31 May 2008

Restaurant Review: Little Lad's Bakery & Cafe

[Edit: Were you instead looking for a recipe for Little Lad's herbal popcorn?]

Little Lad's Bakery & Cafe, 482 Congress Street, Portland ME.

Ok, so when I said that the Green Elephant might be Portland's only fully vegetarian restaurant, I completely forgot about Little Lad's. Little Lad's is a family run, completely affordable, totally vegetarian, quirky restaurant and pusher of the infamously addictive Little Lad's Popcorn. The place is part buffet, part short order restaurant, part ice cream stand, part grocery store, part snack emporium. I often see the wait staff from the Green Elephant eating there. Best part: when I walk in, I am invariably greeted by a "Hello brother!" It sort of makes my day.

The food is of the old school vegetarian style—mostly one pot dishes. But that's what this place is all about: super affordable, completely accessible, healthy, simple. Filling a plate from the buffet will cost you less than $5.00. The dishes may not all be whole foods, but they mostly are. The only drawback to the place is that you have to prepare to be indoctrinated by the VCR in the corner, which plays speeches by, oddly enough, vegetarian Christians, and documentaries about religion and nutrition. But somehow, it's not too in your face. The family running the place is so sincerely nice, that's it's really hard to be bothered by anything while you're there.

There are other Little Lad's too: one in New York City and one in Corinth, Maine, of all places. And another about to open (I think) in Boston.

30 May 2008

Restaurant Review: Green Elephant

Green Elephant, 608 Congress Street, Portland, ME

The Green Elephant is one of the few, if not the only, fully vegetarian restaurants in Portland. We finally had a chance to eat there last month and it was fantastic. While there are a few vegetarian "friendly" spots in town—and I appreciate them—almost none of them deliver on the promise of high quality vegetarian meals. The Green Elephant does. Sure, it's not quite the vegan haute cuisine you can find in New York City, but it is upscale and, in the case of every dish we tried, exceptionally well done. Perhaps because it draws people who are genuinely interested in what the place is serving, the wait staff are sincere and friendly. And it's not even particularly expensive.

Green Leaves [collards] Wrapped in Mango and Herbs [mint, purple basil, cilantro] with Tamarind Dipping Sauce. Nice to see a raw dish on the menu. That trend hasn't really reached Maine yet apparently.

A Malaysian curry with brown rice. I can't remember now all the wonderful things that went into this. It was the best tasting, even if not the best looking, dish of the night and composed entirely of whole foods. I am envious of how good their brown rice is.

I think this was the "Siamese Dream Curry Noodle," which was a bit lacking compared to the others things, but still quite good.

The menu does run afoul of one pet peeve of mine. I hate it when a vegan menu tries to sound appealing to meat eaters, as though vegan food were merely a substitute for carnivorous dishes and couldn't otherwise stand on its own. Veggie Citrus "Spare Ribs," Soy "Ham," Veggie "Tuna" Salad. Oh come on. But that's a minor point compared to how good the food is and what a relief it is to have someplace to go out to eat in town now.