Utopia Cafe and Grill
- Utopia Cafe and Grill is aptly named. Let me tell you why… One hot and muggy Saturday evening, I found myself walking down College Street in search of sustenance and something cold to slake my thirst. Now, I’m notorious for my inability to make a decision when faced with many options, and College Street has a lot to offer in the way of restaurants. I passed by bistro after restaurant after lounge, growing hungrier by the minute. How did I choose? Divine intervention lent me a helping hand as the sky opened up and let loose a torrential downpour sending me running into the open arms (see: doorway) of Utopia.
It was already jam packed, which had nothing to do with the rain. There was a line-up for tables, but I managed to grab a seat at the bar to peruse both the menu and the environment. What is it about exposed brick and hardwood floors that make a place so cozy? Whatever it is, Utopia has both.
Needless to say, I was immediately enamoured, and when I opened the menu, that bubble remained intact. Now, I wouldn’t call myself a vegetarian, nor would I dive into a steak with gusto, so for a selectavarian such as myself, I couldn’t have designed a more heavenly menu if I tried. All but three of their appetizers are meat free, and they allow you to substitute soy (grilled or breaded & fried) for meat in most of their main dishes. Meat lovers and vegetarians unite!
And if that wasn’t enough, it gets even better! I forgot to mention earlier that in between appreciating the exposed brick and opening the menu, I honed in on the beer selection (tunnel vision at its finest). And it made me smile, for they had KLB Raspberry Wheat on tap. Typically, I like my beer to taste like, well…beer, but I make an exception for KLB, especially in the summertime (although I find excuses to drink it at other points in the year) as the natural raspberry essence paired with the beer itself is possibly the most refreshing combination ever. Like angels dancing on my tongue…delicious, raspberry angels. Its difficult to find on tap, and Utopia has it, so I chalk them up some more points.
I started with the Mumahari Dip (roasted red peppers, pomegranate molasses and walnuts) that comes served with naan. While the dip itself wasn’t exactly visually appealing (but really how many dips are?) with a likening to cat food, I was willing to overlook it. The Everlasting Gobstopper of dips, every bite of the Mumahari started sweet, moved onto nutty and finished with a bit of a kick. Delish.
Between the dip and the KLB, I was already very satisfied, but I wasn’t done yet. Next came my Grilled Veggie & Goat Cheese Burrito. I love a good burrito, and this one didn’t disappoint. Grilled zucchini, red peppers, eggplant, onions and a generous layer of goat cheese came wrapped in a soft tortilla. Served alongside substantial sides of both garden salad and rice, I couldn’t finish it if I tried…and I tried. There is absolutely nothing wrong with leftovers though, and I can vouch that a Utopia burrito tastes just as delicious the day after.
On a tight budget? All of Utopia’s mains hover around the $13 mark which in my opinion is a great deal considering the quality of the food and the very sizeable portions. I can easily see two people splitting a burrito and leaving the place with full stomachs (and wallets). The only problem with this scenario however, is the lack of leftovers.
If Utopia has any drawbacks, it’s that the place is hot in the summer – really, really hot. The lack of air-conditioning combined with the open kitchen may have something to do with it. If I were anywhere else, I just may have been uncomfortable, but I had my pint of KLB, exposed brick, and a smiling bartender that made me feel like I was the only person in the room (okay…now I’m just getting carried away, but that being said the service is genuinely warm). Looking around, even though everyone had a sheen to them, nobody seemed to mind. Everybody just looked happy. People don’t sweat at Utopia…they glow.
For a pasta-heavy neighbourhood, Utopia provides a nice deviation. It’s the kind of place I could eat at everyday, so it’s probably a good thing I don’t live nearby, but it will definitely be my College Street go-to. They also have a four season patio (another good reason I don’t live in the area, as much to my liver’s chagrin, I have an almost instinctual draw to drinking outside).
Utopia is a contradiction unto itself: it’s frenetic, but it’s calm; blazers sit next to longboarders; meat lovers co-exist amongst vegetarians; it’s hot, but oh so cool. As its name implies, this Bohemian spot in Little Italy is truly ideal.
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* Lead photo credit to Thomas at Tmasoo