No, I’m not vegan yet. But my hero - an ex-Viking football player turned judge - is. So are several players on my son’s college lacrosse team, as well as a cookbook editor, and my 65 year old neighbor. Where do they eat?
I once heard Thomas Keller, (America’s tallest toque) say he loves a dietary challenge (vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, etc.) and cooking with unfamiliar ingredients. Our TC best do, too. Here are a few places that make “no” taste good while taking you way beyond a salad. If you're thinking about stepping in the vegan direction, even for just one meal a week, here's some of the best plates that deliver big on flavor.
Birchwood Café: Who else but Chef Marshall Paulsen and owner Tracy Singleton, could give the odd term panache? Try sweet potato millet cakes, black bean quinoa burger, parsnip pear sandwich, coconut tapioca pudding, mixed berry crisp. So flavorful and pretty, these plates put good food first. 3311 E. 25th St., Mpls., 612-722-4474
Gardens of Salonica: Robust plates of yigandes (giant beans braised with herbs in a red sauce), ambelodolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice, braised vegetables in spices) and vegan mousaka all shine with Greek sensibilities. 19 5th St. NE, Mpls., 612-378-0611
Ecopolitian: Not the place to take your burger eating brother, but, I am partial to the green burrito (with curried hummus, lentils, and vegetables) and the spicy Thai noodles (coconut curry on shredded vegetables) and the vanilla almond smoothie of bananas and nuts is a meal in itself. Every time I eat there, leave feeling light but not hungry. 2409 Lyndale Ave. S. # 4, Mpls. 612-874-7336
Lucia’s Restaurant, Bakery and Café: From the take-away, bring home the three bean chili, crepes, a lush mushroom stew, and that hearty, tooth tugging flax seed bread. The restaurant’s servers always note soups and entrees made without meat or dairy, especially with the specials that change every day. 1432 W. 31st St., Mpls. 612-825-1572
Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct: No dietary restraint or concern will put off big-hearted Lenny Russo. Dive into sweet potato crepes with mushrooms and hazelnut sauce, make a meal of three flavor-packed sides: roasted beets in ginger gastrique, cauliflower with chili pepper garlic puree, sugar pumpkin chili pepper soup. 289 E. Fifth St., St. Paul, 651-699-3536
Meritage: OK. Oysters aren’t very vegan, but Chef Klein’s food is so good (and Desta is so welcoming), it’s a favorite haunt for all stripes. The composition of winter vegetables (squash pancakes, beet tartar, etc.) is out of this world and the wine selection is amazing. 410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670