Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Loving Cafe

The Loving Cafe
6227 Montgomery Road
Pleasant Ridge
Tel: 513-731-2233
The Loving Cafe has renamed itself "The Loving Hut." It's new look matches the 100 or so other Loving Huts around the country, all of which serve plant-based vegan dishes. New web address is:
The Loving Café’s mission statement is to offer affordable, healthy, vegan cuisine in an earth-friendly dining environment that contributes to a higher standard of personal, community and planetary health. They use organic, locally grown and fair trade ingredients whenever possible. It may sound idealistic, but the restaurant manages to pull it off.

A not-so-great shot of the restaurant front

A busy lunch service

The limited menu relies heavily on fake meats, of which I'm not a fan. Sure they have their place, but personally I can do without them. I’ll admit to being somewhat dismayed that the restaurant’s only menu item sans mock meat was a raw veggie salad. Since my appetite called for something more substantial than a salad, I bit the bullet and chose the Loving Café Sandwich. Consisting of veggie ham and bologna, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, pickled carrots, vegenaise and vegan pate on a crusty baguette, it was a hearty and flavorsome sandwich. The tart crunch of pickled carrots and smooth pate worked really well together and along with the addition of some other veggies would make a nice wrap without resorting to an analogue. I could have done without the generous slathering of veganaise too, since for me a little mayo goes a long way. I ended up scraping most of it off.

So you are probably wondering how the mock meats stack up to the real thing - and I can't answer that. It's been far too long since I had a piece of ham, bologna or chicken. I will say that I don't think the mock meats added anything to the Loving Cafe sandwich, and I'd have been perfectly happy without them. Those making the transition from a meat-based diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet may find this restaurant the perfect starting point, but I don't think that the sandwich I had is going to convert anyone who doesn't already want to make the change.

The Loving Cafe Sandwich

Other menu options include sloppy-joes, chik’n fillets with fried rice or greens, or baked spring rolls with fried rice. Kids meals include chik'n strips and salad, fried rice and spring roll, or almond butter & jelly on sprouted whole grain bread.

Steve got the spring roll and fried rice dinner. He was not impressed, saying there was no moisture to the rice - as though it had been sitting around awhile - and he didn’t think the rolls had much taste, even though they were filled with finely sliced vegetables and veggie ham. Maybe non-meat eaters would enjoy this dish moreso than someone who is used to pork spring rolls. The entrée came with a side salad of organic baby greens, but there wasn't a choice of dressings. What arrived was a ginger paste so thick that it stuck to the sides of the plastic container. The only way to eat it was by dipping in the fork tines first, then picking up the lettuce. I'm guessing they do not offer vinaigrette dressings because they don't want any oil going into the compost bin.

The Spring Roll Entree with fried rice

Fresh, organic greens accompany the Spring Roll entree

Ah, the compost bins. Food is served on paper plates which are added to the recycling bin after any leftovers have been scraped into a compost bin. Bins are prominently displayed and labeled with easy to understand instructions. Kudos to the Loving Café for offering this simple, earth-friendly option.

The recycling stations are prominently located

The restaurant offers a thoughtful choice of gourmet teas, natural sodas, and organic juices, as well as vegan smoothies made with chocolate Silk (soy milk) or white almond milk. If you’d rather just have water, there is a small station in the dining room with complimentary pitchers.

Mock meats aside, there are a few ambience-related issues that the restaurant should address. The florescent lighting in the back dining room is quite harsh and negates the soothing vibe being broadcast by Supreme Master TV, and the smoothie machine is JARRINGLY LOUD. We had to yell our order to the cashier at the front counter and she still couldn't hear us until the smoothie machine was switched off. Steve and I ran into Cincinnati Enquirer food critic Polly Campbell in the back dining room, and the three of us had trouble hearing each other whenever there was a smoothie being prepared. The roar of that machine was overwhelming.

The product of a roaring machine: a yummy tropical smoothie

The TV shows inspirational messages in the back dining room

The counter is chock full of delicious looking vegan desserts

I want to love the Loving Café and want to champion their cause, but this visit just didn’t do it for me. I’m pleased to see a vegan establishment in town, I think their ideals and ethics are sound, and I love the forward-thinking of the recycle and compost bins, yet their heavy reliance on mock meats leaves me feeling a bit let down. Hopefully the restaurant is still finding its way and will offer a wider selection of items in the future.

Loving Cafe on Urbanspoon


WestEnder said...

The previous restaurant at this location was similar in terms of menu but less "extreme." It closed within 6 months. I hope the Loving Cafe can pull this off but I wouldn't bet on it. Not in that location, anyway.

liz said...

great review, i was really curious about this place. the tv with "inspirational messages" scares me though. so does fake bologna.

Veggie Option said...

@WestEnder: You are so right about the location. Being close to the Pleasant Ridge library is about all it has going for it. I couldn't even get a photo of the front because I didn't want to risk life and limb crossing Montgomery. The restaurant would have a better chance nearer Ridge.

@Liz: I hear ya on the inspriational messages. It's a little weird, but if that's what floats their boat...

Heather said...

I stopped in a couple of weeks ago. I was impressed with the menu - the prices are very affordable and there were a lot of choices.

Unfortunately I wasn't so happy with my choices. I got BBQ tofu and it was okay when it was hot but toughened up very quickly.

The sides were the salad and the fried rice. I liked the salad and the dressing. The rice was tough and DRY!

I definitely will go back because it's in my neighborhood. I wanted to try one of the panini sandwiches and see how they were.

I hope they succeed but I'd also like to see more vegetable vegan options - maybe with pasta and veges or something. Oh heck - is there vegan pasta? Probably not. Maybe the rice noodles - with more of an asian slant.

The prices are very affordable so I think that makes it worth another shot.

Suz said...

I've never heard of this place and based on this review probably will never try it. While it sounds like they have admirable eco-goals, building a menu based on fake meat doesn't at all do it for me. I didn't like the real thing to begin with, so why would I want something simulating it? There are so many things you can do sandwich-wise with a wide variety of vegetables that resorting to fake meats is completely unnecessary.

Veggie Option said...

@Suz: That is it exactly. I'm not sure if their goal is to convert people to a vegan diet by using fake meats as a stepping stone or not, but for me it's a big turnoff. As you said, there are so many other ways to create delicious, vegan-friendly sandwiches without resorting to mock meat.

Kimmie said...

My friends and I went for lunch last week. Our verdict: the food was okay. The Supreme Master Television (or as we called it: Brainwash TV) and the lack of any heat on the 25 degree day made it unbearable. Had high hopes about the place but probably won't go back!

Adam said...

Stopped in yesterday for the food task team meeting. They changed the lighting in the back from harsh florescent to warm hanging lamps -very nice.