Little Space, Big Place

January 10, 2011

in International


at The Bauer Buildings
105 – 191 King Street S, Waterloo, Canada

Reviewed & Photographed by: Andrew Coppolino

Modern Exterior of Thrive Juice Bar

Amuse-bouche: Thrive offers a menu packed with fresh, often organic ingredients, prepared in combinations that set their own flavour profile rather than merely seeking to be meat-replacements. A host of healthy, fresh, and creamy-textured drinks like Thai avocado and lemongrass can satisfy your beverage demands as well.

Food & Service:

After 365 days of eating, a new year is an opportune time to reset the apostate at the same time you reset the way you think about your food consumption. I’ll be honest and re-affirm my commitment to carnivorousness: vegetarianism is not on my agenda for resolutions, to be sure.

However, it does give me pause for thought in at least a couple of important ways. Let me stress: these are always, always personal decisions; if you’ve embraced your vegan side, more power to you. You don’t need to send me an email, a Tweet, or a Facebook message proffering a link to our good friends at PETA.

A Fun, Modern Urban Design Awaits

Periodically, I wend my noshing way over into minor explorations of vegetarian food—not cooking it necessarily, but visiting restaurants that specialize in crafting tempeh and textured vegetable protein into deliciousness. What the quick dip into the vegetarian pool does for me, I believe, is to give a bit of perspective on the possibilities that are available when flesh is not included in the prep cooks’ mise en place. Add to that the fact that it is often surprising what flavour notes are struck, what palate pleasing performances take place, when vegetables appear at the centre of the plate.

Carnivor-osity aside, I think we eat too much meat, so a full-on foray into veg can be an eye-opener. Read carefully the ingredients at vegetarian and vegan restaurants: they are chock full of interesting and unique ingredients such as artichoke tapenades, daikon, bamboo shoots, green radish, almond chili oil, bulgur, miso-marinated tempeh, edamame, Thai eggplant. Those, in fact, are some of the ingredients that are used at Waterloo’s Thrive Juice Bar, a relatively new entry into the local dining scene sitting within the Bauer Buildings complex virtually on the border of Kitchener and Waterloo.

Thrive has an upscale and cool vibe going for it with nary a Birkenstock or dashiki in sight, I don’t believe. It is a small venue that blends take-out juices and healthy beverages with high-top tables and stools if you want to eat in. Those beverages can be extravagant. They, likely more than anything else on the menu, can challenge taste buds (and metabolisms) jaded by a holiday season that featured too much imbibing and constant snacking and heavy meals. Imagine something like a Thai avocado bevie with coconut water, rice milk, and lemongrass: the flavour wallop of this is complex and the texture satisfying.

Thrive's Vegan Pad Thai is Excellent

And what is there to eat? Well, a lot it seems for they call it fuel for life and encourage you to be “fierce” and “take health into your own hands.” I guess they will tolerate no vegan wussiness. There’s a mess of sandwiches, in which the BLT gives way to the punning and cunning Thrive ALT—avocado, lettuce, tempeh and tomato bagel (all that for only $6)—organic and gluten-free sandwiches, panini, veggie burgers, and a Reuben.

Twelve ounces of vegan soups like squash, carrot and ginger, or red pepper cost about $4, while salads range from organic bulgur tabouli (or tabbouleh) with cumin, arugula, and lemon vinaigrette to a green salad bursting with fennel, radicchio, watercress, and frisee dressed with a citrus vinaigrette and jalapeno oil.

Lentil Falafel with Tabouli, in Endive Leaves

Vegan Pad Thai is served chilled with rice noodles, daikon, cabbage, along with green papaya, green and red radish and a chili oil and mint-lime vinaigrette. It’s served cold. And it’s good.

Lentil falafel with tabouli had me convinced as well; served on crisp endive shoots with artichoke tapenade, basil, and olive oil, the usual middle eastern chickpea dish had a good balance of both hearty flavours and contrasting and pleasing textures. Not much more you need for about $8.

Equally convincing was a very good Thrive eight-ounce veggie burger on an organic Kaisersemmel roll. The layers of ingredients start with coconut milk and tofu and move on through Portobello mushroom, black bean, vegan chipotle aioli and mildly peppery arugula. Now get this: maybe it was my wonky taste buds on this particular day, or maybe it was the barometric pressure or some sort of other environmental factor, but I noted a distinct hint of chocolate in the burger (and that’s fine with me) which was served with vegan dill pickles and potato chips.

Have a Decadent Vegan Dessert Too!

Finally, and because it is one of my favourite sandwiches, I tried Thrive’s Reuben. Named for the owner of a once-famous New York deli, the Reuben is corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut in sourdough rye bread. Thrive’s version includes the Swiss and an organic rye as well as vegan sauerkraut—and all of that works well.

The key is the meat-protein substitution that comes by way of tempeh, a firm cake of fermented soybean that can have a nutty, yeasty tang and that is packed with protein with neither fat nor cholesterol. As a cooking product, tempeh holds its shape and absorbs well the flavours with which it commingles. Thrive’s tempeh is smoked (and could have had a bit stronger smoked quality), which along with a Dijon dressing sets the sandwich off well.

So there you go: as a new year rolls in, you can strive to eat healthy—and not sacrifice flavour—at Thrive Juice Bar.
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Andrew Coppolino

Who is Andrew Coppolino?© is proud to feature the entertaining, in-depth reviews of Andrew Coppolino, a Canadianrestaurant reviewer for Echo Weekly and former restaurant critic of The Waterloo Region Record. He is a full time freelance writer, broadcaster, and food commentator, and host of both the radio program “The Food Show” on 570 News and the cooking and food segment on Rogers TV “Grand River Living.” Andrew’s done cooking apprenticeships at Kitchener fine dining restaurants, and does occasional kitchen stages when he isn’t writing for various publications, developing content for his website Waterloo Region Eats, or in a restaurant somewhere eating yet more food.

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