Café Juicy Lotus is a warm, personable antidote to the chain-store feeling of the main Monkland strip
First, I was struck by the smells in Café Juicy Lotus. Roast potato, sweet potato and onion had just come out of the oven and their warm scents filled the small room.
Compose your meal at the counter, discussing options with glowy co-owner Jessica Watters. There are salads that you buy by volume, mixing and matching as you wish. Some items are pay-by-the-unit, like quiche, veggie burgers or a version of falafel. Carry your plate to the table, picking up cutlery by the water cooler as you go. Fill a Mason jar with water and then wonder when drinking out of jars came back in style. All food is easily prepped for take out, and there’s plenty to grab and go, such as containers of soups or jars of hot sauce.
Watters takes inspiration from many cultures, as in her Moroccan-inspired red salsa that she uses in stuffed grape leaves. She soaks mock shrimp in pineapple juice for a Thai-like shrimp-noodle dish. And above all, she takes inspiration from the seasonal produce, as when she jumbles together kale and blueberries in a salad.
Fake meats are bought from the same supplier used by vegetarian Thai restaurant ChuChai, so Plateau restaurant-goers will recognize the surprisingly firm and white-fleshed ersatz shrimp. New to me were the fake mini-drumsticks (complete with stick-as-bone) made of a dense mixture of shitake mushroom and soymilk. My vegetarian friend declined to try them, fearing they’d be a little too much like actual meat for her taste.
I’m old enough to remember carob from the 70s, so I’m leery of round dark balls. But Watters’ energy truffles were a pleasure, filled with cocoa powder and the latest best-thing-in-the-world, coconut oil, although they did get crumbly as time went on.
That night at home, I had stuffed peppers, easy to heat stovetop (Watters can explain how), and robust with brown rice, beans and various veg, a bit sweet. I finished with a slice of the best gluten-free chocolate cake I’ve tasted (made by Dawn’s Desserts), richly chocolatey, not heavy.
Watters has a huge kitchen in the back where she holds regular cooking classes. To learn how to create your own healthy vegetarian fare, check out her website for times. Her mother, Juicy Lotus co-owner Gigi Cohen, runs the nearby kosher Harvard Café and also gives classes.
Café Juicy Lotus
5568 Monkland Avenue, 514-507-6268