Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What goes best with Tofu?

I went back to Ohio, but my city was gone
There was no train station, there was no downtown
South Howard had disappeared
All my favorite places
My city had been pulled down
Reduced to parking spaces
A, O, Way to go, Ohio!

It's been many years since the smell of vulcanizing rubber filled the air within the Akron city limits.  And it's been almost as many years since Chrissie Hynde called Akron her home.  But the post-industrial Akron is really not that much different than the Rubber Capital of the world that Akron claimed through the 70's and 80's. (Think "Goodyear Blimp") Since then, Akron has slowly been sliding into a new entity, trying to uncover a new reality.  Some people say Akron has morphed into the Polymer Capital of the world.  And to some degree it has, the University of Akron has some incredible research and development facilities.

But why this change?  Well, with tire production moving overseas, Akron had to change or it would become another Youngstown or Warren, both relics of the rust belt.  So Akron cultivated the Polymer professionals, hoping, I suppose, to shed some of the blue-collar ennui and become a more cosmoplitan arena for world players in the changing automotive manufacturing environment.  And though poly-pros and other high-tech development has come to Akron, the town itself is still quite firmly entrenched in its blue-collar roots.

And then along came VegiTerranean, Chrissie Hynde's vegan restaurant.  Not your usual Akron meat-and-potatoes fare here.  As a matter of fact, you won't find any meat products on the menu, and the only potatoes you can order are the Chrissie Fries, crunchy fried sweet potatoes served with a homemade ketchup.
We went to lunch at VegiTerranean on a Wednesday.  I had been once before, but it had been mid-summer.  This time, it was in the middle of yet another snowfall.

VegiTerranean is at one of the edges of downtown Akron.  Actually, it's more at one of the ledges of downtown Akron.  When you're sitting in the restaurant, and you look out one of the huge picture windows facing north, you'll see a broad section of town, North Howard Street going all the way up toward Main Street.  It's an interesting section of town.  On one hand, VegiTerranean is on the terrace level of some high-end condos, but the location has always been economically challenged.  The only other long-time fixture is a Pest Control business and Luigi's (one of Akron's oldest and most popular pizza/Italian restaurants).

VegiTerranean is sparsely furnished.  A little heavy-handed in the design, I think it tries too hard to emphasize Akron's roots in industry.  The exposed ductwork  and high ceilings have been done the world over.  Lots of brushed aluminum and blacks and greys in the chairs and tables combine to bring a modern, big-city feel to this part of a modest town.

Besides the food, the most notable features of the restaurant are its large windows overlooking Howard Street and the massive patio to the east, just on the other side of the bar.  The patio is a great place to sit and enjoy an evening in the summertime.  Mid-winter, it goes unused.

We ordered an appetizer and drinks.  Though it was cold and blustery outside, I wanted something to celebrate the day.  I chose a Chrissie Cosmo.  Bright and cheery, guaranteed to blow away the blues, at least for an hour or two.   Along with the Cosmo, our nondescript waiter (Rafe, or Raoul or Rolf or something, Mr. Metrosexual with 2 earrings) brought us a complimentary dish of crunchy dill pickles.  (Not only is VegiTerranean vegan, it is also Kosher.)

For our appetizer we ordered the Hot Italian Banana Peppers.  Filled with a creamy, fresh herb risotto and soy mozzarella, the vegan chef then drizzles it with a basil-lime sauce.  It was hot and delicious, perfect for a cold afternoon.  VegiTerranean touts their "vegan fare with an Italian flair", so they make good use of basil in many of their dishes.  The tartness of the lime in this sauce is not overwhelming, yet it serves to cut through the thickness of the risotto and mozzarella mixture.  The additional spices added just enough kick to make it a really nice accompaniment to the banana peppers on their own.  I wish they would have served this with a spoon, so I could scoop up every last drop.
My Cosmopolitan was very good.  It barely lasted through the appetizer.

Our lunch entrees arrived.  Mine was the Arugula Salad with Oven Roasted Butternut Squash, served with a warm maple dijon balsamic vinaigrette.  The combination of cool greens, warm squash, dried cherries, red onion and toasted pecans was absolutely delightful.  Each forkful of food truly burst with flavor.  It inspires membership in the Clean Plate Club (nothing was spared by the end of the meal).
My guest chose a little heartier fare.  He wanted to order the Grilled Cheese sandwich (with vegan cheddar, carmelized onions, tomatoes, smoked dulse and arugula, accompanied by their tomato bisque) but we were informed by Raoul that their oven was not in working order, so there would be no grilled cheese sandwiches or pizzas available for lunch. 

Not brave enough to order a "Gardein burger", he chose the Grilled Fresh Veggie Wrap and Chrissie Fries.  Veggie wraps tend to be the same all over.  This one brought a smile to his eyes!  Bursting with fresh zucchini, squash, artichokes, spinach, and tofu feta cheese, it was then drizzled with a roasted red pepper tomato sauce and bound lovingly into the whole-wheat wrap.  "Perfect!", he said.  Add to that the Chrissie fries and we had one hearty lunch.  The fries were served with a tofu ricotta and homemade balsamic ketchup.  My guest thought the ketchup was a little too sweet, I felt it was heavy on the basil and garlic.  Nonetheless, we ate every last bit of it!

What goes best with Tofu?  Anything at VegiTerranean!

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