Let that sink in a minute. Think about how people were eating in 1987. It’s barely recognizable to today’s culinary landscape.
Since then, partners Ian Sorbie, Stacey Patterson, and Sean Fleming have seen it all. And as it turns out, been at the forefront of many trends: the restaurant group, now with six locations, was the first to introduce Toronto to Neapolitan-style pizza in 1986 and gluten-free pizza crust and pasta in 1988.
So it’s no surprise that IL FORNELLO’s vegan menu and dishes are such a smashing success. And though Insta power players including avocados and kale appear on the menu, this plant-based fare goes way beyond the basics.
Take a look:
Can’t stop, won’t stop
Despite being named the “hottest trend of 2018,” the global rise of plant-based foods shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon (Jay-Z and Beyoncé advocating the diet hasn’t hurt).
At the Danforth location alone, roughly two out of five kids are eating from the vegan menu, according to Patterson’s estimation. The family-friendly restaurant is now serving plant-based fare to three generations in a single sitting, with others visiting up to three times a week to get in on the vegan fare.
New menu, who dis?
The vegan menu launched quietly last year, but has been so successful, it’s now a large focus of the restaurant: while plant-based dishes have been incorporated onto the regular menu, vegan fare now has a dedicated menu and website – ItalianforVegan.com
This free-from-animal-products frenzy extends to brunch too. Vegan items on the regular brunch menu were such a hit, an exclusive plant-based one was launched to meet customer demand, starring Eggs Venny ($16), Tofu Scramble ($15) and Cinnamon Belgian Waffle ($16). Craving a more traditional breakfast? Don’t worry - you can still grab eggs and peameal bacon on the “regular” menu.
When it came to creating the vegan menu, items weren’t merely swapped out for their plant-based counterparts. Patterson enlisted Margie Cook, Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) and Certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator (VLCE) and a vegan chef in the biz for years, to create an entire menu of approachable, everyday plant-based dishes including: salads, daily soups, pastas, mains and desserts.
One of the best features - besides the food - is the complete transparency. You’ll find a comprehensive glossary of ingredients on the back of the menu, removing any guesswork to what you’re actually ingesting.
Kitchen staff takes the ingredients seriously too: Carrots and mushrooms are smoked in-house. Choose from three housemade cheeses: cashew truffle, cashew cheddar and the almost never heard of tofu feta. They also make their own vegan “Parmesan” and butter. Utensils are handled with care too - separate tongs, spatulas, pans, and deep-fryers are used for all vegan items.
You don’t have to be a strict vegan to enjoy plant-based foods.
Patterson, who consumes vegan items “most” of the time, calls it the “perfect bridge restaurant” - order vegan items alongside non-planted-based dishes, without having to sacrifice sticking to one kind of food.
And many items just happen to be vegan, such as the number one selling salad, Avocado Caesar, for instance. Did you know that their pizza dough is naturally vegan? Made with only “00” flour, salt, and yeast, there’s no dairy added. Their tomato sauce is also one hundred per cent vegan. Another little known fact: IL FORNELLO includes vegan wines amongst their regular selections.
Meat your match
Healthy doesn’t have to mean boring. Meat-lovers may be surprised at how “meaty” select dishes are:
· “Sausage” made with organic beans is far from the dry, crumbly soy versions you’ve had in the past.
· Rigatoni Bolognese ($19) features a rich, thick lentil and mushroom sauce boasting a similar texture, heft, and umami profile to the conventional version.
· The flavour of the Smoked Carrot Wood-Fired Pizza ($17) is shockingly salmon-like. Even its appearance is similar. A dupe that’s delicious and sustainable? Don’t be surprised if this veggie dish is now your go-to order.
Unlike many trendy vegan restaurants in town, it won’t cost you a fortune to dine here: items are $6-$19. There are deals to be had too: Pizzas are just 12 bucks (premium pies not included) for lunch on weekdays and Monday to Thursday evenings.
The future is plant-based
Never content with the status quo, Patterson is at the ready with new dishes set to roll out soon, including vegan lasagna made with spinach and other vegetable noodles, as well as spelt pasta. And just added to the menu: A delicious, nutty, chewy, yet light whole wheat vegan crust featuring “00” caputo, millet, sesame, flax, oat bran and whole wheat flours.
You may think of IL FORNELLO as an established brand known for its pizza and pasta. Indeed, it is. But as it turns out, it’s so much more now. One bite of the smoked carrot pizza, and you’ll see.
For more info, visit ItalianforVegan.com.