Fuel Plus, Toronto, Canada

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If I lived in Toronto and worked in the downtown area, I’d make Fuel Plus a regular brunch or lunch stop and if you’re in town for a short time and only have chance for one lunch stop this is the place to come. Their food is great, the staff are friendly, they source most of their food locally, they sell nutrition products geared towards runners such as myself as well as regular food and also there’s a superb lack of marketing nonsense in the air, which I personally love and value.

You know how it is sometimes, you enter a place that touts itself as a health food outlet and almost the first thing you see is something like an energy or sports drink on sale. Now, you’ve read the news reports, you know these energy drinks are mostly very bad for you so you’ve got no choice to think, hang on, that drink is no good so why’s it on sale here? And what does that say about the other stuff they’re selling, can I be sure it’s as good as they say it is? Can I be certain that the staff know what they’re talking about, or that they’ve got my interests at heart rather than just an interest in profit?

With Fuel Plus, I’m satisfied that the team know their nutrition (I found out during this first visit that Amber, the assistant manageress, is a recently qualified nutritionist having spent 3 years at college to gain her diploma. Contrast this period of learning with that of the average doctor, who gets 3 or 4 days of nutrition based training during their 6 year study period and I know who I’d go to if I wanted advice on how to eat to improve my health), that they have a great array of locally produced dishes on offer and that they’re committed to serving up good food (that is, food that tastes good and is also good for you) and sports products that will help me perform at my best without resorting to quick fixes that are harmful in the long term (such as excessive sugar content, or chemical preservatives).

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The first thing I did on entering the premises was have a good look around at all the food and drink on sale. They had lots of cool drinks to choose from but no sports drinks at all! Great. And the sports nutrition on sale was, as far as I could see, of the variety I’d choose for myself. So, for instance, they had sports bar products but not the ones that are insanely high in sugar. These were very good signs.

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I also liked the fact that every item was marked up clearly if it was Gluten Free, Vegan and Locally sourced.

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We ordered a drink and a selection of items off the menu and whilst we waited to eat I asked Amber a few questions.

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Before I talk about the food here’s a transcript of how our conversation went so you can get more of an idea of the Fuel Plus experience.

How would you describe Fuel Plus – it’s core values, it’s menu, etc – to somebody unfamiliar with the restaurant? 

As it says on the back of our shirts “we believe eating healthy should not cost more and taste just as good,” I think that sums up the basis for what weÂ’’re all about. We strive to provide healthy options to anyone who walks in the door. We have 2 running groups that meet at our store during the week which include serious athletes and also people who are checking out a more health conscious lifestyle for the first time. Our customers also include people who are just looking for a coffee and a cookie that won’Â’t make them feel bad. We literally have something for everyone, and if you don’Â’t know what you’Â’re looking for thatÂ’s not a problem either. We pride ourselves on having extremely educated team members, which includes two in-house nutritionist, and we can answer any question that may come up. As for our menu specifically we have gone to great lengths to make sure we can cater to almost all dietary requirements. Nut free, dairy free, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, whatever it may be we have you covered.

Much of you fresh food seems to be made by different local chefs. Can you tell us a little about these main suppliers, how you source them, how they operate? And can you tell us a little about where your coffee and cacao comes from?

We have many local suppliers, some with bigger companies and some with smaller ones. We think itÂ’s important to not only support small businesses but buy locally. Why get a product from someone youÂ’’ve never met when you can get something just as great from someone down the street, or across the city where you can put a face to the name. We find people who are making and supplying products that are in line with our philosophies, we meet them and then we go to their stores, production kitchens, warehouses, or wherever they are operating out of. We then tell them what weÂ’’re all about and then taste everything. Like we said, it “should taste just as good” as any other food like it on the market, so itÂ’s important that we try the product.

From there we hand pick everything we want in the store. Mike from ‘Sweet Everything’ makes our breakfast burrito and sandwiches, ‘Foodbenders’ makes our super delicious salads, ‘Shockingly Healthy’ makes our one of a kind brownies, Zara makes our vegan roti rolls, and the majority of our treats - such as muffins and cookies – comes from ‘Sweets from the Earth’. All local, all delicious.

Our coffee comes from a local roastery called ’23 degrees’. It is made from organic, pesticide free and fair trade beans. It’s small batch roasted and all the roasts have their own unique and clean flavour. Being local we also have the benefit of fresher beans as they spend less time in transit. Our cacao is a high quality gluten free, minimally processed cacao.

So you seem to source most of your ingredients locally. Is there anything that’s grown organically?

We try to source our food suppliers locally if we can. I believe most of our suppliers try to go local as well. Mike from ‘Sweet Everything’ is very aware of where his ingredients come from and makes sure he only uses the freshest. Foodbender uses majority organic ingredients in all their salads and our coffee is all organic.

What’s your own favourite item/meal that one can experience at Fuel Plus?

Personally I love our Fuelballs. I think we have unique flavours made with quality ingredients. They are delicious and a little bit addictive. Everybody who tries them loves them!

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So with that in mind, we added three fuel balls to our order and started to enjoy the food and drink.

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For drinks, I had the Amsterdam black coffee. Now I am definitely no coffee expert – the last one I had was a few years ago in Rome – but I can say this seemed just as good as that, wasn’t bitter, the aroma wasn’t overpowering and that the taste was very subtle.

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Lamia had the spicy ginger chai latte.

“I love the glass!” she said, “the ginger isn’t too strong and the aroma rises as you lift the glass; you taste the smell before the glass reaches your lips. it’s a comforting drink with a home-made feel to it, unsurprising as they tell me they make the ginger syrup here fresh every day.”

My first dish was a salad made up of chickpeas, feta, organic corn, organic kale, organic hemp hearts, olives, lentils and sun-dried tomato pesto.

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Now, you may think of healthy salad as a collection of crispy leaves with a slight dressing, but at Fuel Plus you have to rethink that as this salad is healthy, for sure, but much more a moist collection of very tasty ingredients than anything else. I’d say that as well as being yummy it’s great strength is it’s moistness. There’s a hint of sun-dried flavour, flecks of cheese and as well as making a satisfying lunch, it would be a perfect post-run power snack as it’s very high in protein and iron.

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Lamia, who’s not vegetarian usually, had a bowl of vegan chilli.

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“It’s vegan but you’d never know,” she said, “I’m not noticing the lack of meat at all. It’s got a medium level of spice, there’s a hearty tomato taste and the kidney beans are quality, you know, there’s a distinctive taste when ingredients are good, and these beans have that.”

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To go with my salad I had a breakfast burrito. It’s an omelette with onion, potato, spinach and cheese wrapped in a gently warmed tortilla. Served warm so the oozing cheese didn’t burn my mouth, the tortilla was fresh and slightly crispy on the underside. Very tasty indeed.

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Lamia had the turkey grilled panini, made with local organic meat.

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“The cheese is soft-ish and flavourful,” she said, “and there’s a nice range of textures throughout, so you get a satisfying crunch of toasted bread when you take your first mouthful, followed by the stretchy cheese, fresh spinach salad and clean bite of meat. Perfect.”

We then tried the fuel balls. There were three varieties; cinnamon, cranberry and peanut butter and chocolate chip.

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They’re cold pressed at the restaurant freshly each day and since their core ingredient is rice crispy they’re very light and crunchy. Amber said that when the running groups come back to store they always tuck into the fuel balls, as do students who fancy a burst of energy to help them study for longer periods. I can see why that might be the case as they were tasty and full of energy inducing ingredients. I’d also say that I’d happily take these along on a marathon run as they’re light and non-gooey when you eat them, which is just what you want when you’re running along, out of breath, with no moisture in your mouth spare to get rid of any food residue. Usually I take dates or raisins but these fuel balls are easier to eat than dates and more tasty than raisins.

We got another couple of drinks, this time vegan protein shakes. I had the Blueberry Banana Vanilla Chai whilst Lamia had the Almond Vanilla Lover.

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We both agreed that these shakes could be meals on their own. If you’ve got no time for breakfast, or are just looking to skip that first meal yet still take on the power and nutrients you need to get through the day then I’d recommend these shakes.

They get much of their protein, sometimes as much as 29g per drink (kind of the same amount as you’d get from a can of tuna, for instance) from Vega Protein powder and they’re customizable so if you want a shot of espresso in there you just need to ask. They’re served ice cold, with slushy ice dominating at first before it melts and lets the flavours through, which for Lamia was a subtle sweetness combated by a hint of almond and for me was the banana followed by the berry. In winter we found them tasty and powerful, in summer I can imagine you could add ‘extremely refreshing’ to that.

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Finally, for dessert, we shared a chocolate cookie, a lemon and cranberry muffin and a double chocolate brownie.

They each had their merits. The cookie tasted like a regular, well made cookie, yet somehow we enjoyed it more knowing that all of it’s ingredients are natural, 100% plant-based and GMO-free. As the Fuel Plus website says, ‘you don’t have to be vegan or have dietary restrictions to love these desserts – any old sweet tooth will do.  They’re a healthier alternative to your run-of-the-mill baked goods, and you’ll never miss what’s missing from them!’

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I’d have to agree, and I’d add that the chocolate chips were sizable and many, which we enjoyed a lot!

The lemon and cranberry muffin was served warm; steam rose as we pulled it apart. The cake was light, the main taste was citrusy. I enjoyed sipping the last of my coffee whilst eating this, it made for an excellent combination.

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Our favourite dessert was the double chocolate brownie. Wow, it was so dense and moist! So much chocolate taste packed into this small space, it reminded me of a brownie version of a double espresso! Really, words don’t do it justice, and made in a vegan style too, with no eggs or butter, amazing. You really would not be able to tell that this was anything other than an excellent brownie, tasting so good that it just has to be packed with ingredients that are bad for you, except it’s not bad for you at all.

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Sure, you couldn’t eat 20 of these desserts a day and stay in shape, not unless you’re doing a lot of exercise, there’s still a fat content, but then again, the food that Fuel Plus serve up is not solely about loosing weight. It can be, sure, if you want it to be, you could grab a shake for breakfast (or even a bottle of Kombucha if you’re looking to forget about protein and carb and just go straight for the amino acids, as some do nowadays, although that’s not for me) and loose a few pounds by not eating bread every day, then have a salad for lunch, for instance. But it’s also about enjoying a regular diet, safe in the knowledge that what you’re putting into your body isn’t going to poison you thanks to the fact that it doesn’t hold any chemical additives or pesticide residue.

And then there is the sustainability aspect of what’s on offer. By serving locally, organically produced food Fuel Plus is helping the local economy as well as your body. The more power that’s taken away from faceless international corporations and back into the hands of people who live locally and care about their own community the better, and a good way to offer power back is to sustain local livelihoods and allow small businesses to operate in a decent way.

Of course, there are many arguments for supporting local business and there’s no space to go into it here (even if there were, there are more qualified people than me to talk about it so I’ll leave it to them), but we recommend you pay Fuel Plus a visit, where if you like you can talk about such matters to people who understand it all much more than I. And on top of that, you can enjoy excellent food as you chat.

Healthy eaters, runners and the socially responsible alike, check the Fuel Plus website out! Download the app too as it’ll tell you exactly what’s in everything they sell (ingredients, protein/carb content, etc). After our brunch here we didn’t need to eat until 8 or 9pm that night even though we spent the day walking around the city centre, and I certainly felt that my energy levels were higher than usual (probably due to the combination of fuel balls, protein shake and coffee, but also the healthy food)

For more information, please see the Fuel Plus website at http://fuelplus.ca/

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