Have you ever wondered if there was more? Midlife crises aside, we're looking for more from our food these days.
Chef Brad Long of Cafe Belong in Toronto enlightens us: this has happened before. His mother sprouted grains under the kitchen sink in the '70s. Then, somehow people thought Kraft Dinner was an excellent and nutritious way to feed the kids in the '80s. Long doesn't mean to be pessimistic when he predicts that this idealistic food framework won't last forever.
"The awareness is there now," he admits. "I am relatively hopeful."
Cafe Belong's inspiring surroundings, to match the inspiring food — Photo courtesy of Tom Arban / Cafe Belong
If actions speak louder than words, his hope exists in the form of a brick-lined building with exposed beams and equally exposed ingredients. Long's not only a Toronto celebrity chef, but also star of the Food Network's Restaurant Makeover.
With such chef credibility, walking into Cafe Belong is like walking into the house of a famous interior designer: you have high expectations.
Long's vision for organic, sustainable food doesn't make him a "weird zealot," he laughs.
"Buying organic directly from a farmer in season is cheaper, and it is the best quality. I am trying to support the agricultural system in micro and in macro. In a philosophical perspective, I believe it is the better way," Long says.
Still, he believes that eating in such a conscious way is still viewed as "alternative."
"People think that I'm the outlier," Long says.
Drink, anyone? — Photo courtesy of Tom Arban / Cafe Belong
Long likes the city life. He comes from a small town. He's a big personality with interest in the small details. His menus change seasonally, and in the winter they're dominated by comfort food, such as gnocchi with brown buttered arugula, braised garlic and water buffalo fontana.
The fish of the day is reworked as "The Fish Monger's Pride."
"Organics are all about the farmer. Integrity breeds integrity," Long believers. "Find the farmer that's doing it the good way, and support them."
Going back to our big, existential opening, eating at a place at Cafe Belong is not just about you (although we're sure you are lovely). It's also about giving farmers a really good life. It's about giving back by what you eat.
It may sound a tad granola, but don't worry. When it comes down to it, the food is the star of the show. And even though they do have granola for brunch, it's flax, pumpkin seeds, almond and quinoa coming together to form something that doesn't need the label "healthy."
It's salad o'clock — Photo courtesy of Tom Arban / Cafe Belong
If brunch for you means trying to gain a few pounds in as short amount of time as possible, Cafe Belong can also deliver. Chicken and waffles, anyone?
Even a relatively standard Canadian dish gets the royal treatment. Grass and pasture finished beef burgers (which Long says is harder to find in the winter) are served in a five fold tortilla.
People may want access to the real stuff these days, but they don't want boring. Long credits The Food Network for the rise in open-minded palates:
"The Food Network turned people away from their fear of 'odd' menu items. It affected your average eater and made them more adventurous," he says.
Even with the ample space, it still fills up — Photo courtesy of Tom Arban / Cafe Belong
The adventurous aspect may come in the arrival. Evergreen Brickworks is not a hop and a skip from the downtown core. It couldn't be easier to get there, with walking, bicycle, public transit and driving routes offered on the Evergreen Brickworks website.
But why the name? Look at the chef's last name.
"I thought it was a bit obnoxious, but the whole conversation was what fit on the site. Whatever I do, it's got to belong here," says Long.
Looks like it will stay that way for some time.