Thursday, June 25, 2009

New Vegetarian Restaurant in Columbia Tusculum

Accoring to today's Cincinnati Enquirer, a new vegetarian-and-eco-friendly restaurant will be opening next month in Columbia Tusculum's Columbia Square retail and office development.

The report states: "By mid-July, Cincinnati restaurateurs Mark and Mary Swortwood are slated to open Green Dog Café - a "green" restaurant focused on the use local ingredients, sustainability and renewable resources. The menu will cater to vegetarians and vegans, but include traditional offerings. The 3,200-square-foot restaurant will seat about 120 inside and 40 outside. It's also expected to include a wine and bar menu."

Can't wait to check it out!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ruby Tuesdays

Ruby Tuesdays
Multiple locations

Ruby Tuesdays is one of those restaurants that I always lumped into the same category as Applebees, Max & Ermas and TGIFridays: popular casual dining chains with precious little for vegetarians. In fact, the last time I had visited a Ruby Tuesdays (admittedly, over five years ago) they had nothing at all for vegetarians and I ended up walking out.

Ruby Tuesdays: Who could hang a name on you?

I probably would have happily continued ignoring the restaurant had I not gone on a weekend get-away with my Mom and Ruby Tuesdays was the only restaurant near our hotel that wasn't drive-thru fast food.

I was wowed by the salad bar, which is a cut above the average. Alongside the standard bar items, there are unique items like edamame, thinly sliced zucchini and slivered pickled beet. They also offer four varieties of lettuce to choose from, two types of vegetarian pasta salad, a smashing bean salad, and creamy apple salad.

The salad bar choices are excellent

It's too bad their hot entrées aren't as well thought out as the salad bar. None of the soups are safe (the broccoli-cheese soup has a chicken base) and the menu's only veggie entrée is a standard veggie burger.

The restaurant has jumped on the "mini sandwich" and "endless fries" bandwagon with a bevy of pint-sized selections a la White Castle that are available as appetizers or as a salad bar accompaniment for a small upcharge. There isn't a veggie burger mini, natch, but they do offer a mini grilled cheese option if you don't mind ordering from the kid's menu.

My neice and nephew tagged along on a recent visit and tried out the minis. Truthfully, we probably could have gotten away with one plate between the two of them, but Zoe wanted grilled cheese and Gunnar wanted burgers. It's a shame that the restaurant doesn't offer a mix & match option because one of each mini was left untouched by the kids.

Zoe is pleased with her mini-grilled cheeses

Gunnar prepares to dig into his mini burgers

Steve wasn't about to be left out: he ordered the mini buffalo chicken burgers

The restaurant's bar has different drink specials every day of the week and margaritas are $5 all the time. Sadly, although they advertise Yuengling on their beer menu, Ohio law doesn't currently allow for the sale. Too bad!

All in all, Ruby Tuesdays' menu still isn't all that different from other nationwide casual dining chains, but the addition of a veggie burger (boring as it may be) and a better-than-average salad bar makes it an acceptable vegetarian-friendly option when traveling.

Ruby Tuesday on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Emanu East African Restaurant

Emanu East African Restaurant
6063 Montgomery Road
Pleasant Ridge


This family-owned and operated Ethiopian restaurant was originally known as East Africa Restaurant and was situated in a house up the street from the current location at the corner of Montgomery and Losantiville. Emanu, the restaurant's namesake, has developed quite a following since she left Africa and came to the United States in 1992, introducing her delicious, home made dishes to Cincinnatians.

The restaurant is tastefully decorated in tonal browns and exudes a spa-like tranquillity, even on a noisy Friday evening. And it can get noisy - the lack of soft furnishings in the room means there is little to absorb the sound.

The sleek dining room

There are two main components to Ethiopian cuisine: tsebhi/watt, which are stew-like dishes of vegetables or meat, and injera, which is a large, supple flatbread on which the tsebhi/watt is served. The helpful guidelines on the menu state that the injera functions as both the platter and the utensil; bits of it are torn off and wrapped around the tsebhi/watt so that there is no need for cutlery.

The menu is small but varied, with several vegetarian/vegan entrées to choose from:
Ahmelti (Gomen) - collard greens and lightly spiced cabbage with onions and peppers.
Ades (Misir-Watt) - split lentils stewed in a thick, mild red sauce
Hiwswas (Beyayneti)- a combination of ahmelti/gomen and ades/misir-watt, with the addition of creamy yellow lentils, and carrots with beans.

I opted for the Hiwswas/Beyayneti combination platter, which at $13 is a good way to sample all the vegetarian/vegan dishes the restaurant has to offer. Food is served family style on top of a single injera, so if there are meat-eaters in the group it is wise to request the vegetarian option separately lest the juices from the meat dishes mingle with and foul the vegetables.

The Hiwswas/Beyayneti combo platter

Having never tried Ethiopian cuisine I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found the dishes reminiscent of southern soul food, which is not surprising given its historical nature, but also of Indian cuisine. The carrot and green bean selection, for instance, had hints of ginger and cardamom, while the ades/misir-watt was similar to a mildly spiced masoor dal.

Extra rolls of injera have the appearance of washcloths, but taste much better!

The divergence of cultures lies in the bread. Instead of southern corn bread or Indian naan, here it is injera, which is unlike anything I have encountered before. It's made by mixing together teff flour (a gluten-free, high-fiber grain found in Northeast Africa), and warm water, which is then allowed to ferment for several days at room temperature before salt is added. A little of the thin batter is poured then into a lightly oiled hot pan and swirled around until the entire surface is covered. The batter is returned to the heat so that the moisture can evaporate and when tiny indentions appear on the surface of the bread it is ready. It looks similar to a crepe, but is very stretchy and has a slightly sour taste. The odd texture may be off-putting to some, but the use is similar to a tortilla and I found that the various dishes had a wider dimension of flavor when wrapped in it than not.

This close-up reveals the porous nature of injera

The restaurant offers several types of dessert, including sorbet, baklava, cream cheese pies and pound cake. The options vary and popular items sell out quickly, so it’s a good idea to order your dessert at the same time as your entrée to ensure that it will be available. I missed out on the amazing honey cream cheese pie – although Food Hussy was kind enough to let me sample hers – and opted instead for the apricot pound cake, which wasn’t anything to write home about.

The apricot pound cake was a bit of a letdown

Emanu does not have a liquor license, but they are happy for you to bring your own and they do not charge a corkage fee. Lunch is served 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and dinner is from 4-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. The restaurant is open an extra hour on Friday and Saturday, and is closed Sunday and Monday.

Emanu East African Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Champps Sports Bar

Champps Sports Bar
9424 Civic Center Blvd
West Chester

I still have no idea how we wound up at Champps Sports Bar, but I'll readily admit that we weren't expecting much. Sports bars in general aren't known for their vegetarian friendliness, what with all the chicken and burgers and buffalo this and that. I'd already figured on having to order an overpriced appetizer as my main dish when I walked through the door.

Not your average sports bar

It's nice to be wrong. The restaurant doesn't have a lot for vegetarians, it's true, but when our server learned that I am vegetarian she informed us that any of the pastas can be prepared sans protein for a buck less, although the menu doesn't expressly state this. They also give the option of a veggie burger substitution for any of their specialty burgers.

As most of the specialties include applewood-smoked bacon, the choice is whittled down to four:
1. The 'Shroom Burger - sauteed mushrooms and Swiss cheese
2. The Patty melt - sauteed onions with Swiss and American cheeses
3. The Fresca - melted provolone with roasted red pepper and spinach, topped with feta crumbles
4. The aptly named Flamethrower - bell peppers, green chiles, poblano peppers, onions, chipotle tabasco, cajun seasoning and pepperjack cheese, topped with fresly sliced jalapeno peppers

Of course I went for the Flamethrower. OF COURSE. And it lives up to it's moniker. That there was a vegetarian patty beneath all the fire was secondary - if the sandwich had been prepared with all the ingredients bar the patty I'd have been blissfully burning and none the wiser.

The Flamethrower

Do I really want to eat a burger named after a J.Geils song?
Yes...yes I do.

Steve, being British and not giving a toss about stereotypes, ordered the fish and chips meal. He proclaimed that it was very tasty indeed, even though there was so much food that he had a "clean plate club" fail.

Fish & Chips

As with most sports bars, Champps is a large, open space with plenty of big screen televisions showing a plethora of sporting events. It can get very noisy, especially if auto racing is on the schedule. Their happy hour runs M-F from 3:30-6:30 p.m. with drink specials and a selection of half price appetizers, of which the mozzarella sticks are vegetarian, and the Mile High Nachos can be ordered sans chicken and chili. When we first looked at the menu we thought the prices seemed a little high for a sports bar (burgers being just under a tenner) but you do get a lot of bang for your buck. With menu selections that are above average, Champps comes out a winner.

Champps Entertainment on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Claddagh Irish Pub

Claddagh Irish Pub
1 Levee Way
Newport on the Levee
Newport KY

Well I guess I ought to dispel some of the venom I heaped at Claddagh a few months ago because they took my complaints to heart when they revamped their menu for the summer. There is now a vegetarian entree listed, and it's pretty darned good.

We were on our way to another restaurant at the Levee and noticed that Claddagh had a new "Summer Taste of Ireland" menu posted, so we went over to have a look. I really wasn't expecting to find anything vegetarian, but the Stuffed Portabella piqued my interest enough to walk through the door.

The restaurant is decorated in a faux Olde World style with lots of grey stone, wrought iron and dark wood. Credit where it is due, the restaurant does look similar to the pubs we visited in Dublin a few years ago; the only thing missing was the obligatory elderly drunken Irishman spouting abuse at patrons. Oh well, you can't have everything!

Claddagh has a pleasant outdoor dining area with a picturesque view of Cincinnati's skyline, and the proximity to the Purple People Bridge makes it an ideal location for people-watching. We ordered drinks (a pint of Carlsberg for Steve, a shandy for me) and got a table on the patio to watch the show.

Shandy: not recommended

The shandy wasn't very good. I should have known better than to order one on this side of the pond because American lemonade is quite different from the Brit version of lemonade, which is usually served sparkling and tastes rather like a more delicately flavored Sprite. What I got at Claddagh was a lager cut with American lemonade, which gave the drink a flat, bitter aftertaste. I like my beer, but I couldn't make it halfway through this. The Carlsberg and side salad were winners though.

A refreshing side salad

I'll admit that I wasn't holding out much hope for the meaty mushroom because much of the time I find them over-seasoned and oily, but Claddagh's kitchen staff showed tasteful restraint with the basil oil. The entree was not so much "stuffed" as it was layered: brie and thinly sliced tomatoes sit atop a crumb-coated portabella on a bed of sauteed spinach and cherry tomatoes. Very nice, but a little steep at $10.99. That said, I'd certainly order this entree again.

Stuffed Portabella entree

A close-up with my fork, for perspective

Claddagh's new summer menu also lists Banoffee Pie, a traditional British dessert made with homemade caramel, bananas and Bailey's whipped cream. I am sorry to say that I didn't get to sample the pie on this visit, but there's always next time. With a bonafied vegetarian option on the menu, a repeat visit is already in the works.

Claddagh Irish Pub on Urbanspoon