29 July 2008

Pearl Market

Economic downturns create a greater need for penny pinching. Whether it's a economic recession or a Gramm mental recession, markets might help the pocketbook by cutting out the middle man. If they don't, markets are still a fun way to shop for grocery items or to eat lunch.

Pearl Market thrives two days a week in Downtown Columbus. There are vegetable farmers, dairy and cheese artisans, bakers, artists, craftsmen, and people with a variety of other talents on the vendor list.

I can attest that Nellie's Samosas are great. The last thing I needed was a samosa stand on my way to where I park my car during working hours. I'll be tasting samosa for the remainder of my summer drives home.

The other bonus is that there are a number of great restaurants in the area. You can eat 3000 calories for lunch without even walking a city block (The Surgeon General recommends against this, however).

I didn't take a ton of pictures. You'll have to visit to take in the full experience.

Pearl Market

28 July 2008

The Old Mohawk

Old Mohawk is an old standby in the old-time neighborhood of German Village. The restaurant began as a speakeasy during Prohibition, and has since morphed into a legal drinking establishment with tasty pub grub. Even better, much of the menu is veggie-friendly!

The decor is part older Americana with modern touches (the flat screen television and some of the art on the walls being the most obvious examples). The menu labels all vegetarian items, a practice that will be codified into law if the American public ever gets drunk enough to elect me to public office.

I started with the breaded veggies. The basket featured breaded, deep-fried zucchini, cauliflower, mushrooms and cheesy broccoli (yum!) with a caraway marinara sauce. The other veggies were tasty, but I would have paid an extra dollar to get a basket of nothing but the cheesy broccoli. The other veggies were decent, but the broccoli was definitely more delicious than everything else.

My main entree was a veggie paella. It was made with black beans, white beans, corn, onion, red and green peppers with rice and parmesan cheese in a garlic pesto sauce. The pesto was the bow atop a beautifully wrapped gift framed by grated cheese. It had Spanish, Southwestern and Mediterranean elements that combine into a show-stopping package. The other positive was that the paella was big enough for me to take home the leftovers and eat them later.

There are plenty of other vegetarian options on the menu. There are nachos, vegetarian chili, mac and cheese, pizza, spinach and artichoke dip, cheese quesadillas, grilled cheese, a veggie burger, a hummus sandwich and plenty of soups, salads and sides.

There are also excellent beers on draft. Stone Arrogant Bastard, Rogue Dead Guy Ale and Bell's Oberon were all available on tap. Mixed drinks also included a root beer float martini, which was a special.

Old Mohawk is a cool spot in German Village with more vegetarian options than one would guess at first glance. It's a good bet for vegetarians, carnivores and those looking to get their drink on. It might not be fancy, but it definitely satisfies.

Old Mohawk

Old Mohawk on Urbanspoon

27 July 2008

Otero's Food Bar

Otero's Food Bar is a salad bar in Downtown Columbus that features vegetarian sandwiches and (occasionally) soup. The salad bar is decent if you want to assemble your own lunch. The prices are relatively inexpensive.

The vegetarian wrap was a spinach wrap with peppers, tomato, onion, cucumber, mushroom and your choice of olive oil or basil garlic mayo. It was served with potato chips.

The salad bar has five different types of lettuce and spinach, as well as a wide variety of vegetables, accoutrements and dressings. It isn't markedly better than the average neighborhood salad bar. Otero's is a lighter, more herbivorous lunch option than some of its neighbors.

If you want to make your own salad, this may be your place Downtown. The sandwich was average. The atmosphere is nondescript, with simple wooden tables, a solid steel salad bar and a few televisions tuned to the news. I much prefer Tip Top, Due Amici, El Arepazo and Rad Dog in this area to Otero's. The food was decent. The problem is that the competition in the area offers more bang for the buck.

Otero Food Bar

26 July 2008

The best laid plans

I made a short trip to the Akron/Canton area with plans for top-notch vegetarian dining. Of course, I naturally got tied up with things and my plans were scrapped. I will utilize this opportunity to explain some good options for veggies in this neck of the woods (options which, under better circumstances, I would have planned for).

Lunch was supposed to be at V-Li's, a great Thai restaurant in the tiny hamlet of Canal Fulton. V-Li is named after V-Li Van Sickel. I know her from my childhood when I studied martial arts with her kids, who are about my age. Her food explodes with flavor, and the menu features tons of vegetarian options.

Of course I showed up 10 minutes after they closed for lunch (around 2:30). I had to settle for the vegetarian options from Casa Perez. The food was average, so I drowned my sorrows in a pitcher of margaritas.

I also missed the Saffron Patch in Akron, which I consider one of Ohio's top Indian restaurants. The quality is outstanding from the appetizers and breads to the entrees, which can be both familiar and richly exotic in nature. Like other Indian establishments, Saffron Patch is very vegetarian-friendly.

I did a terrible job eating in the 330 area code. Maybe next time I can eat somewhere better, like the aforementioned places. I might even give other quality vegetarian restaurants in the area (like Mustard Seed, VegiTerranean, Aladdin's, Bombay Sitar, Corky's Cafe, Gregory's Family Restaurant, Mulligan's Pub, and Sahara Grille) a try. Use this as a guide and avoid mediocre vegetarian eating in Stark and Summit counties.

Stark County

22 July 2008

Don Patron

Don Patron is a vibrantly-shaded, Americanized Mexican restaurant in New Albany. The decor is a festival of bright primary colors. The menu is equally basic. But the food at Don Patron is a little better quality than the neighborhood cookie cutter Mexican eatery.

Don Patron also features margaritas in many sizes and flavors. The mango margarita was delicious, as was the margarita on the rocks.

The chips and salsa were mostly indistinguishable from any other restaurant of this type. The veggie quesadilla had large chunks of squash, zucchini, tomato, onion and mushroom in a giant grilled flour tortilla. It came with an array of rice, guacamole and sour cream to top the cheesy tortilla.

I really wanted to try the breaded eggplant with a side of black beans and cactus (el Rodeo) but the kitchen was out of the item. Maybe next time. The vegetarian items are labeled on the menu.

In terms of Central Ohio's Mexican restaurant hierarchy, I rate Don Patron above El Vaquero and Las Margaritas but below that of Cuco's. The decor is busy but fun. The menu is interesting and has plenty of vegetarian options.

Don Patron

18 July 2008

Hawa Russia

It might be a little behind the times after the avalanche of press and Web 2.0 support pouring in for Hawa Russia, but I finally got over to the place to try out their vegetarian wares. Hawa Russia is as good as advertised--and it is also surprisingly vegetarian friendly to boot!

The interior is decorated in a classic, Old Russian style, with vibrant yellows and reds decorating the walls alongside decorative plates with images of Russian architecture. The dining room is large. There is also room for a live band to play.

Hawa Russia (pronounced "Nasha Roosha", meaning Our Russia) features two vegetarian soups on the lunch menu, and both come in a gargantuan cup with a pirozhki, a dumpling that can be prepared many ways (this came with mushrooms and dill). There is Borscht, the staple Russian beet soup, and a mushroom barley soup, which I sampled. Both also come with sour cream, which is apparently the Russian answer to ketchup as it is served with everything. The soup was earthy, hearty and very satisfying.

Pierogies attract me like a moth to the flame, and even though the Russian word for pierogi is vareniki, the Eastern European dumpling still commanded my attention. I sampled the potato vareniki, which came drenched in butter with browned onions and sour cream. The portion was enormous. I prefer my pan-fried pierogies a little more crisp, but these were still very tasty. The vareniki also seemed to be a little heavier on the black pepper than its Polish cousin.

There are a few other vegetarian options on the menu. There are a number of salads. There are also cherry, cabbage and farmer's cheese vareniki. The menu does seem to lack protein for vegetarians (with the exception of the cheese vareniki), so caveat emptor.

The menu also features Russian desserts and drinks including Kvas, a Russian non-alcoholic (or more properly, low alcohol) malt beverage fermented with yeast that I will have to sample at a future date. It is an Eastern European drink consumed in a similar fashion to the way Americans drink Coke.

Hawa Russia

17 July 2008

Randon Veggie Links--Chicago edition

Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town. A town that Billy Sunday couldn't shut down. It's also a town for meat and potato people. Luckily the City of Big Shoulders, bigger steaks and giant personalities also has plenty of options for vegetarian grazing.

  • Blind Faith Cafe -- Technically, it's in Evanston, but the Blind Faith Cafe is definitely one of the area's finest vegetarian eateries. They offer an international selection of delicious vegetarian and vegan items for take-out or dine-in.
  • Chicago Diner -- This is a vegetarian diner that offers brunch, lunch and dinner. They have sandwiches, soups, salads, appetizers, vegan milkshakes and desserts.
  • Alice and Friends -- A&F is a fantastic vegetarian/vegan eatery offering various Asian cuisines. It's on Chicago's far north end, and it's very much worth the trip.
  • Flying Saucer -- Another of the Windy City's many veggie-friendly diners can be found in Humboldt Park. Although it isn't vegetarian-only like the other three establishments, Flying Saucer makes a ton of meatless breakfast options, as well as other vegetarian sandwiches and assorted comfort food.

There many places that also specialize in fresh food fast (as opposed to fast food). Some are more fast-casual, some are a convenient part of another establishment, but all are great.

  • Pita Inn -- I like Aladdin's as much as the next guy, but Aladdin's is a national chain that isn't specific to Chicagoland. Pita Inn, on the other hand, has three locations in the suburbs, and all of them churn out hummus, baba, falafel and the most delicious harissa (a spicy Middle Eastern pepper paste) for the hungry crowds.
  • The Handlebar -- A bicycle-themed bar with a peloton-sized entourage of vegetarian menu items. They also have plenty of drinks for thirsty bike riders.
  • Twisted Spoke -- Unlike Handlebar, the theme at Twisted Spoke involves bikes with Harley-Davidson emblazoned on the gas tank. They also have tons of vegetarian menu items, and if that isn't hardcore enough for you, stick around Saturday nights for Smut and Eggs, where you can watch porn and eat brunch (again, I'm a sucker for great concepts).
  • Bite -- Located adjacent to the esteemed concert venue The Empty Bottle, Bite is a cool vegetarian-friendly spot to eat before, during or after catching a great show in the North Ukrainian Village area. I couldn't even begin to describe how much falafel I ate before the Tuesday night jazz shows when they were a regular feature at the Bottle.

There are also a few places noted for things other than vegetarian food that also happen to offer great vegetarian items like beer. Go for the great food and stay for the brews.

  • Goose Island -- Chicago's best known brewery also happens to make a great veggie burger. Try the veggie burger and stick around for the seasonal brews.
  • Hopleaf -- Sorry to the other contenders for the title, but Chicago's best beer bar (according to my unofficial tally) also has a cool menu with a few vegetarian options.
  • Flatlander's -- This Lincolnshire brew pub combines great beer, great food and a great atmosphere into a winner with more than a few vegetarian options.

A few other places are destinations for vegetarians. Sorry I can't include them all, but you can't go wrong with any of these choices.

  • Karyn's -- Karyn Calabrese offers raw food and a number of other lifestyle choices for the discerning gourmet.
  • Green Zebra -- While not entirely vegetarian, Shawn McClain's Green Zebra celebrates fresh produce with the menu, so this fine dining establishment should please vegetarians of all stripes.
  • Alinea -- It isn't a specifically vegetarian place, but if you ask nicely, I'm sure Grant Achatz will blow your mind with a stunning display of vegetarian wizardry.

16 July 2008

Cafe Brioso

The best way to describe Cafe Brioso is to call it an improved Panera Bread. They offer coffee, baked goods, soups, salads and sandwiches in Downtown Columbus.

Like Panera Bread, Brioso offers a few salads and sandwiches. The bread is a step up from Panera as is the coffee, which is roasted on site.

The veggie deluxe comes with a choice of bread (wheat for me), choice of cheese (pepper jack for me), lettuce, tomato, red onion, avocado, cucumber and sprouts in a pesto sauce. The small sandwich is a nice size, so I imagine the large is almost a meal by itself without side dishes.

Brioso also offers a great selection of coffees and the full range of coffee drinks. Some finer restaurants around Columbus feature Cafe Brioso coffees on their menus as a testament to its quality.

Like almost everything else Downtown, Brioso closes early and isn't open at all on Sunday. There is plenty of outdoor seating as well as about 35 seats inside.

Cafe Brioso

Cafe Brioso on Urbanspoon

Random vegetarian links

If you are a vegetarian who has to be stowed away in a small Ohio town, there are worse places to be sent than Athens, Ohio. Home of the Ohio University Bobcats, Athens is a college town with a decidedly hippie flair, and one of the fringe benefits to the patchouli set is that they create a need for plentiful vegetarian dining options. I'll place a few links with descriptions below for the best options in this Appalachian town.

  • Casa Nueva -- This cooperative features vegetarian items made with organic and sustainable produce. They infuse their own vodka and offer many micro brews on draft and in bottle. This place is a vegetarian Bobcat's best friend, and it also features menu options for their carnivorous companions.
  • Purple Chopstix -- This restaurant offers ethnic food from all over creation as a result of the establishment's owners working at every type of eatery under the sun. It's also BYOB, allowing you to bring your own refreshments to dinner.
  • Skipper's -- A cross between a sports bar and a West coast T.G.I. Friday's, Skipper's could also described as having tons of draft beer as well as a plethora of food for vegetarians. They get the extra A+ for marking all vegetarian items on the menu with a convenient "V."
  • Salaam -- They're moving over the summer, but Salaam produces excellent quality Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food in a cool environment, sometimes with accompanying belly dancers.

There are also a number of restaurants that aren't majority vegetarian that still offer great food for vegetarians, such as...

  • Stephen's -- A restaurant with Italian, Mediterranean, American, French, Spanish and Thai options, Stephen's will satisfy vegetarians and carnivores alike.
  • 7 Sauces -- This place is in a similar vein as Stephen's. The food is better than it's college-geared neighbors. They probably aim for professors and parents on visiting weekends to generate most of their business.

There are also many fast food places aimed at those who eat food without a face.

  • Avalanche Pizza -- Avalanche Pizza makes the best pie in Ohio (sorry Hound Dog's and Adriatico's fanatics). They make vegetarian and vegan pizzas as well as a giant veggie sandwich that can be ordered with a pest dip that is absolutely delicious.
  • Big Mamma's Burritos -- The Veggie Mamma Grande is delicious, but be warned--if you remove the foil from the football-sized monstrosity, the giant burrito will explode.
  • Burrito Buggy -- This place is the answer for your lack-of-spare-time (or 3 am drunken haze) dining needs. Plan accordingly.
  • O'Betty's Red Hot -- Shhh!!! Don't let your meat-eating friends see you coming out of this hot dog joint. They might find out that O'Betty's makes vegetarian and vegan hot dogs.
  • Pita Pit -- Pita Pit makes massive stuffed pita sandwiches filled with a variety of items (I like falafel). They are also open fairly late.

There are a number of other cool places in town (Lui Lui, the Oak Room, Bagel Street Deli, The Union, Star of India, et al.). Check out 45701.com, various vegetarian sites and the local Web site as well as other channels for more information.

14 July 2008

Random Ohio vegetarian links

Mac's Pizza Pub--Cincinnati (A+ for the vegan pizza)

Mustard Seed Cafe--Akron area (Great vegetarian food from a cool market)

Rad Dog review

It didn't take me long to get to Columbus' first and only vegetarian hot dog cart--I missed the grand opening by a few days. Rad Dog lists its location on the Web site, so you too can easily run into the mostly organic street vendor.

I love the idea of quality street cart food in a high foot traffic area. I associate vegetarian street eats with the 15 minutes I had between Mass Communication Theory and my Seminar in International Media at Ohio University, which I typically spent at the Burrito Buggy (never mind the times I spent at the Buggy before stumbling down Jeff Hill at 3 am).

But I believe a well positioned street cart could do serious business in Columbus. I hope Rad Dog could succeed in filling this niche because if you've read this blog before, you know I love vegetarian food.

The cart griddles Tofurky dogs. I tried the Cowabunga, a chili dog with salsa, and the Rad Dog, a beer "brat" with kraut, peppers, onions and spicy, horseradish-tinged mustard. The Cowabunga was good, the Rad Dog was really good. The full aresenal of toppings make both tasty treats.

Other items on the menu include veggie hot dogs, beer brats and Italian sausage with an arsenal of classic tube steak toppings. There are also chips, chili and Pattycake vegan cookies available along with a limited selection of drinks.

The prices are a little more expensive than the run of the mill fast food joint. I'll pay more because I'm a sucker for convenience and concepts, but close to $5 for a veggie brat (even with all the fixings) is higher priced than the take out options Rad Dog will be battling.

Tawd Bell, the proprietor of Rad Dog, is a friendly guy with enough tattoos and body mods to make him stand out in a crowd. Hopefully his street cart fare will stand out as boldly as the ink and piercings.

Rad Dog

I rarely agree with Catholics...

I have to applaud John Dear's article in the Catholic Reporter titled, "The Only Diet for a Peacemaker Is a Vegetarian Diet." He makes arguments based upon Jesuit thinking that fall flat for me, but his thinking related to vegetarian lifestyle and its positive effects on agricultural sustainability, the environment and my ethical well being hit the mark. I'll be sure to give up meat for Lent next year if the Catholic Church stays this progressive.

12 July 2008

Rad Dog

I am using my next free minutes to track down the
Rad Dog vegetarian hot dog cart. After reading about it in Alive, I thought to myself how much Columbus needed a meatless hot dog stand (that's the kind of useless activity that takes up most of my day). Vegetarian-friendly street vendors abound in Athens, so I would give them a fair shot of success in Columbus based upon my crude summation of the population coupled with the hope that the Rad Dog cart will get parked in the right spot. I'll at least throw in my support.

09 July 2008

Wendell's Pub

Pub grub isn't always the safest option for vegetarians. People getting their drink on prefer all kinds of dead animal delicacies, deep fried and made to order. Many Columbus staples (Betty's, Surly Girl, Carabar, Tip Top) are exceptions to the rule, but veggie-friendly bar eats are a little tougher to find in the 'burbs. Wendell's Pub in Westerville breaks the flesh food mold by offering a couple of tasty vegetarian items to be enjoyed while knocking back a cold brew.

Wendell's Pub is hardly a vegetarian destination. They are, however, very particular about the quality of their menu. They take the same care with their limited vegetarian menu items as they do with everything else on the menu.

The restaurant and bar are replete with a great deal of wood, and every inch that isn't covered in hard wood is covered in photos of American icons, from James Dean to Marilyn Monroe to Chuck Berry to Dr. Indiana Jones (a.k.a. Harrison Ford). The restaurant has a golfing theme, and sports are on every television screen.

There are a few vegetarian appetizers available. There are portabella fries, spinach artichoke dip, enormous cheese sticks and (my personal favorite) fried macaroni and cheese balls. Classic elbow macaroni and gooey cheese are breaded and fried, served in a dish of marinara sauce with shaved fresh parmesan cheese on top.

The portabella sandwich features marinated, grilled mushroom caps thinly sliced on rosemary herb focaccia bread with feta cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions and red pepper mayo. I typically hate mayonnaise, but in this sandwich it elevates the flavor to another level, giving it a rich, mildly spicy boost. Sandwiches come with a choice of sides, which include fries, homemade chips, onion rings, asparagas, a fruit cup, roasted apples, salad or a cup of soup.

Wendell's also makes thick and thin crust pizzas with a variety of toppings. This is the end of vegetarian entrees on the menu. While they only have a few options, everything at Wendell's is good enough for me to let them slide.

The service is always pleasant and prompt. They are very helpful and courteous in identifying vegetarian items.

The bar offers good deals on beer, with $2 domestic drafts and $3 imports that include Guinness, Bass, Harp and Stella Artois. They have a limited wine selection and a variety of specialty cocktails. The latest batch is made from the 800 or so varieties of Three Olives flavored vodkas.

Another interesting quirk about Wendell's is that they won the title of "Best Restroom in America" in a contest with a sickening type of intrigue. Apparently the sports posters, televisions and mouthwash elevated Wendell's water closet above its competitors at the Borgata in New Jersey. If the menu and the beer isn't enough to get people in the door, I'm sure the prospect of using the nation's most prestigious bathroom most certainly will.

Wendell's Pub

Wendell's Pub on Urbanspoon

08 July 2008

Isabella's Cafe Italia

Isabella's is a no-nonsensense spot in the Buckeye capital. They feature breakfast and lunch items at reasonable prices seven days a week. Isabella's also opens early, making them an uber-convenient eatery for the Downtown area worker bees.

The veggie lasagna comes with two pieces of garlic bread in an alfredo sauce. The lasagna has a hint of garlic that tastes great with the carrots, zucchini and ricotta cheese.

Other vegetarian options at Isabella's include fettuccini alfredo, Isabella's garden wrap and salads along with a variety of breakfast choices.

Isabella's is a decent lunch option for those looking to eat their lunch quickly during work hours without having to stoop to the level of fast food failure.


03 July 2008

Places that caught my fancy

I just got an email from a restaurant affiliated with the same restaurant group as Mad Mex in Pittsburgh called Kaya. They have a special vegetarian prix fixe on the third Wednesday of each month featuring fresh produce for $39, with optional wines for $23. I might have to leave Cowtown for the Steel City to check it out.

Also, I see the Refectory in my distant future. I'm kind of an amateur psychic that way.

02 July 2008

Original Soup Man

I was confronted by a series of contradictions when I visited the Original Soup Man in Downtown Columbus. I half expected to be refused service by a curt New Yorker for not following his strict rules for ordering (see Billy Goat Tavern). I figured I would sulk off to the corner after being shot down, complaining alongside my dejected compatriot George Costanza about our collective misfortune. Luckily, my phobic expectations ended up being far from the truth.

It came out of left field when the staff was polite and helpful. I was expecting the rude "Soup Nazi" approach to customer service since the restaurant is rooted in the same place as the Seinfeld character. However, the staff helped me pick out a vegetarian combo and didn't cut me off for breaking any of the rules, which was a giant relief to my aching neuroses.

The combo was also a good buy. Although it was $10, I got a soup, a banana, a piece of bread, a bowl of soup and a sandwich. It was a nicely portioned lunch option for Downtown.

The soup, as the main attraction, was a bit of a surprise, but in a different way from the friendly staff. I was expecting the best soup ever from a place that specialized in soup. The vegetable soup was good but hardly otherworldly. The variety of vegetables in the soup was great, but I expected a better soup from an establishment that has soup in the name. I'll have to revisit and see if the other options are as good as their reputation (there's a minimum of one, and more typically two, vegetarian soup options per day).

The sandwich, on the other hand, was tremendous. It was a grilled cheese panini, made from cheddar, Swiss and an unidentified grated cheese. The Swiss cheese gave the sandwich enough of a different taste to stand out from the cookie cutter grilled cheeses that most places offer. There is also a grilled garden vegetable panini sandwich, a portabella sandwich, a tomato mozzarella sandwich (both grilled and cold) as well as a build your own sandwich option. There are salads, smoothies and a variety of other options for vegetarians as well.

The Original Soup Man is located in the NBC4 building (neon eyesore) in Downtown Columbus. They keep traditional Downtown hours (which means don't plan on going on Sunday).

Original Soup Man