26 June 2008

Squatter's Pub

Airports are typically a gallery of fast food outlets and crappy sit-down establishments that feature more fat than flavor. Salt Lake City escapes this trap by offering fare from places like Squatter's, a Utah brew pub with tons of vegetarian and vegan options that are more than a cut above the slop that dots most airport landscapes.

Utah, the Mecca of Mormonism, loosened up it's stringent alcohol laws when the Olympics came to town, allowing places like Squatter's to thrive (or at least to convince outsiders that Utah isn't a complete killjoy). Add the extra bonus of voluminous veggie vittles and I'm in like Flynn.

The menu features vegetarian and vegan labeling, a practice that I always endorse. They make a number of items with a seasoned tofu scramble, a vegan version of scrambled eggs. I ordered the veggie wrap, which was made with the tofu scramble and an assortment of vegetables including lettuce, tomato, cucumber, black olive, red and yellow pepper and red onion inside a whole wheat tortilla. It was served with crispy potato chips fried in peanut oil. Squatter's also has a fairly tasty looking veggie burger in addition to a number of other items for vegetarians of all makes and models.

The beer is also cleverly marketed and named. The showstopper is the chocolatey Polygamy Porter, a rich, complex brew with a deep brown hue and infinite layers of flavor. Some other beer options include an oatmeal stout, a pilsner, a golden ale, a hefeweizen and pale ales of all shapes and sizes. There are also seasonal options, which included the Harvest Amber, a nitrogenated ale with a beautifully creamy mouthfeel.

The other bonus for Squatter's is their eco-friendly business plan which includes use of renewable energy in addition to efforts to conserve water and reduce waste. You can eat dinner, drink beer and not feel guilty enjoying yourself. Squatter's is recognized as a Salt Lake City Green Business.

I flew into Utah expecting prohibition and mundanity, but instead I found solidly constructed brews and a variety of vegetarian eats. I think I just might convert to Mormonism just so I can drink more Polygamy Porter. I hope Joseph Smith and Brigham Young won't keep me out of heaven for that.


The Pickle Barrel

On my brief trip out west, I had an opportunity to try Montana's favorite sandwich shop the Pickle Barrel. I'm not sure what kind of competition a deli has in Montana (I'm guessing not a lot), but despite its remote location, the Pickle Barrel makes one heck of a vegetarian sandwich. I'll take their word--they must be the best sandwich in Montana.

As a sandwich shop, if you only offer one veggie sandwich, it had better be damned good. The Pickle Barrel doesn't miss the mark with their interestingly-spelled Vegie sandwich. This sandwich is huge, stuffed with Monterrey Jack, Swiss and Provolone cheeses on top of black olives, mushrooms, sprouts, lettuce, tomato, oil, vinegar, oil, spices and mayo (I hate mayo--but it's all yours if you like mayo). The ingredients are packed into a soft, white sub roll. The large sub is aptly described.

The Pickle Barrel also features breakfast items, ice cream, soup, chips, drinks and other items which include (of course) pickles. There are seven locations strewn throughout the Rocky Mountains and the Midwest. Unfortunately I failed to take pictures, so you'll have to stop in the next time you're in Montana in order to experience Big Sky Country's finest sandwich encounter.

20 June 2008

Chile Verde Cafe

Chile Verde is tucked back in a shopping center on the endless strip mall that is Sawmill. The intimate eatery offers carefully prepared Southwestern cuisine.

This restaurant makes food that would be termed Tex-Mex or Southwestern cooking (they call it New Mexican cuisine). What separates them from the competition is the quality of the food. Chile Verde is a big step up from the everyday fast-casual Mexican eateries that permeate (some might say pollute) the nation.

On a hot summer day, few items refresh quite as effectively as gazpacho, a cold tomato soup that screams for warm weather. The Chile Verde version had big chunks of tomato, cucumber and onions. It was a soup of the day, making me glad I chose that day to eat at Chile Verde.

I ordered the veggie burrito with sides of peppered pinto beans and Southwestern mashed potatoes. The small burrito was more than enough with the side dishes included, leading me to believe that the large burrito is the size of a football. It was filled with green peppers, mushrooms, onions and zucchini, topped with melted cheese and a red sauce. The mashed potatoes were skin-on and moderately seasoned. The beans were vegetarian and delicious.

Chile Verde offers margaritas by the glass and pitcher. They feature on the rocks and frozen varieties made with blanco, reposado or aƱejo tequila, along with beer and Spanish and South American wines. The staff was exceptionally helpful picking out vegetarian items, and the menu offered a variety of appetizers, entrees and side dishes to sate your vegetarian appetite.

Chile Verde

Chile Verde Cafe on Urbanspoon

Inchin's Bamboo Garden

Inchin's Bamboo Garden inhabits the realm of P.F. Chang's with a decidedly Indian subcontinental influence. The Atlanta-based chain offers freshly prepared Chinese dishes that are prepared in with richer, spicier Indian undercurrents.

The restaurant is larger than it appears from the outside. The walls display vaguely Asian art work with bright primary colors as a backdrop.

The menu has a large variety of vegetarian options, from soups to salads to appetizers and main courses. Bamboo Garden is also halal for my Muslim brethren.

I started with chili mustard paneer. Paneer is a mild, cubed Indian cheese, and it was made with a mixture of Chinese hot mustard and a spicy red chili sauce on a bed of cabbage topped with scallions and other assorted veggies. It was a great combination of subtle spice and rich mustard with the veggies adding an extra dimension to the flavor.

My main course was Szechwaun tofu. It consisted of fried cubes of tofu made with a spicy, earthy Szechwaun sauce alongside red onions, peas, green and red peppers and mushrooms. The sauce was more flavorful than your typical cookie cutter Chinese joint, and it was spicy, just as they advertised on the menu.

The wine list was well chosen for an Asian restaurant. It isn't spectacular, but there are a few gems available by the glass and bottle. They also feature beer and mixed drinks. I tried the Lychee Pamatini, which was nicely garnished with Lychee fruit but not nearly as delicious as I imagined in my head.

The service was a little inattentive. The server could have made more trips to the table and took an extended time to get the bill out. Having only dined here once, however, I can hardly say this issue is true at all times. Service could have been better, and it definitely could have been worse. I'll give them my Get Out of Jail Free card on this one and hope it improves in the future.

Bamboo Garden

Inchin's Bamboo Garden on Urbanspoon

17 June 2008

Michael's Pizza

Michael's Pizza is a Westerville destination for a number of reasons. I dig it because it was one of the first restaurants to serve alcohol when Westerville finally voted down their longstanding prohibition initiative.

The beer and wine is just window dressing to well made thin crust pizza and traditional Italian offerings, however. Pizza Mike was recognized as making the best pizza in the U.S.A. at the World Pizza Championships in Italy. I would have figured that this was a fake award, except for the fact that Avalanche Pizza in Athens (another great pizza shop) also won this award, so the award seems to be a pretty good indicator of quality.

The pizza has a fantastic crust I would describe as similar to a puffy flatbread. It is neither traditionally crispy of outright chewy--it is a happy medium between the two.

The tomato sauce is tangy and definitely not from a can. The toppings are also high quality, from the button mushrooms to the green peppers to the sweet, mild onions. The cheese is a blend of Romano and provolone, and each pizza is topped with additional grated cheese and spices.

The side dishes are also very good. The cheese sticks were very tasty. The menu also offers a few other vegetarian appetizers, a veggie sub and a few assorted pasta dishes.

Michael's Pizza

09 June 2008

Banana Bean Cafe

I had to get to Banana Bean in order to figure out what all the hub-bub is about. I had tried to get in for brunch previously, but they were booked solid. Luckily, the additional patio seating that comes with the change in seasons increases the small seating capacity, so today I was good to go.

Banana Bean offers food from all parts of the Caribbean plus items from other places like America and Italy that have a decided island twist on flavor. The food isn't cheap, but the extra price does reflect the quality ingredients used at the Bean.

The eggplant fries were served with a sweet chili dipping sauce. The finger-sized cuts of eggplant were fried crispy, and the fruit and spice in the sauce makes this a delicious option.

The sandwiches are enormous. The vegetarian Monte Cristo was made with three slices of egg battered sourdough bread, a potato pancake, goat cheese and red peppers in a tomato chili jam. It is a beautiful contrast of flavors, with sweet, savory, spicy and earthy notes that intermingle into a perfect synergy. It was served with a small side of couscous.

The sandwiches are enormous. The menu allows you to split a sandwich with somebody at the rate of half price for each sandwich half. This might not be a bad plan as the sandwich could easily feed two normal sized people (or three Tom Cruises).

There are a number of other vegetarian items on the menu. There is no liquor license, and I'm not sure if you can BYOB. I'll recommend calling for reservations if you are going for brunch or on a weekend. But Banana Bean is well worth a visit.

Banana Bean

Banana Bean Cafe on Urbanspoon


I screwed up and forgot my camera, but I figured I'd also mention Skully's as a place that serves vegetarian food. Skully's is more noted for their concerts, but many clubs (including Skully's) have figured out that a restaurant is a successful method of diversifying services and increasing revenue (See: Carabar; Empty Bottle).

I tried the hummus sandwich, which was made on 9 grain bread slathered in mashed chickpeas, red peppers, mushrooms, onions, lettuce and garlic. It came with a choice of vegetable of the day (steamed broccoli the day I was there) or fries. I also ordered fried macaroni and cheese, an item I order whenever I can because I am convinced that every so many years, somebody sees some type of food and decides, "Yeah...I could fry that." It's led to fried Twinkies, ice cream, Snickers bars, pickles, and now the children's lunch staple mac and cheese. I had to order it because I am a sucker for gimmicks after all.

I wanted to order the teriyaki tofu with pineapple from the seasonal menu, but the kitchen was out of tofu. The hummus sandwich was a good substitute. Other vegetarian options included the vegetarian BLT, which I stayed away from because vegetarian bacon scares me like nothing since the idea of vegan haggis. I'm sure Skullys' sandwich is good, but the first initial of the BLT makes me sick to my stomach, so I steered clear of the (most likely kosher) sandwich even though it is also safe for vegetarian consumption.


The French do not produce cuisine that is particularly noted for its vegetarian-friendly characteristics. Typical menu items in the stereotypical French bistro include any and all kinds of dead animals prepared in a classic fat-laden sauce. However, the basis for much of what people consider haute cuisine in the United States is rooted in French technique. If you ask nicely enough and give the staff enough previous notice, most chefs are more than happy to prepare vegetarian items using the same classic French approach to fine dining. L'Antibes was equipped to do just that.

L'Antibes is considered one of Columbus' top restaurants. It showed in all aspects of the experience, from the classically appointed dining room to the impeccable service. The food was equally exquisite.

The meal began with a salad prepared with an absolutely fantastic goat cheese atop young greens, radishes and onions in a light balsamic dressing. It is a basic salad concept elevated to another level by quality ingredients and skillful kitchen craftsmanship.

The main course was a cabbage, carrot and onion crepe prepared in a savory reduction that showcased a faintly Asian influence. It was very good, and proportioned in order to leave room for dessert.

I can never say no to a cheese plate, so obviously I said yes to L'Antibes' fromage. It was a goat cheese (the same, aforementioned, ultra-creamy variety), Roquefort and Brie with water crackers, strawberries and grapes. I also got to taste the lemon custard, which is pictured above. It was as good to eat as it was to view.

The biggest shortcoming at L'Antibes is hardly a fatal flaw. The beverage list has a few tasty cocktails and a decent selection of wines. The problem, however, is with the by-the-glass wine selections. They are limited in a move seemingly designed to push you toward buying a bottle. Unfortunately, when dining with people with dissimilar tastes in wine, this makes the list more difficult than it needs to be. That being said, there are nice choices by the bottle. If that doesn't float your boat, there are also cocktails and beers.

I might recommend calling a day ahead to make sure the chef can adequately prepare vegetarian eats for you if you go to L'Antibes. Although not essential, if you give the kitchen a chance to shine, they will shine. Even though France can't compete with India in terms of vegetarian reputation, they still succeed in making mouths water when pitted against any other nation or cooking style. L'Antibes might not have a veggie-friendly menu, but the French roots help create a memorable dining experience no matter your level of carnivorousness.


L'Antibes on Urbanspoon

03 June 2008

Yogi's Hoagies

Yogi's Hoagies is a mini-chain with locations dotted all over the Buckeye state. They specialize in (surprise!) sandwiches, but also offer pizza and a wide variety of side dishes including chips, potato salad, mozzarella sticks and salads.

But why would I visit a sandwich shop to try anything but sandwiches? Yogi's features hot and cold sandwiches. I tried the veggie super hoagie, which is made with double cheese, lettuce, onions and banana peppers with oil, vinegar and spices. It is available in 8- and 16-inch versions.

The hot hoagie was tasty. There was enough cheese for it to melt out of the bun. It is not terribly dissimilar (other than the vegetable base) from the Great Steak Escape veggie sandwich. GSE is the first vegetarian sandwich I ever ate forever and a day ago, and while it is embarrassing for a vegetarian to say they used to eat at Great Steak Escape, it does bring back fond memories.

The Westerville location is a small, family-run spot. There is a drive-through, and it appears Yogi's also delivers. While sandwich shops typically aren't the most vegetarian-friendly eateries, I am going to stamp the veggie super hoagie from Yogi's as Nothing Better To Do approved.

Yogi's Hoagies

Yogi's Hoagies on Urbanspoon

01 June 2008

Can't resist your charms

It isn't every day that you witness the police laying the smack down on a perp. It's even less often that the perp weighs about 90 pounds and the cops weigh an estimated 1000 pounds combined. Rarer still are the times when the person being beaten by the police is female. I'm just guessing the rarity of these instances. I am by no means a statistician.

I also have no idea what the woman did. It must have been terrible based upon the force the officers used to subdue the woman. The officers picked up what no doubt must have been a small amount of plutonium or smallpox from the pavement before the police (undoubtedly justified in their use of force) showed the alleged criminal mastermind who was boss (Answer: Not the person being smacked around by the police).

I propose three other plausible explanations for this thing that I saw today. I can confirm none of this. I am only proposing it for discussion.

A). The woman was, in fact, Maurice Clarett. The police were smacking some fear into s/him before they returned s/him to prison.

B). The woman was an unpledged Superdelegate, and members of the Democratic National Committee enlisted the officers to reason with the woman in order to get her to see things their way. She will be pledging her support to Obama (or Clinton, depending on how your version of the conspiracy is framed) by tomorrow morning.

C). This is all part of Mayor Coleman's long term plan to revitalize Downtown. If you don't buy anything, we will beat you until you do. And this woman definitely didn't have any shopping bags. They could rebuild City Center overnight if they try forcing people to shop there.