By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
The Elephant Walk, at 900 Beacon St., has been on my radar for a long time, as I’ve passed it countless times on my way to and from the St. Mary’s T stop. While I was intrigued by its offerings of French-Cambodian cuisine, the restaurant always seemed a little lonely during the day, and a glance inside during lunchtime hours usually reveals just a few solitary diners.
However, when I finally decided to try out the restaurant this weekend, I learned appearances can be quite deceptive, in more ways than one. Although The Elephant’s Walk quaint, modest brick exterior suggests small quarters, the restaurant actually boasts an expansive dining room. Despite the sprawling space, though, the venue felt anything but empty. The warm, low lighting emanating from the scarlet and sienna lamps cast an intimate glow throughout the restaurant, providing a pleasant aesthetic contrast to the domed indigo ceiling.
Surprisingly, The Elephant Walk’s finely furnished interior was populated with a diverse collection of diners, clearly enjoying both the restaurant’s casual elegance, a sentiment that was also reflected in the food.
My meal was preceded by a basket of classic French bread, a baguette that was soft and doughy on the inside, but crisp on the outside. Aside from being a tasty nod to the restaurant’s French roots, though, the bread actually turned out to be quite necessary. I arrived at the restaurant quite hungry, and our server was clearly overburdened with all of the full tables, as there was a significant delay to the course of the meal.
Fortunately, when the meal finally arrived, the food made up for the long wait time. I started my meal with the Vegan Rouleaux, or Cambodian spring rolls. The appetizer was just one choice from the restaurant’s varied menu, which sets aside a whole section specifically for vegetarian and vegans. The crispy spring rolls came on a bed of kale, sprouts and Romaine lettuce, an attractive presentation that matched the appetizing flavors of shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, carrots and onions. At $9.50, the price was a little steep, but the portion was especially generous and could have even served as the main meal.
For my entree, I chose the Vegan Curry de Legumes, again one of the six vegetarian and vegan meals highlighted on the menu. The dish was overflowing with vegetables: asparagus, eggplant, baby bok choy, squash, peas and peppers, to which the curry provided a nice dressing of sorts.
While the curry itself was quite rich, as to be expected, I was happy to have a curry dish that I knew for sure was vegan. In most establishments where curry is served, Thai restaurants in particular, fish oil tends to be an inevitable ingredients. Fortunately, this dish was 100 percent vegan, and although the flavors were a bit too poignant for my tastes, it certainly channeled authentic Cambodian flavors. For $17.50, though, make sure you know you like curry before choosing it.
Even though The Elephant Walk is practically on Boston University’s campus, it definitely doesn’t seem like it draws in many students. Most of the patrons were families, young professionals or older couples. That’s probably because the prices tend to be pretty steep: nearly $20 for an entree, after all, is a lot to ask from a college student. But, if you’re looking to have a nice dinner at an upscale restaurant that offers an abundance of unusual, but appetizing, vegan options, The Elephant Walk is certainly worth a visit.
By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
If you’ve been in one of the dining halls lately, you may have seen, or been asked to sign, the Boston University Vegetarian Society’s petition to start up “Meatless Mondays” here at BU.
A member may have explained to you that on those days, there would be a 75 percent reduction in meat options. They may have explained that BU would be following in the footsteps of institutions like Columbia University, John Hopkins University, Yale University, New York University and University of Virginia that have already joined the movement.
There’s a reason that top-tier colleges and universities are getting on board with this initiative, and a reason Boston University should be, too, as there’s clear, tangible evidence that a vegetarian diet is beneficial for our bodies and for our planet. Just look at the legitimate, peer-reviewed studies that have shown that across the board that vegetarians live longer and healthier lives, with a much lower risk for cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
While it can be easy to shrug off health factors, it should be harder to brush off the fate of the planet we call home. Our nation’s meat production is the number one cause of harmful greenhouse gases, contributing to pollution more so than all of the cars, trucks, planes, trains and buses in the world combined. It’s true that our environment is already in deep trouble, and although plant-based diets won’t necessarily be the saving grace of climate change, we’ve got to start somewhere. Meatless Mondays is one way to reduce our collective carbon footprint.
At a university where approximately 7 percent of students here identify as vegetarians, and 3 percent as vegans, according to Dining Services’ annual survey, one might hope that the petition for Meatless Mondays would be reasonably well received, especially when the benefits of are so clear.
Fortunately, the Vegetarian Society is making progress with the initiative, and a survey will be released within the coming weeks to gauge the students’ perspectives on it. Hopefully, the reaction will be a good one.
It seems as if any backlash against the Meatless Monday movement, or vegetarianism in general, has nothing to do with the actual pros and cons of an herbivore diet. It’s more of a rejection on principle, like when someone is served a dessert they really like, until they find out it’s vegan.
It’s similar to when the National Rifle Association accused President Obama of “taking away their guns,” when, in reality, he received an “F” on the Brady Campaign’s scorecard of politicians who have spoken out against gun violence.
While I know that’s a bold comparison to make, it sheds some light on the issue of Meatless Mondays. No one would be taking away meat options in the dining hall. Rather, there would simply be less meat options and more vegetarian meals, which can be surprisingly delicious if only given the chance. What the objection boils down to, I think, is the issue of getting wrapped up in rhetoric, rather than looking at the facts. You know what I mean: “This is America, and you can’t take away my (insert noun here).”
Here’s the thing, though: they’re right, this is America, which means we at BU are lucky enough to have access to quality meat, cage-free eggs and delicious vegetarian options. It’s a privilege to have both meat and meatless food at our disposal. Instead of resenting the effort to bring in a wider range of vegetarian options one day a week, we should embrace and welcome the opportunity to make a difference in our world, no matter how small (or big) it might be.
If you haven’t yet signed the Meatless Monday petition, you can do so now by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. But, as a reminder, really any day can be a Meatless Monday, if you so choose. Simply challenge yourself to check out the dining hall’s vegetarian station and try something new, while also doing your body, your planet and even your taste buds a favor.
By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
After spending hours in the kitchen this break whipping up elaborate vegan dinners, I think I’m about cooked-out, so to speak. While I certainly can’t beat a week’s worth of homemade meals, it can be an exhaustive routine to maintain in college, especially when shopping on a budget and cooking in a cramped apartment.
Of course, as finals approach, I’ll be short on time, too. This makes nightly cooking even more of a hassle. For vegetarians, and vegans especially, putting together a quick-and-easy meal isn’t as mindless as it might be for an omnivore.
While boxed meals aren’t always the ideal option, frozen veggie burgers can be a reliable alternative. As the most obvious alternative to the ominvores’s hamburger, veggie burgers tend to be the first meat-free burgers that new vegetarians turn to when looking for an easy meal.
But veggie burgers can get boring after a while. However, herbivores who are pressed on resources can hold out hope. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a gourmet chef to find a great veggie burger that will take just a few minutes to heat up, but taste like you spent all evening cooking it.
A trip to Trader Joe’s or Shaw’s will reveal all sorts of delectable meat-free burger ideas that might have previously escaped your eye. Here are some types of burgers to look out for next time you hit up the grocery store:
Black Bean Burgers
Black bean burgers are top on my list of favorite meat-free burgers, and have been for a while. They are zesty, with a flavorful Southwestern flair that beats any other meat substitute. Add a dollop of guacamole for a dinner that is absolutely delicious and surprisingly very healthy.
Although multiple brands make black bean burgers, I’m a fan of MorningStar, which you can find at almost any grocery store.
These go by many names in the grocery store—Chik’n patties, soy chicken cutlets, vegetarian chicken patties—but flavor tends to be pretty consistent, quite in line with the cliché, “It tastes like chicken.” Although I’m sure you’ve heard that line before, albeit in a different context, these imitation burgers actually do taste just like chicken. There’s a lot you can do with them, from the complex (vegetarian chicken parmesan) to the simple (just add a wheat bun and ketchup), and because of that, they will always have a place in my freezer.
Amy’s Kitchen, a company that sells natural and organic meat-free products, makes a great barbecue-style Texas burger. It has rich flavor, with a pinch of Southwestern spice. The texture is spot-on, too: not too “meaty,” but definitely heartier than the average veggie burger. I would recommend this to anyone willing to experiment with different types of meatless burgers!
MorningStar sells what they call Grillers. Let me warn you, though: if you aren’t down for an authentic hamburger taste, stay away. Although I’ve only tried the MorningStar variety, I found the burger to taste, well, very meaty. It wasn’t my thing. But if you’re looking for an imitation hamburger sans the meat, you’ll find yourself very pleased.
Same thing goes for vegetarian turkey burgers: they taste like turkey. Personally, I don’t like the turkey flavor, but beyond that, the texture of the burger didn’t seem quite right to me—a bit too chewy. Then again, I’ve only had real turkey once or twice in my life, years ago, so maybe I just don’t know what to expect. However, just like with the vegetarian hamburger, if you like the taste of the real meat, you’ll probably like the imitation turkey burger, too.
California Veggie Burgers
Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burgers have a following that sometimes strikes me as cult-like. People tend to love them, or they totaly hate them. I’m somewhere in the middle. The burgers are super-packed with veggies, but, I thought all the flavors must have got lost in translation somehow because I wasn’t a big fan of the taste.
Although those are the staples, I’ve recently even seen falafel burgers, mushroom burgers and Asian-style burgers in the frozen food aisles. MorningStar even makes a pizza burger with tomato and basil. As companies get more creative, though, more and more types of meat-free burgers keep popping up, so keep your eye open for all of them.
By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
I haven’t had a real Thanksgiving since I was in elementary school. Even before I gave up meat in the sixth grade, I’d opt for Stauffer’s macaroni and cheese and Pillsbury dinner rolls instead of turkey and gravy, a tradition I’ve pretty much kept up with since then.
If you’re thinking it sounds like a pretty disappointing dinner, you’re right. And now that I’ve nixed dairy this year, that go-to Thanksgiving meal that doesn’t exactly jive with my diet.
Fortunately, my recent transition to veganism has forced me to be creative when it comes to cooking. And, if there’s ever a good time to cook, it’s Thanksgiving. After all, I can’t think of a better way to test out my chef skills than to cook for my family.
But cooking vegan food for omnivores is a tricky task, especially when the typical Thanksgiving fare—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie—is so culturally engrained. After scouring the Internet for recipes and pouring through my vegan cook books, though, I’ve realized that it’s not too hard to imitate traditional Thanksgiving flavors and create a delicious vegan meal.
Even better, you don’t have to be a master chef to whip up some of these Thanksgiving fixings, and if you’re in a kitchen where a Thanksgiving meal is already in the works, you’ll likely have many of the necessary ingredients on hand.
I figured I’d share what I’m cooking for Thanksgiving, and maybe you’ll find yourself inspired to create your own vegan dinner. For starters, these garlic mashed potatoes are sure to be a hit, and in tune with Thanksgiving tradition, why not whip up a cranberry relish to add a hint of sweetness to your side dishes?
For an entree, I recommend a glazed lentil walnut apple loaf. Don’t let the name scare you: although it’s one of the more complex recipes, it’s worth the effort, as you’ll end up with a hearty meal with a perfect balance of savory and sweet. You can even mirror those flavors with this walnut-apple stuffing, which is sure to have everyone reaching across the table for seconds.
For dessert, pumpkin pie brownie bites are sure to be a crowd-pleaser, offering traditional fall flavors complimented by notes of cocoa. Or you can stick with a classic pumpkin pie. And surprisingly, the vegan version is a lot easier to make than the traditional one.
Finally, if you’re dealing with picky relatives who might shy away from vegan food simply because, well, it’s vegan, let me share a strategy I learned last weekend when I was visiting my best friend, an omnivore, in Brooklyn, N.Y..
She took me to one of her favorite spots in East Williamsburg, Dun-Well Donuts.
Dun-Well is an all-vegan cafe and bakery, and their donuts have become insanely popular since its opening. But you don’t find the word vegan anywhere in the store. Consequently, the cafe draws in omnivores and carnivores alike, many of whom enjoy Dun-Well’s donuts without realizing they’re eating vegan donuts.
When you’re cooking for omnivores and carnivores, try nixing the word vegan from the description of your food. Once everyone has enjoyed the meal, you can share your secret, but in the mean time let your food speak for itself. Chances are, you and your family will have a delicious Thanksgiving—without even realizing it’s a vegan one.
By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
Whether it’s on a corner in Kenmore Square, the center of George Sherman Union, under Warren Towers or steps from the Fitness and Recreation Center in West Campus, most Boston University students pass by a City Convenience each day.
At first glance, the little store, dubbed “City Co.” by most Terriers, seems pretty ordinary: cold drinks, candy, coffee and snacks. It also seems like finding something in the store that is vegetarian, healthy and delicious would be impossible.
As it would turn out, first impressions can sometimes be deceptive. Check out City Co.’s refrigerated section, and you’ll see why, so long as the store has OneStopNatural’s Bento Box in stock.
In tune with the motif of misleading first impressions, the Bento Box might not look so appealing at first: rice, dumplings and an odd-looking pile of vegetable protein nuggets.
A glance at the label isn’t very encouraging, either. When I first grabbed one, rushed on my way to Mugar, I wondered if something with a measly 320 calories and a ton of vitamins and minerals (80 percent of your recommended dose of vitamin A, 25 percent of vitamin C and 20 percent of iron) would be remotely appetizing.
I came to find out that the Bento Box wasn’t just okay; it was good. Really, really good—so much so that the Bento Box actually became a staple of my sophomore year, and continues to be one of my favorite on-the-go choices this year, too. If I didn’t have time for lunch or was disappointed with the dining hall’s dinner offerings, I’d grab a Bento Box from City Co.
I still can’t quite figure out how OneStopNatural manages to make a meal that is delicious, healthy and easy to grab on-the-go. Despite its low calories, it’s really filling. You won’t find yourself hungry until hours later. It’s also low in fat, high in fiber and packs in a great punch of protein.
You can’t ask for much more from a $6 box of food that takes roughly three minutes to purchase, but in this case, you can.
When you see a Bento Box in City Co., grab it when you can because City Co. sometimes runs out of them. Although I suspect that they just don’t stock enough of them, I wouldn’t be surprised of some of my fellow vegetarians and vegans have discovered the Bento Box. After all, if you’re looking for a lunch or dinner that’s quick, tasty and mind-blowingly good for you, the Bento Box is your best bet.
By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
As any foodie will likely tell you, Boston isn’t known for its Mexican food. Aside from the Boston University mainstay, Sunset Cantina, which seems more beloved for its margaritas than anything else, the city isn’t exactly celebrated for its take on south-of-the-border cuisine.
Add in another factor—a vegetarian diet—and it becomes even more difficult to find decent Mexican food in Boston. Nix eggs and dairy if you’re a vegan, and it seems it might just be impossible to find any Mexican place in the city, let alone one you’d like to come back to.
That is, until you try Fenway’s El Pelón Taqueria at 92 Peterborough St., just a quick walk from Kenmore Square. El Pelón is very much a grab-and-go restaurant: a glimpse behind the counter reveals a bustling kitchen, which continuously sends out tacos, burritos and quesadillas five to ten minutes after an order is placed.
Despite the casual setting, though, El Pelón has an eclectic, welcoming atmosphere, with one wall decorated with the requisite Mexican props and the other covered with photos from fans of the taqueria sporting El Pelón shirts all across the world, everywhere from the Berlin Wall to the Great Wall of China. If that’s not enough to convince you this place’s worth a try, it was also the recipient of a “Best of Boston” award in 2011.
When you taste the food, you’ll see why. Forget Chipotle or Qdoba because El Pelón serves up authentic Mexican fare. The restaurant also fills a much-needed niche, offering vegan and vegetarian choices. There are plenty of vegetable-based options, and you can even select to substitute regular cheese with vegan cheese, a rare opportunity at any restaurant, let alone a hole-in-the-wall taqueria right by Fenway Park.
I started my vegan meal off with the plantains, which were lightly fried to achieve the perfect balance between crispy and soft. The plantains’ poignant sweetness was balanced nicely by a dash of salt, while the fire roasted salsa added zest without overshadowing the distinct flavor of the plantains. While this antojito—or Mexican street snack, which literally translates into “little whim”—was only $3.95, it was easily filling enough (and certainly appetizing) to serve as your main meal.
For my entree, I selected the black bean quesadilla with vegan cheese. For only $3.25, it’s cheaper than what you can find at Chipotle or Qdoba, but there’s just no comparison in terms of the quality. While I’m not a huge fan of vegan cheese in general, El Pelón’s take on it was pretty convincing, though perhaps the odd aftertaste that generally accompanies vegan cheese was simply camouflaged by the generous helping of black beans.
Either way, for a vegan quesadilla, it was pretty good. And with a side of El Pelón’s delicious guacamole, it was even better. No matter what you order at El Pelón, a side of 75-cent guacamole is a must. It was fresh and tangy, with a whole range of flavors that complemented the avocado base, including onion, garlic, tomato and lime. Plus, it was clearly homemade, unlike the pasty, pallid attempts at guacamole that you might find at other establishments.
Next time you’re by Kenmore Square, take a short walk and try this place. As a fan of southwestern fare, I’ve tried Mexican cuisine in as far north as Montreal (big mistake) and as far south as Tijuana (best ever), and have found the folk knowledge that Mexican food gets worse as you get farther from the border to be true. Geographically speaking, then, El Pelón should be somewhere in the middle—but, as it would turn out, it actually comes out on top.
El Pelón is also located at 2197 Commonwealth Ave. in Brighton.
By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
While exploring the city’s culinary scene, I sometimes forget about the dining gems that lie within Boston University’s campus. Because seafood has never had a place in my diet, it wasn’t until recently that I gave Kenmore Square’s Fin’s Japanese Sushi and Grill a second glance.
I had never eaten any sort of sushi before I came to college, so I was hesitant to try Fin’s. I’m not always a fan of Japanese food, but given that Fin’s is so close to campus, I couldn’t find a reason not to try it.
Ultimately, I’m glad I did. The restaurant’s motto—serving “a married of classic and contemporary style of Japanese cooking method to create a truly modern Japanese cuisine”—is reflected even in the ambiance. Upon entry, Fin’s feels more like a swanky lounge than a seafood restaurant. The restaurant is awash in darkness with futuristic light panels adorning the minimalistic, yet modern exposed-beam design.
Despite Fin’s urban elegance, it’s still a relatively casual establishment. It’s a place you can stop in on your way back from the library, backpack in tow. That’s just what I found so refreshing about the restaurant: It is imbued with a vibe that is sophisticated but not stuffy, chic but not stuck-up. Clearly, there’s an awareness that although it resides in Kenmore Square, the heart of Boston, it’s also very much in the heart of a college campus.
Of course, just because a restaurant is a nice place to be, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a nice to place to eat. Fortunately, Fin’s proved to be both. Although seafood is a pillar of Japanese cuisine, Fin’s menu was very vegetarian-friendly, and as ironic as it might sound, it’s quite possible to have a delicious fish-free meal at Fin’s.
The miso soup, which cost a measly $1.95, turned out to be a good way to begin my vegetarian venture at Fin’s. The soup came out steaming and was a welcome contrast to the cold, dreary weather outside. It was the perfect balance among the flavors of soy, barley and seaweed. Cubes of tofu added substance to the soup, although miso itself is already rich in vitamins and high in protein.
The steamed edamame, for just $4.50, is another appetizer option for herbivores. The crunchy green soybeans were , lightly salted and served as a nice contrast in texture and in flavor to the miso soup, providing a refreshing but tasty break between soup and sushi.
Although Fin’s sushi and sashimi is largely fish-based, there were a few vegetarian options. I settled on the grilled vegetable roll for $4.50, and I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious it turned out to be. The chefs at Fin’s were exceedingly generous with vegetables, packing the sushi roll with cucumbers, carrots, sprouts and lettuce. The saltiness of the fresh seaweed wrapping complemented the vegetables and a dash of soy sauce sent all of the flavors into harmony.
I ordered the spicy kimchi fried rice, and although at $7.95 it was priced slightly higher than the other option, I received a huge portion that seemed about to burst off my plate, making it perfect for leftovers.
The dish was piled high with fried rice, vegetables and kimchi, which happens to be the national dish of Korea. Usually made with cabbage, kimchi’s spice comes from chili peppers, but it also has a “sweet and sour” flavor that worked well with the rest of the dish. I asked for the meal to be made without eggs and fish oil, which tend to be used in many fried rice dishes.
The meal was a definite success, even among the omnivores I went out to eat with. Fin’s innovative take on serving Japanese fare proved satisfying, even from a herbivore’s perspective. Although Asian food still isn’t my favorite type of cuisine, Fin’s might just have me sold.
By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
A few posts back, I wrote about how my girlfriend and I were going vegan and giving up meat, dairy and eggs for two weeks. Three recipe books, a whole lot of grocery shopping and many delicious meals later, I remain vegan and Marisa called it quits.
As a vegetarian who never cared much for cheese and didn’t have a problem substituting dairy for soy, it wasn’t hard for me to nix the animal products from my diet. But for Marisa, an omnivore, it was a lot more difficult.
Marisa said she thought it was challenging to find vegan food, especially on-the-go, adding that going vegan permanently would require a serious lifestyle change. We agreed to continue cooking vegan meals for myself, and she agreed to eat them under one stipulation: no fake cheese.
That was one great thing about veganism that we could agree on: it forced us to cook. Forget boxed meals and microwaved entrées, going vegan required us to get elbow-deep in the kitchen.
We raided Trader Joe’s, Shaws and Whole Foods to scrounge up all the necessary ingredients for the recipes we picked out. We poured through cookbooks and numerous vegan websites. Although it took a little bit of work getting used to cooking without butter and eggs, we ended up with some surprisingly delicious vegan meals.
Peanut butter banana oatmeal was our favorite breakfast dish. It was perfect for a blustery fall morning but great for an afternoon snack the next day. The cranberry-pecan arugula salad we made was a tasty lunch option. The vegan lasagna took two hours of effort but provided delectable leftovers for a week. The jicama fries and quinoa made for a delicious 20-minute dinner. The vegan tacos were a hearty entrée that didn’t seem vegan save for the cheese. Finally, the chilled double chocolate torte was quite possibly the best dessert I’ve had in a while, vegan or not.
After all of that, I felt a lot healthier. Although veganism is a lifestyle that takes a lot of effort and a dash of patience to maintain, it is worth it not just for the physical effects, but for the benefits it reaps on the environment and the animals involved in our modern food industry.
I think there’s one part of that paragraph that deserves emphasis. Surprisingly, I’m not talking about the section about veganism’s benefits. Instead, I’m referring to the part about how it takes some effort and patience to maintain a vegan lifestyle—a statement that is especially true when it comes to living with someone who isn’t vegan or vegetarian.
You see, it doesn’t just take effort, patience and most of all, cooperation, on my part, but on Marisa’s, too. Throughout this experience, I’ve realized that veganism is just one way to live, and even though it’s a great way, it doesn’t mean that veganism is the only way to make the world a better place.
My thoughts on this are best summed up by Andrea Gibson, a spoken word poet who visited Boston University last year. Here’s what Andrea has to say about it in a poem called “Name That Meat.” Although I stand by my commitment to veganism, in the end, I couldn’t agree with her more.
On the in breath, we’re having dinner.
She’s eating her 50 square feet of death.
I’m eating my organic, vegan, local salad. No meat, no cheese and please hold the dressing because I don’t want to exploit the little honeybees.
But when we meet you, she will be a thousand times more likely to greet you with open arms than me.
I’m uptight and selfish.
She’s sit down and join us. You look heartbroken. How’s your family?
And I’m choking on my lettuce about now. Begging the cows to come home and prove me holier than thou, but it’s not going to happen.
. . .
I’m never gonna eat a hamburger, love.
You’re never gonna not say hello with a smile in your eyes like a porch light welcoming this broken world home.
And this is how we’ll grow, in every direction.
The answers are easy. It’s the questions that are hard.
What can you teach me?
What can I learn here?
Whoever you are, are you also looking for a soft place to sleep?
Are you also in search of a dark night holding the quiet light of 6 billion wishful stars?
By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
Each week, our MUSE Food Editor Katie blogs about all things vegetarian.
My dad and I have a lot in common. We both love to ski, write, read and travel, but when it comes to food, we differ sharply. Although my mom can take meat or leave it, my dad is a devoted carnivore, who loves a good piece of steak: medium-rare, pink on the inside and at least a solid 12 oz.
As a child, the first restaurant I remember going to was Cliff’s Country Inn, famous for its 20 oz. prime rib special. To this day, when my family goes out to dinner, more often than not we end up at a steak house—leaving me, the 20-year-old vegetarian, having to order off the kids’ menu, settle with a salad, or end up with a side dish of macaroni and cheese.
Accordingly, my relationship with steak houses has been lukewarm at best. So, when my best friend asked me to accompany her to the Yard House, a Fenway restaurant known for its steak, ribs, wings and burgers, for her roommate’s birthday party, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to whatever dismal side dish I presumed I would end up with.
That is, until I opened the menu.
Walking into the Yard House, the place certainly didn’t strike me as a vegetarian-friendly establishment. Although it’s recognized primarily as a restaurant, it’s also a sports bar: loud, dark and, during baseball season, packed with Red Sox fans eager for a bite to eat and a beer to drink after the game ends. I expected to see typical pub fare, so you can imagine my surprise when I opened the menu to find an entire section devoted to vegetarians.
The Yard House’s vegetarian menu surely beats anything you would find in the average eatery on Boylston Street or down Newbury. Forget salad, pasta or tofu; the Yard House offers a diverse selection of entrees made with their trademark “gardein” protein, which the menu describes as a “chicken or beef substitute made from soy, wheat, pea proteins, vegetables and ancient grains.”
There are 13 items on the gardein menu, and any one of the restaurant’s nine burger creations can be made with gardein as a substitute for the beef patty. From a “chicken” avocado sandwich, béarnaise “beef” sliders, spicy thai “chicken” pizza, and boneless “chicken” wings, the Yard House’s meat-free options are entrees that, as a vegetarian, I never imagined I’d get to try. Although the Yard House’s gardein options aren’t vegan-friendly, the menu does give vegetarians the valuable opportunity to try herbivore-versions of entrees that are traditionally reserved for omnivores only.
I’m certainly not used to having so many options to choose from, as I usually end up briefly “debating” between a restaurant’s two or three vegetarian options. Having over twenty choices to choose from was indeed a nice change. After some deliberation, I decided on the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, which included a slice of “chicken” grilled with blackening spices, cheddar, jack, cabbage and Cajun aioli on cheese flatbread.
When my entrée finally came out, it looked so much like an authentic chicken sandwich that I had to ask the waitress twice if it was the vegetarian version. Even my roommate, an omnivore, doubted that it wasn’t real meat. Fortunately, the server confirmed that it was indeed gardein, but from any onlooker’s perspective, it sure looked like a “real” chicken sandwich.
It tasted like one, too. The Yard House definitely got the flavor and texture of the “chicken” right. It was grilled to perfection, tender but not too chewy, and lightly marinated with a blend of spices that complemented the flavor without overwhelming the entire dish. The cheddar and jack added more substance to the sandwich, harmonizing with the Cajun aioli, which added a kick to round out the flavor of the gardein “chicken.”
Although the cheese flat bread that completed the sandwich wasn’t as appetizing as I expected, the side salad was fresh, with crisp Romaine lettuce and a variety of colorful vegetables, dressed in a delicious house balsamic that actually had me wondering just how good the Yard House’s salad options might be.
In the end, though, I’m glad I went with the gardein. I have a feeling the Yard House’s vegetarian entrees might be so spot-on so as to sway the most die-hard meat-eaters. Next time my parents in Boston, the Yard House will be on our itinerary, as it can serve as a compromise between meat-eaters and vegetarians, in which neither party loses out. In fact, I think my dad—who loves his prime rub—might even be convinced.