26 February 2011

Loving Hut

Loving Hut, a large vegan restaurant chain, opened its first Central Ohio location in Reynoldsburg today. The menu is being finalized, and a grand opening is scheduled sometime in the next month.

Upon first examination, Loving Hut's affiliation with spirituality made me a bit apprehensive. It is part of the Ching Hai empire, and she is called the Supreme Master.

When I think of the master, I was somewhat certain that "Bruce" Leroy Green was the master, and he proved this by taking down Sho'nuff, the Shogun of Harlem near the end of Last Dragon.

Luckily enough, the Loving Hut Supreme Master was not obtrusive (unlike Sho'nuff in the video link in the last paragraph). Sure, Supreme Master TV was playing on the flat screen (it is channel 8067 on DirecTV, I would imagine). From the parts of the programming I caught, the Supreme Master is a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber-style love ballads, many of which she wrote herself. When the barely noticeable proselytizing was combined with my not-so-secret devotion to show tunes, it all made the experience interesting yet inoffensive.

The decor at Loving Hut highlights vegetarians in history and pop culture. Vegetarian cookbooks fill the dining rooms. The restaurant is much bigger than it appears from the parking lot with two rooms folded into an L-shaped portion of Blacklick Plaza in Reynoldsburg.

While the menu is still rounding into shape, it will feature Pan-Asian dishes as well as American comfort food classics like the veggie burger and a BBQ sandwich. Many items on the menu are made with TVP or other kinds of faux meat products. There are salads and other items made without these ingredients for diners filled with veggie meat trepidation. I possess little fear of TVP.

Prices at Loving Hut are fairly inexpensive. $10 is probably an average order. $15 means you're taking food home.

What I ate: The spring rolls were stuffed with cabbage, carrots and mushrooms, fried crispy and served with sweet and sour sauce. Cilantro adds a fresh touch to this take-out staple.

The pho was a great veggie approximation of the Vietnamese wintertime staple. A mushroom broth is flecked with green onions, cilantro and basil as well as a heaping helping of textured protein, noodles and bean sprouts. The citrus garnish is textbook, and the vegan pho should be a great relief for cold weather as long as it lasts this year.

The BBQ sandwich was awesome. The creamy coleslaw was a great foil to the sweet sauce-covered TVP. The fries were thick and of passable quality.

The smoothies are thick. The blueberry banana smoothie was redolent of both fruits. Loving Hut serves smoothies, teas, coffee, water and no alcoholic beverages.

Loving Hut adds an interesting option to East and Southeast side residents that don't have a go-to vegan or vegetarian restaurant that comes to mind. Residents of other parts of the city will have to visit the international vegan fast casual restaurant on a destination trip or while passing through town.

Loving Hut

Loving Hut on Urbanspoon

24 February 2011

This Meatless Week: February 24, 2011

Loving Hut is supposed to have a soft opening this Saturday in Reynoldsburg (6559 E. Livingston Ave.). The vegan chain features an international menu that is different at every location.

Also on Saturday, the Columbus Vegan Meetup group is getting together at Starliner Diner in Hilliard. The kitschy diner makes great vegetarian and vegan Mexican, Cuban, Italian and American dishes.

23 February 2011

Juergen's Bakery and Restaurant

Juergen's Bakery and Restaurant is an intimate, old fashioned German bakery conveniently located in German Village. Amidst the Bavarian classics, Juergen's offers up a couple of meatless entrees, sides and baked goods to showcase how vegetarians are embraced by Teutonic cuisine.

Upon walking through the door, diners are first met by a bakery case filled with cakes, cream puffs and other pastries designed to irritate your doctor but delight your dentist. Another bakery benefit for diners is the ample, endless bread basket that came with bread rolls, whole grain nut bread, a cheese roll and a few other savory bread and butter packets.

Vegetarian items on the menu include the spƤtzle and red cabbage sides as well as the spinach and cheese strudel and the mixed veggie strudel. While portions are small, prices are inexpensive (under $7 for both strudels). Diners who want to get stuffed should gorge themselves on the bread basket and order a side.

The veggie strudel was topped with sauteed carrots, green onions, potatoes, cauliflower and cabbage with a dill accented sauce. The flaky pastry binds the vegetables together nicely.

Service is leisurely. A member of staff was playing art songs on the in-house piano. There is seating for about 30 people at Juergen's.

My camera battery died, and most of these photos came out less than stellar. There are much better pictures of food (including non-vegetarian items) here.

Juergen's German Bakery

Juergen's German Bakery on Urbanspoon

18 February 2011

The Angry Baker

The Angry Baker is a new bakery located on Oak Street in Old Towne East. Proprietor Vicki Hink offers a full range of delicious baked goods with an outstanding array of choices for vegetarians and vegans alike.

The bakery is easy to find for those familiar with Yellow Brick Pizza-- it's right across the street. The decor is old fashioned and whimsical, with seating for about 15.

In addition to the cinnamon rolls, pies, cakes and various cookies, the Angry Baker makes breakfast items like French toast and lunch options like Blue Jacket Dairy mac and cheese, a vegan sloppy joe (the snobby joe) and a vegetarian portabella "bacon" lettuce and tomato sandwich with a garlic aioli. The sandwiches come with a lightly dressed mesclun salad with house made croutons.

The aforementioned PBLT had crispy thin sliced mushrooms filling in for bacon. The soft white bread soaks up the flavor of the 'shrooms as well as the garlic mayo. It was fantastic.

The vegan blueberry brownie was delightful. The tart berries provide a great contrast to the bitter dark chocolate notes that form the base of the brownie's flavor.

In addition to catering to meatless diners, the Angry Baker also has a number of gluten-free baked goods. If they're half as tasty as the vegan sandwiches and baked goods, they are worth checking out.

The Angry Baker

The Angry Baker on Urbanspoon

17 February 2011

This Meatless Week: February 17, 2011

The hottest destination for foodies this week is the Fiery Foods Festival at the North Market. Activities suitable for vegetarians this Saturday and Sunday include the guacamole contest, a hot sauce competition, a homemade salsa competition and a number of eating contests including hot peppers, hot cornbread and hot ice cream sundae. It should be a delicious opportunity to feel the burn.

As mentioned last week, Mercy for Animals is one of the participants at Whole Foods' Nickels for Nonprofits at the Lane Avenue location. You can donate a nickel to Mercy for Animals simply by bringing a reusable shopping bag to the store. The event is scheduled for Friday February 18.

The Wellness Forum is hosting a conference call where Chef Del Sroufe will introduce participants to seasonal winter stews Monday at 9 pm. Hearty meals have a way of warming the spirit in cold temperatures, and Chef Sroufe will serve up the requisite instructions.

Wednesday, Chef Sroufe is moving his talents over to the Hills Market, where, along with Wendy Gabriel, he will lead a class that instructs participants in preparing a seasonal three-course meal with wines.

Magdiale Wolmark of Dragonfly has been nominated for Best Chef in the Great Lakes region from the 2011 James Beard Awards (a.k.a. the Gourmet Oscars). While it isn't something happening this week, it is still a feather in the cap of Columbus' vegetarian dining scene.

14 February 2011

La Bamba

While wandering around the Ohio State campus at 2 in the morning on your fourth or 44th beer, it sometimes requires a gut-busting nightcap to take the edge off the next morning's hangover. La Bamba provides this relief in the form of burritos the size of your head.

Diners can dine in or order to go. La Bamba's decor is campy, and the service is brisk and friendly.

La Bamba's menu for vegetarians includes lard-free refried beans, quesadillas, tacos, tortas, nachos and three sizes of burritos. But you don't want to be a wimp. You want to impress your drinking buddies by ordering the football-sized super burrito.

The vegetarian burrito is made with a choice of black and pinto beans, Mexican rice, peppers, onions, tomatoes, crema and cheese. Adding avocados is a nice touch that lends the burritos a fat, savory flavor. The salsas are fresh and deceptively spicy.

Orders are prepared at the counter in full view of diners (a la Chipotle). It's difficult to spend more than $10 at La Bamba.

La Bamba isn't the best or the most authentic Mexican fare. It is, however, a fantastic way to end a night after a heroic bout of binge drinking.

La Bamba

La Bamba on Urbanspoon

11 February 2011

Giuseppe's Ritrovo

Giuseppe's Ritrovo is an intimate Italian institution in the middle of Bexley. Giuseppe's makes Italian food with a fresh personality.

The decor is a combination of classic and modern. The bar seats about 20, and the dining room is set up to handle large parties.

Service was friendly and prompt. The staff was easily able to answer all vegetarian questions.

The menu has a number of standards that are fleshed out with a couple of specials. There are always a couple of vegetarian entrees on the menu as well as a number of salads and starters. The menu also has pizza and calzones. Bread rolls are served with an herbed butter.

The capricciosa salad consists of purple and green mesclun, smokey artichokes, kalamata olives, capers and cubes of provolone cheese dressed in a light, spicy balsamic vinaigrette. The olives and capers add a tart accent to the greens, and the artichokes and provolone provide a beautiful savory flavor that elevates the dish. A native olive like a gaeta might have given the dish a more Italian character if substituted for the Greek kalamata olives, but despite the provenance of the olives, the salad was still excellent.

The spinach rollati are rolled lasagna noodles stuffed with spinach and cheese, sauteed and served atop a marinara sauce with parmesan cheese shredded on the plate. The rolls are packed with flavor, and in contrast to a full order of lasagna, the rollati are served in a reasonably small portion.

Giuseppe's has a small list of Italian wines and a half dozen faux-tinis. Prices are slightly above Columbus average for Italian for food that is noticeably better than much of its local competition.

Giuseppe's Ritrovo

Giuseppe's Ritrovo on Urbanspoon

10 February 2011

This Meatless Week: February 10, 2011

It's Valentine's Day on Monday. It might not be too late for you to get reservations to celebrate your relationship with your special veggie somebody. If you really love them, take your sweetheart to Dragonfly, Alana's or DeepWood. If you have a burgeoning crush on them, take them to Northstar, Whole World, Starliner Diner or the North Market. If you want this dinner to be your last meal together, take your (soon-to-be-ex-)significant other to the Top Steakhouse.

Mercy for Animals is setting up a table at the Lane Avenue Whole Foods to fundraise via Nickels for Nonprofits and promote plant-based diets. Stop by and pick up a vegetarian starter kit or donate a nickel to MFA by simply bringing a reusable shopping bag.

Saturday, Hal & Al's is hosting the second Merion Village chili cook off. While the competition is not meat-free, there is a vegan category, as well as enough beer to make you forget all about attending a chili cook off with ground beef involved.

08 February 2011

Pita House

Pita House is an inexpensive Mediterranean take-out in Bexley. The menu is small, but it offers plenty of options for vegetarians because of its Middle Eastern focus.

The Bexley area has two Mediterranean restaurants. Pita House is different from Aladdin's in that the menu is smaller and less expensive at Pita Hut. It's nearly impossible to spend $10 at Pita House. Pita Hut lacks the less authentic fare (pita pizzas and chili) at Aladdin's and instead focuses on the nuts and bolts of Middle Eastern cuisine.

All of the appetizers at Pita House are vegetarian. Choices include hummus, baba, tabouli, Jerusalem salad, matbuka, grape leaves, fried eggplant and fried zucchini.

The hummus was smooth with subtle hints of garlic, citrus and olive oil. While it was excellent, it should have been served with two pitas rather than one because it's tough for one pita to scoop up the chickpea dip. I ended up using a couple of fries to grab the leftover bits of hummus that were remained after the pita bread was depleted.

The falafel sandwich is large. About five falafel balls are tossed in a tahini dressing atop a lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle base inside a whole pita. It is a well made sandwich that is rather filling.

There is a limited selection of desserts available at Pita House. The dining room can seat about 30 people. The restaurant is brightly lit and clean.

Pita House

Pita House on Urbanspoon

03 February 2011

This Meatless Week: February 3, 2011

It's time for Super Bowl XLV. You can stay at home and make yourself some meatless gameday treats (see About.com, Vegetarian Times and Brand X for some recipes from national favorites, or go local with Columbus Vegan). Or you can head out and see what the Capital City has to offer.

This week's Columbus Vegetarian meetup (Saturday February 5 at 1:00 p.m.) is fully booked at ZPizza in the Short North. You may either join the wait list or plan on joining another meetup.

Dragonfly is hosting a vegan Chinese New Year celebration this Friday, kicking off the year of the rabbit. The menu includes Riesling mock duck mu shu style, tofu 'egg' rolls, BBQ trumpet buns and dumplings in hot sour broth. Ring in the Chinese New Year in a delicious, healthy way or use the calendar as an excuse to be blown away by another special menu at Columbus' premiere vegan restaurant.

01 February 2011

Los Guachos

Taco trucks have become one of Columbus' hottest foodie trends over the past few years. The popularity has increased so much that Los Guachos has added a brick-and-mortar restaurant to supplement its mobile food operation.

The specialty of Los Guachos' food truck is tacos el pastor (think Mexican shawarma), an item that might not appeal to vegetarians. The restaurant, however, has a vegetarian burrito and a veggie quesadilla on the menu, allowing vegetarians to enjoy the taste of authentic Mexican fare.

There is seating for about 30 inside Los Guachos. Diners can enjoy television broadcasting Mexican music videos and soccer games. Los Guachos is also set up for take-out business.

The vegetarian burrito is made with red and green peppers, onions, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream. The griddled veggies give the burrito great flavor, and the crema adds a mouth-watering savory character to a Mexican classic. Los Guachos' burritos are normal size as opposed to its domestic cousin, the Mission-style burrito.

The salsas and condiments at the table add layers of flavor to an already tasty burrito. The habanero salsa has a faint sweetness and a roasted character. The salsa verde is dynamite. It is missing the vegetal character that can ruin this sauce, and it replaces the under-ripe flavor with spicy peppers and onions that make this a great addition to the burritos. The pickled onions are also excellent.

Finding vegetarian fare at the taco trucks can sometimes be a tricky proposition. Winter weather can also limit a taco truck's ability to operate. Los Guachos does a great job of eliminating both of these obstacles.

Los Gauchos

Los Gauchos Taqueria on Urbanspoon