In Which The Meat-Eater Goes Vegetarian For A Weekend

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So when my pal Nayad came to visit me in Cleveland for the weekend, she told me she’d been thinking about going vegan.  I, having recently been told I have to change my eating habits or die, was in the mood for a challenge.  So I said, “Why don’t we try to eat vegetarian for the whole weekend?  Like, find all of Cleveland’s vegetarian restaurants and try to see how many days we go before we eat meat?”
For as any vegetarian knows, the challenge is not in finding something to eat.  You can have that bowl of lettuce with vinegar on it.  The trick is finding a multiplicity of meals that you would like to have.
Fortunately, Cleveland is actually home to many, many fine restaurants.  Clevelanders dine out more than just about any other major city, and so a lot of New York chefs have said, “Why should I pay New York rents when I can pay Cleveland rents and get the same number of enthusiastic, knowledgeable clients?”  So while it’s a constant surprise to outsiders, Cleveland has some of the best and most varied dining I’ve had the pleasure to experience.
And it was a nice challenge.  I had to do a lot of research to find places with good vegan options, so Nayad could sample the vegan lifestyle for a bit, but it gave us some lovely conversations as we debated options and weighed approaches, and then I got to try several new restaurants I hadn’t been to before.
The trick in vegetarian dining, I’ve found, is that the substitute route doesn’t work that well.  Yes, I could technically go vegetarian by substituting “chick’n strips” for chicken, which can be masked with surprising skill, but in the end it’s not really chicken and it’s probably not all that healthy.  All I’m doing is swapping a fat-laden meal for a processed chemical meal.  (Or abandoning all hope and doing as bad vegetarians do, trying to convince the world that tofu tastes anything like chicken.)
No, what you need to do is to create a whole new meal that is vegetarian.  One of the most satisfying dishes I had was a vegan ravioli, where they didn’t avoid the vegan-ness of it (aside from faking the egg for the pasta), but instead embraced it.  Meaty mushroom for the filling, a thick and sweet thai chili paste for the sauce.  Very savory and complex, with lots of veggies in it.
Much, much better than a BBQ patty with tempeh.  A good vegan dish forces you to appreciate the beauty of vegetation, not to hide it.
The other thing is that vegetarian meals don’t prevent you from pudginess.  This I knew from my friend Jim, an animal rights lover who was addicted to vegetarian corn dogs, but having not one but two vegetarian cupcakes was probably a bit much.  And the smoothies, though full of all the nutrition and healthiness of fruit, also gave me a shock-sugar rush that set my hands to trembling.  I gained two pounds over the weekend, and that was with a lot of walking and aerobic exercise baked in.
Still, if you’re interested, the clear winner in the Cleveland Vegetarian Restaurant Challenge is The Flaming Ice Cube, a lovely little hippiesque diner that is very concerned about getting all the details right.  It had the tastiest smoothies, the best meals, and a wide menu with so many options that we wanted to go back twice (and couldn’t, since they were closed that Sunday).
Second place was Pura Vida, an upscale restaurant that’s a little pricey for everyday dining but has perhaps the most awesome African peanut stew you’ll ever try (kale and sweet potatoes round it out deliciously), and had the ravioli I discussed.  They have monthly vegan get-togethers, which I may well go back to, though I was amused at how panicked I got when the waiter asked, “Are you a vegan?” and Nayad answered “yes” for me and I was like, “No!  I’m not!  I’m just pretending to be one of you for the weekend, I love meat, please don’t hurt me!
Disappointments were, as always, Tommy’s – which is decent, don’t get me wrong, but it’s got that Taco Bell trick of presenting eight ingredients cut up a thousand different ways so that you think it’s an expansive menu and really it’s a few core selections – and The Root Cafe, which we were told had vegan bagels but didn’t, and had but one paltry vegan option for breakfast.
Still.  I’d do it again.  It’s a fun way to expand your taste profiles, even if I’ve gotta ease up on these vegan cupcakes.  And if anyone reading knows of any other good (read: tasty) options in the Clevelandish area, let me know!

2 Comments

  1. Lisa Nohealani Morton
    Mar 12, 2013

    Indian food is also chock-full of fantastic vegetarian dishes.

  2. NC Narrator
    Mar 14, 2013

    I completely agree with your assessment of vegan cuisine – the key is to avoid substitionary sin. Don’t, by all that’s holy, order the “vegan” chicken alfredo. You’ll hate it, no matter how carefully they prepared the tofu.
    Every time I consider vegan, I am reminded of bacon.
    I love bacon. I can take or leave any other form of meat…except bacon. I’ve tried turkey bacon…and although the smokey goodness is there the baconness is not. The soul of bacon is missing somehow.
    Plus, a wide variety of veggies are big no-no’s with my gastroparesis, which makes vegetarian/vegan a little more of a challenge. Instead, I’m going for a moderation approach and using the DASH diet. So far so good!

All Comments Will Be Moderated. Comments From Fake Or Throwaway Accounts Will Never Be approved.