28 August 2008

Johnny Buccelli's

Johnny Buccelli's is a fast-casual comfort food spot with two locations in Columbus. It specializes in sandwiches, salads, pizza and pasta. It is definitely not a vegetarian-specific restaurant, but Johnny B's offers a few tasty and fairly-priced vegetarian items on their menu.

I was surprised by the concept of this place upon first entering the dining room. I assumed it was more of a sit-down restaurant with a one-size-fits-all menu a la Friday's or Applebee's. Actually, it turned out to be more of a 30 minute power lunch establishment. Orders are placed at the counter. Service is rapid. The food is also relatively inexpensive, with few dishes clocking in at prices greater than $10.

The menu features about three vegetarian sandwiches, a vegetarian pasta dish, some salads, pizza and a series of tasty side dishes that include potato salad, French fries and potato chips with dip. Both the fries and the chips were excellent additions to the meal.

I tried the portabella vegetarian sub. It had tender grilled mushrooms, lettuce, onions and red peppers in a creamy condiment base on a long sub roll. The subs come in three sizes. The regular was pretty large, so I'm guessing the largest sub is behemoth.

I was surprised that the salads and pasta dishes were more omnivorous than vegetarian. Even though there are options on the menu, the pasta and salad options are heavily slanted towards meat eaters (on a side note, my carnivorous dining companion enjoyed his flesh burger). In a place like Johnny B's, this should be expected. I just bring it up as a minor point on a vegetarian blog about dining. Take it or leave it as you will.

All in all, Johnny Buccelli's was a good deal for a quick lunch. I was satisfied with the service, the prices and the food. Other than my minor complaints that I want more more more vegetarian items on the menu, this should be on my radar for future lunches.

Johnny Buccelli's

27 August 2008

Sahara Grille

Mediterranean food is notoriously vegetarian-friendly. This regional diet is praised for its health benefits as it involves fresh vegetables and copious quantities of olive oil alongside a pile of dining options for all makes and models of vegetarians. This veggie-centric approach to dining is evident at the Sahara Grille in Canton.

The starter is pita bread is served with herbed olive oil, highlighting the region's affinity for the healthful fat. The pita bread is also useful for scooping up some of the appetizers, such as the hummus. The hummus comes in two sizes with the option of adding pine nuts.

We sampled a few other starters. The cheese pie (often called tiropita in Greek restaurants) features a soft, white Farmer's cheese inside a buttery shell. They are a savory delight. The other starter (pictured above) isn't a Mediterranean tradition, but it was also quite good. The avocado egg rolls were crunchy, and they were filled with my favorite fatty vegetable, served with a tamarind sauce on the side that gives the rolls an added tanginess.

I was a little less impressed with the falafel sandwich. Sahara Grille offers a rolled pita with lettuce and tomato with pieces of falafel laden with tahini sauce. The sandwich was exceptionally dry. It might hace benefitted from the addition of more tomato or tahini. The falafel was also not the best. It was flavorful, but it also could have been improved through the addition of more seasoning.

However, I will now praise Sahara Grille for my favorite practice--labeling vegetarian items on the menu. This makes it easy for you to avoid the falafel sandwich while still maintaining plenty of main course options.

Middle Eastern eateries are also great places to share with a large party. If a large group orders hummus, baba ganouge, grape leaves and fattoush (or one of the many other options), each person can sample a ton of food without breaking the bank.

Sahara Grille is a nice addition to this area. It should do a good job keeping Stark county vegetarians happy and healthy.

Sahara Grille

26 August 2008

Saffron Patch

The Saffron Patch is an absolutely phenomenal Indian restaurant nestled in a commercial plaza in the Valley in the Rubber City. The decor is as festive as the distinctively spiced food, creating a top-notch dining experience.

I don't spend a ton of time in Northeast Ohio. I visit family and friends in the Akron/Canton area a few times per year. Columbus is my main stomping ground. As a result, I have to keep places like the Saffron Patch (and the Mustard Seed Market and VegeTerranean) on my radar so I'm not eating Quizno's and Panera Bread for my vegetarian lunch.

There really isn't a weak link in the dining experience at Saffron Patch. The decor is stylish, with Indian paintings and sculptures carefully placed in the dining room around the well appointed tables. The service is also attentive and prompt, both for dine-in and take-out options.

Saffron Patch typically offers a number of traditional Indian dishes along with a number of daily specials. My starter was the chilly paneer, which are fried spicy peppers stuffed with cubed cheese and a mixture of vegetables. It is served with a side of mango chutney which adds a savory sweetness to the rich spices of the peppers. It was delicious.

My entree was the paneer makani. It used paneer, the same cubed cheese, served in a mild Indian tomato sauce with hints of garlic, onions, ginger and turmeric. Makani is a traditional Indian dish, but the paneer version was a daily special.

The breads are also delicious. They are obviously made fresh. The best deal is the naan basket. It gives you four choices of bread. We tried butter, onion, garlic and hot pepper naan. The spicy naan was an experience. It had a stealthy spice that left my eyes watering and my mouth smiling.

The drink selection is also well made. There is a full roster of Indian, British and domestic beer (+1 for Boddington's cans) as well as a small wine menu and a great array of cocktails. The cranberry apple martini was far more subtle than the typical sour apple martini (which often has all the subtlety of Hulk Hogan). It was garnished with small pieces of apple.

The Saffron Patch is tucked away in the valley, but it's well worth locating. It has a sister location in Shaker Heights. I haven't been to the other location, but if it's half as good as the Akron spot, it is a home run for vegetarians.

Saffron Patch

Saffron Patch (Akron) on Urbanspoon

19 August 2008

Giammarco's Pizza

Giammarco's is a small Italian restaurant in Westerville. They feature a menu with pizza and a variety of traditional Italian dishes. There are more than a few vegetarian (but no vegan) items on the menu.

The interior is actually a surprise when you walk through the door. From the outside, Giammarco's looks like a take-out joint (which it very much is). However, there are many tables inside the wood-lined walls decorated with faux Italian knick knacks.

I sampled the Margherita pizza, which was great. It had huge basil leaves and slices of tomato atop melted buffalo mozzarella on a thin, crispy crust. The pizza was delicious--Margherita is a classic style that is oft imitated, never duplicated, but Giammarco's hits the mark.

The service was a little sluggish. Luckily the staff was courteous and took the time to explain the problem. I'll give it a one thumb up, one thumb down on my service experience.

The menu also has a veggie sub, garlic bread, fried ravioli, spaghetti and marinara, penne alfredo and a number of other pizza joint/Italian classics.

Giammarco's Pizza

Giammarco's Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon

11 August 2008

The Happy Greek

The Happy Greek is nestled in the campus gentrification project that is the South Campus Gateway (there is also a location in the Short North, but I visited the Northernmost location). They feature a number of Greek and other Mediterranean options in a wooden and steel dining room that also includes outdoor seating.

Happy Greek scores points for my favorite vegetarian technique--labeling the vegetarian items on the menu. Greek restaurants typically feature a few vegetarian options, and when the menu is rounded out with hummus and baba as they are at the Happy Greek, vegetarian diners are challenged by an army of choices.

There are a great variety of starters, but when presented with the option of flaming cheese, how could I order anything else. Saganaki is Kefalograviera (a mild Greek cheese) engulfed in 151 Rum flames. The dish is rooted in Chicago's Greek Town, and the delicious bubbling cheese is sure to leave a smile on your face as well as an amazed look at the tables of your neighbors. Special note: I shot a short video of the flaming cheese. It's sideways, but you can at least get a feel for the experience. Or check out this better video of the same experience.

As with the starters, the main course options for vegetarians are numerous at the Happy Greek. I selected the veggie pastitsio, a Greek lasagna in a tomato basil-cream sauce. The noodles have zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, onions, celery and herbs layered between them, with bechamel, cheese and tomato sauce dripping between the stacked pasta. The plate is topped with a layer of fresh herbs, and it is deliciously satisfying.

I can't speak for the quality of the other location, as I have only eaten at the campus location. The Happy Greek does feature a great selection of vegetarian food for those looking for meatless eats with a Hellenic flair, so I imagine both locations are worth checking out.

Happy Greek

Happy Greek on Urbanspoon

06 August 2008

Indian Oven

My fallback vegetarian cuisine is always Indian. Sure, many other cuisines offer tons of options for veggies, but India will always remain first in my heart. Indian Oven, near Downtown Columbus, is another in a long line of Indian restaurants to maintain my longstanding love affair with food from the Indian subcontinent.

Indian Oven features sleek modern decor contrasted by classic Indian cooking. Most of the menu consists of Indian dishes that are found in most other restaurants (e.g. samosas, naan, matar paneer, chana masala, et al.), as well as a few specialties that are slightly less run-of-the-mill.

There are both lunch and dinner menus. The samosas came with a dollop of mint chutney. They were crispy, moderately spiced and delicious. They were very good. Samosas are always good, but at Indian Oven they are a step better.

The naan was fair to middling. The texture was pleasant, but the flavor was hardly delicious, even alongside the other fine items. The caveat is that I took the naan to go. It may not travel well. The bread was adequate, but hardly spectacular.

My entree was the shahi paneer. It was cheese cubes in a tomato and onion sauce with nuts and assorted spices. I ordered it hot, but the dish is mild, so it came out rich and faintly spicy. The nut vegetable sauce was delicious, and I'm a sucker for paneer, so this was definitely a winner.

There is an assortment of vegetarian items that are all marked in a specific part of the menu, as well as a number of other items in other sections that are also vegetarian. This is a great vegetarian option Downtown whether you are eating dine-in or take-out.

Indian Oven

Indian Oven on Urbanspoon

05 August 2008

The Refectory

The Refectory is always recognized as one of Columbus' finest restaurants. It always makes the top rankings of the Columbus Dispatch, CitySearch, the Wine Spectator and other outlets. The Refectory is a magnet for Columbus diners with access to an expense account.

The atmosphere and presentation at the Refectory are exquisite. This is, however, a vegetarian dining blog. I will have to utilize this forum to log a few complaints (because after all, what else is the blogosphere for).

French restaurants are notoriously veggie-unfriendly. That not withstanding, I expected more vegetarian options than the obligatory vegetarian appetizer, entree and salads from one of the city's top eateries. While the food was delicious and the atmosphere was impeccable, perhaps a wider array of options for a more modern dining public could restore the Refectory and its menu to its former glory.

My other problem is that I believe that places like Rosendale's, M and Dragonfly have menus which reflect the changing tastes of 21st century diners more so than the classic offerings of old guard establishments like the Refectory. Chef Richard Blondin uses classic techniques, but his menu lacks the flair of new domestic French restaurants like Aigre Doux in Chicago, Alain Ducasse's restaurants or any of the other new guard French restaurants. Blondin has the skills--he just needs a few more bells and whistles to keep my easily distracted palate in the seats of the Refectory on a regular basis.

Now that I'm (mostly) finished complaining about the shortcomings of what is still a high quality restaurant, I'll begin to focus on the positive aspects of the experience. The interior is beautiful, with stained glass windows and high-beamed wooden ceilings. It is accompanied by friendly and capable service.

My appetizer was the roasted goat cheese with shallots and olive oil. It was served with finely cut beets and tomatoes. The presentation was nice, and the cheese was mild, complex and delicious.

The petite mesclun salad in a maple salad vinaigrette was plain and uninspiring. The greens were excellent in quality, but the salad was plain. It wasn't nearly as good as the first course.

The main course was a seasonal vegetable pasta. This is akin to the pasta primavera served in most steak houses, but the flavors were far more rich and complex. It was mildly seasoned with plenty of red pepper, zucchini, onion and squash. The egg noodles were piled in the middle of the plate. The portion was large.

The wine list is excellent. It is Franco-centric, but it has many selections from other parts of the world. It is a multiple time Wine Spectator Grand Award winner. I started with the Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume, which was crisp, showcasing apple and other tree fruits alongside subtle spices. The wine was brought from the cellar too warm for proper service, however, a problem that should never occur at a restaurant like this.

The by-the-glass selections were solid. The Lang and Reed Cabernet Franc and the Chehalem 3 Vineyards Pinot Noir were both good and served at the proper temperature. I also tried the after dinner Macallan sampler.

The desserts were well made and delicious. I'm diabetic and I shouldn't eat these things, but I did sample a taste. The dessert menu looked great, as did the dessert course on the table.

The Refectory is definitely a quality restaurant. Unfortunately, I rank it a little more second-tier than some other publications do. It has the tools and the talent to regain its former glory. But the Refectory also has room for improvement. Special note: There is also a special, inexpensive bistro menu--but it typically isn't vegetarian-friendly.

The Refectory

The Refectory on Urbanspoon

02 August 2008

Veggie Fest

Veggie Fest is in Naperville this weekend. With cooking classes and piles of vegetarian food, I'd be there if I wasn't working.

V-Li's Thai Cuisine

V-Li's in Canal Fulton has quietly been churning out delicious Thai food for the past 11 years. V-Li Van Sickel and her family make tasty Thai standards that are a delight in presentation and flavor.

The menu has a limited selection of vegetarian items. The staff is able to make almost any item on the menu vegetarian, however, so definitely ask questions. The staff will help you find suitable offerings.

I started with vegetarian spring rolls. The spring rolls were crisp and filled with cabbage, carrots and other vegetables with a sweet dipping sauce on the side. The rolls were flavorful and not overly greasy.

Other vegetarian starters include the fried tofu. It is breaded and served with a peanut dipping sauce.

The main course was red curry tofu. You can adjust the heat level (I always go hot). The curry was made with a rich array of spices, red peppers, onions, zucchini and large blocks of tofu. All of the curries are delicious and can be prepared vegetarian.

V-Li's closes at 2:30 pm for lunch. The restaurant has a liquor license. V-Li and her son were kind enough to let me snap their pictures. And on a completely unrelated note, the giant house in the slideshow is LeBron James' castle.