There’s a new vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Chapel Hill, so of course we had to try it out!

I became a vegetarian in 1988, in SE Michigan.  As you can imagine, options at that time were extremely limited – more than once I was reduced to having the kitchen serve me a baked potato because there was literally nothing else on the menu I could eat.  My family also just didn’t get it – my Great-Aunt Jenny never did understand why I wouldn’t eat her Jello salad.  When I married, several members of my new family (devout meat eaters) would delight in exclaiming over their delicious steaks, dripping with blood, etc.  But at least they never put bacon in the greens.

Time passed, and as more people became vegetarians, more options became available.  I remember the first time that I ate at Seva, the vegetarian restaurant in Ann Arbor – heaven!  And Chowpatti, in Arlington Heights – I was so stunned by an entire 20+ page menu of vegetarian options that I think it took an hour for me to decide what to order.  (When you’re used to the rubric “find the three things you can eat and pick the one that doesn’t have peppers in it”, you get a bit of decision-paralysis when there are more options.)

I admit that I’d gotten somewhat spoiled while I lived in Chicago – so many options!  And always delicious.  In some ways, moving down South was moving back in time.  While the Triangle area is better than the rural areas, one is still likely to encounter the ‘oh, all I can have is a salad’ problem if you don’t choose your outings carefully.

So, although I’d heard mixed reviews of the place, I was excited to support a new all-vegetarian eatery and eagerly went.  A group of us (9 total) arranged to meet there  before going to a party on Saturday.  Not all were vegetarians, but most were.

I’d checked out the menu online, and was a little hesitant about my options, given my (really annoying) dietary restrictions (no soy, no dairy) – but even without those restrictions, the menu is a little.. abbreviated?  They don’t have any appetizers, as such – they have a selection of ‘tapas’ that range from $2.50 to $4.00.  My comrades across the table ordered the Spinach Pie ($3), expecting something perhaps spanikopita-like – what they received was this:

Spinach Pie

Spinach Pie

This is a small plate, with basically three finger-sized items (they were tiny).  My friends described it as basically ‘creamed spinach wrapped in phyllo’.

While we’d been waiting for our entire party to show up, our waiter had offered us bread (vegan rolls), which we were delighted to have – I have to admit that it was a little off-putting to have him walk around the table with the basket of rolls and tongs and ask each of us individually if we wanted one, and then leave with the bread – meaning that if anyone wanted seconds, they had to ask and have him bring the basket back out.  It prevents food waste, I imagine (and is more cost-effective), so I can understand it from that perspective, but from a dining perspective it felt stingy, something that the spinach appetizer accentuated with its smallness.

My entree and my seatmate’s, on the other hand, were just what you’d expect in terms of American restaurant serving sizes (that is, more than one person can comfortably eat).

I’d gone with the Thai-style Seitan Skewers w/coconut rice and snow peas ($12.10):

Thai Style Seitan Skewers

Thai Style Seitan Skewers

I was pleased with the dish – the seitan was tasty and substantial, the peanut sauce and coconut rice were good.  It was pretty pricy, in my estimation (having made seitan at home myself, I’m aware of how dirt cheap it is to make), but tasty.

My seatmate had the Tempeh Hot Wings, with a side of salad ($8.50):

Tempeh Hot Wings with Salad

Tempeh Hot Wings with Salad

She was pleased with the taste, but the quantity was just crazy – I’m not sure who can eat five huge chunks (at least 1.5″x5″) of tempeh at one sitting plus a salad, but she ended up sharing it all around the table.  I tried a bite (don’t tell!), and found it tasty – the sauce was hot, but not lingeringly hot (I am a total spice wimp); people who wanted something really spicy were disappointed, but most of us thought they were tasty.

The folks across the table from me had gotten the pizza of the day special – which was supposed to basically be Southwestern – a spicy black bean paste, avocado, veggies, cheese and sour cream on a vegan pizza crust ($9.25):

Pizza

Pizza

Truly, the most bizarre dish of the evening, and a total miss.  The beans were unappetizingly gray from being baked, and there was a mere drizzle of sour cream on top of what was mostly a salad of romaine lettuce with a few slices of avocado.  The crust was a complete miss – it was hard and crunchy, like wheat bread – not like pizza crust at all.

Dessert offerings are really limited – you can have a blackberry sorbet, or a fruit cup (hmm, perhaps I should be talking to them about desserts…).

My overall impression was that they were still working a lot of things out.  The pricing just seemed almost arbitrary – I’m surprised that a dish with 9 chunks of seitan was several dollars more than one with a huge amount of tempeh (generally more expensive to procure).  The portions are all over the place (either way too much food, or not nearly enough).

I’m happy that there is someone willing to open a vegetarian restaurant in the area, but I have to say that I’m not likely to eat there often, not when I can go down the road to the Weaver Street market and eat much more inexpensively for comparable quality (and controlling my own portion sizes).  Disappointing.

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