food & Drink

Pumpkin Spice Cruffin ($3): A muffin-shaped croissant with a creamy pumpkin spice filling that doesn’t overwhelm your taste buds. Much like the rest of their dishes, the sweet flavour did not overwhelm the pastry. Best eaten cut in half and with plenty of napkins.

Raspberry Chocolate Scone: This is one of the first times I’ve been able to finish a scone without needing a drink from it being too dry.

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Quiches ($6.50): Light fluffy quiche served hot with the perfect amount of fillings and a pastry crust that melts in your mouth. I’ve had Ham and Mushroom, and Mushroom and Zucchini, both were fantastic.

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Mushroom and Zucchini Quiche

Customized London Fog 12oz ($3.35): They were out of earl grey and the server recommended getting it with green tea and a shot of peppermint. It was amazing. I finished it faster than I intended and it took every ounce of self control not to buy another.

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Conclusions

Price: 5/5: Given everything is homemade and quite filling, the prices are very reasonable and you can get a filling meal or large snack for under $10.

Service: 5/5: Over the top amazing, no complaints.

Atmosphere: 4.5/5: Homey atmosphere that is great for studying that is only too loud at the busiest times of day. More outlets would be very beneficial.

Food & Drink: 4.5/5: Homemade baked goodsmade to perfection and amazing light meals. I would need to try more of their light meal options before raising this to a definite 5/5.

Overall: 4.5/5: Close to perfection. An amazing café that will keep you coming back for more. Perhaps my obsession with coming here to study has made me biased, but I have yet to hear a single serious complaint from anyone.

Try Black Walnut Café yourself:
724 Richmond St.
http://www.blackwalnutbakerycafe.com/