Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Paxton's Grill

Paxton's Grill
126 W. Loveland Avenue
Tel: 513-583-1717

Named for Revolutionary War Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Paxton, who was one of the first settlers to the area, Paxton's Grill is a pleasant hometown restaurant with a number of meat-free options for the vegetarian diner.

Paxton's Grill

Housed in an historic brick building close to the Loveland Bike Trail, the restaurant looks like a typical sports bar, with its many flat-screen TVs and sporting gear decorating the walls. The restaurant's menu selections, however, make it a much better contender than the deep-fried nonsense one normally finds at American sports bars, and the friendly, attentive service wins the gold.

A quiet afternoon in Paxton's

Paxton's caters well to vegetarians by offering two meat-free wraps, a couple of veggie sandwiches, and a pasta entrée called Veggie Jambalaya ($11.95) to tempt the tastebuds. I nearly ordered the Paxton's Big Veggie wrap ($8), which comes slathered in hummus and stuffed with spring greens, sprouts, cucumbers, mushrooms and salsa, but was intrigued enough by the idea of jambalaya to give it a try.

Veggie Jambalaya

Instead of a spicy rice dish, this jambalaya consisted of vegetables and a mild, creamy tomato sauce over linguine. It was tasty, but jambalaya? Not so much. Still, I'll give them good marks for the effort.

Steve's choice of Chicken Philly Panini was more on target description-wise, but he found it somewhat devoid of flavor. The shoestring fries weren't much better and he wished he would have simply gotten potato chips instead.

Panini sandwich with fries

Paxton's Grill has a frequent diner card which, once you've spent $100, gives you $10 off your bill. It's a good deal if you live in or visit the Loveland area regularly. There's also a full-service bar, outdoor dining and free wi-fi. Even though our meals were not exactly what we were expecting, we found this pleasant little independent restaurant worthy of a repeat visit.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Riverbank Café

Riverbank Café
102 Main St.

Craig's List has helped me and Steve sell plenty of stuff over the years, and it's also responsible for numerous purchases we've made, but I never imagined that it would point me toward the best veggie burger in the Tri-State. But hey, I gotta give props because Craig's List took us through downtown Hamilton on our way to pick up an Electra Townie 7D, a bicycle that we'd had on our "want list" for over a year. We'd seen other Townies listed here and there, but sellers were asking more than we wanted to pay. This Townie, however, was priced to sell - and in the color we wanted! We could barely contain our excitement. Once we'd secured the bike we decided to celebrate our good fortune at the Riverbank Café, which we'd noticed on our way through town.

Riverbank Cafe

The restaurant is located in the historic Rumple Building, built in the mid-1850's and named for Squire Rumple, who operated an ironworks and hardware store in the space. Other tenants over the years include Beeler Drugs, which occupied the building until 1941, and Burg's Mens Clothing Store, which called the Rumple home for the next 50+ years.

At first glance the menu isn't anything special, but then you start to notice items like sweet potato fries in cinnamon sauce ($3.95), and the French Picnic appetizer ($6.95), consisting of grapes, a variety of cheeses and assorted crackers. I was surprised and pleased to note the number of vegetarian-friendly items sprinkled throughout the menu, including roasted tomato Alfredo pizza ($12.95), jumbo cheese ravioli in marinara or Alfredo sauce ($11.95), and fried lasagna rolls ($10.95), as well as the aforementioned veggie burger ($6.95).

Best veggie burger around

Now normally I eschew veggie burgers if there are other vegetarian options on the menu, but our server sold me on it, and I'm glad she did because this homemade patty of minced veggies was astonishingly tasty. The burger comes with a side of potato chips and a pickle spear, as well as the traditional burger fixings of lettuce, tomato and mayo on the side. The tomato looked as though it had seen better days, but thankfully trimmings and condiments weren't necessary because the patty packed so much flavor.

Steve opted for the Roast Beef Open Stack with a side of green beans

Weekend mornings find an array of breakfast omelettes at The Riverbank, and I'm itching for a revisit to try their Spinafuccini, made up of spinach, feta and Swiss cheese, onions and diced tomatoes. And who could resist the groovily named Hippie Hash ($6.95)? Comprised of shredded, golden brown hash browns mixed with mushrooms, onions, broccoli, green peppers and crumbled feta, it's the sort of dish I used to look forward to finding on Shakedown Street when I frequented Dead shows.

This friendly neighborhood restaurant has a full bar and offers live entertainment at weekends. Jazz trios certainly have their appeal, but if you choose a window seat overlooking Main Street, you might just catch another form of live entertainment at The Riverbank Café: frisky puppies frolicking in a shopfront window across the street.

How much is that doggie in the window?

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Recipe: Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie

The beauty of this recipe lies not only in its simplicity, but also in how easily it can be altered to suit your taste. I rarely make it the same way twice, so for blogging purposes I've decided not to stray too far from the original, which comes from the fantastic vegetarian cookbook, Linda's Kitchen.

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
Serves 4-6

The ingredients

4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 Tbs butter/margarine (Linda calls for 3 oz of margarine, which is 6 tablespoons. I think that's too much unnecessary fat)
2 Tbs skim milk or soy milk
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (12 oz) bag vegetarian mince
2 Tbs soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Amino
1 Cup vegetable stock (I use McKay's chicken-style instant broth)
2 tsp garam masala (easy substitute: ground mace or grated nutmeg)
1 Cup frozen peas
1 Cup mushrooms, chopped (easy substitute: one can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil potatoes in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes, or until soft.
2. Preheat oven to 400F.

3. While potatoes are boiling, melt 2 Tbs butter over medium-low heat in a large frying pan or Dutch oven. Add onions and carrots. Cover and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Add peas and garlic, and put lid back on for a few minutes - just until peas are softened.

5. Stir in mushrooms.

6. Add mince, garam masala, soy sauce and veggie broth. Mix well and bring to a boil. Simmer gently, uncovered, for about 8 minutes.

7. While mince mixture is cooking, drain the potatoes. Return them to the pot and mash with milk and remaining butter/margarine. Season with salt and pepper, and cover to keep warm.

8. Pour mince mixture into a baking dish.

9. Spread mashed potatoes over the mixture.

10. Bake for 30 minutes or until topping is browned.* If topping hasn't browned at the end of baking time, pop dish under broiler briefly.


For added enjoyment, serve with vegetarian gravy.

*NOTE: It's a good idea to put a drip pan on the oven rack below the baking dish, in the event that the filling boils over.

Click for printable recipe.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Aladdin's Eatery

Aladdin's Eatery
9344 Union Centre Blvd.
West Chester

Located in a non-descript strip mall in West Chester, Aladdin's Eatery has a friendly staff and an inviting decor that belies it's plain-Jane exterior. The Lebanese-American menu boasts over 40 vegetarian items, many of which can easily be made vegan. There are also choices suitable for gluten-free, diabetic and heart-healthy diets.

Aladdin's Eatery

Although I had it as a starter, the hearty vegetarian chili ($3.45) is a meal in itself and has a pleasantly spicy kick that may tingle some tastebuds. If heat isn’t your thing, there is a tamer option that mixes mild lentils into the chili. Other vegetarian soup options include nine-vegetable and lentil. All are made from scratch, and there are no sulfites, artificial starch or other additives.

The vegetarian chili is warming on a cold winter's day

The restaurant takes their healthy fare a step further by offering freshly squeezed juices, raw juice combos, and smoothies sweetened with unrefined natural brown sugar. There is also a good selection of hot tea (organic and kosher), coffee, beer, and wine - including several varieties of Lebanese red and white.

Raw juice bar and smoothie counter

Of the eleven salads, eight are vegetarian. They include an almond salad, fruit & nut salad, spinach salad, fattoush, falafel, and Lebanese salata. Most salads are under $7, with meat-enhanced salads (chicken, turkey, tuna) slightly higher. Can't decide between the rolled pitas and a salad? Try one of the salad pockets, which combine salad with fillings such as falafel, babaganoush, lentils and tabouli, served chilled inside a pita pocket.

Side salad of mixed greens and Lebanese salata

Aladdin’s doesn’t skimp on their sandwiches; their hummus-falafel rolled pita is one of the largest falafel wraps I’ve encountered, and also one of the tastiest. The lightly fried chickpea patties are present in every bite of this toasted wrap, which also includes hummus, tomatoes, greens, pickles and small chunks of turnip. Delicious. Not into hummus? Try it with tahini yogurt or babaganoush (eggplant spread) instead.

Nomtastic hummus-falafel rolled pita

The restaurant also offers what they call "pita pitzas," which are flat pitas toasted and topped with a variety of ingredients. Steve opted for one topped with char-grilled chicken tenders, bell peppers and scallions drizzled with honey dijon and garlic sauce. Our server suggested adding cheese and crispy onions, lending added crunch to the pitza. Four of the seven pitza offerings are vegetarian.

Chicken pitza smothered in fried onions

If you want to spice things up, be sure to request a side of their house made hot sauce (.60c). The creamy sauce looks innocuous enough, but with notes of garlic and pepper that are sure to light you up. Keep tissues handy – this stuff WILL turn on the internal faucet in your head. So good it's worth buying a 12 oz. container ($5.95) to take home.

The stylish interior is very clean

I was intrigued by the fatayer ($5.75), a spinach & onion pie topped with feta cheese and scallions. From the description I was expecting something similar to Greek spanakopita, and while fatayer uses similar ingredients, the addition of lemon juice lends a tart, almost vinegary taste to the dish, and instead of flaky filo pastry the filling is baked inside a large, wrapped pita.

Fatayer - spinach, feta and onions baked in a pita

Aladdin’s Eatery is a franchised chain headquartered in the Cleveland area, and while the West Chester restaurant is currently the only local one, there are plans in the works for a second location in the Clifton Gaslight District. It will take me a long time to eat my through the entire menu of vegetarian delights at Aladdin's, and I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Aladdin's Eatery on Urbanspoon