Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lunch at Passiflora

It's nothing short of awesome when you come across a cute little cafe in the middle of nowhere that serves up some pretty tasty vegan goodies.  That was the case on my drive to the northwest hills of Connecticut to meet some friends for lunch on this sunny spring afternoon.

I had heard good things about Passiflora, a tea room and cafe tucked in a little store front on Main Street in New Hartford.  It's easy to miss if you're zooming along on Rt. 44, but do take the time to slow down, stop in, and enjoy some slow food.  Everything here is made fresh with local and organic ingredients, and the quality comes through with every bite and sip.

I started with a Chocolate Maca Chai Tea with almond milk that promised to reduce stress and boost the immune system.  I needed both after a long week that tested my patience.  Plus, it tasted pretty rich and soothing with a peppery hint that was also energizing.

I ignored my gluten-free health needs for the main entree, a Tempeh Reuben on Bantam Bread sourdough rye with a side of Cream of Asparagus soup.  It's been over a decade since I've splurged on this bread, but I remember it well:  that yeasty aroma, a crisp crunch of crust, and hearty weave of gluten strands that hold it all together and make it heavenly chewy.  It was the perfect framework for the nicely grilled tempeh and heap of sauerkraut that were tucked inside.  My only qualm was the cafe's lack of hot sauce or spicy brown mustard, but I settled for some Dijon.  The soup was a pureed mix of asparagus, onion, carrot, celery and a pleasing mix of herbs.  The color wasn't terribly appetizing, but the taste more than made up for it.

It was difficult to decide on a dessert since there was an array of vegan treats to choose from, even a raw cookie.  At the recommendation of my dining companions, I chose one of the last two Gluten-free Black Bean Brownies, mostly because I couldn't imagine such a thing being tasty, much less edible.

I was surprised to discover that it was much much more than that. The crumb was moist and dense, almost fudgey in spots, and the flavor was that of a rich, dark chocolate.  I think there was probably some coffee mixed in there because I left with quite a buzz after this meal.

I would highly recommend a drive out to this little gem of a restaurant after a hike in nearby People's State Forest, or in the fall for a break from leaf peeping.  I will dream about those brownies and look forward to attempting to recreate them on my next baking expedition.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Lunch at Good News Cafe

I had the afternoon free to fill with crazy antics yesterday like going to the bank, dropping my bike off to get set up for some riding this week (temps in the 60s... YAY!), and shopping for groceries, so I decided to take the opportunity to visit a place new for lunch since I haven't written a restaurant review in quite awhile.  I was headed west from New Haven on Rt. 63 and decided I'd continue my scenic jaunt out to Woodbury so I could visit Carole Peck's Good News Cafe.  

This is a "farm to chef" type restaurant which features an extensive selection of locally grown produce, artisinal cheeses, and grass-fed beef on their menu.  They even had antelope as one of the entrees.  While I'm not in favor of eating animals no matter how humanely they lived, I had always heard that the menus here were vegan-friendly and could easily be adapted, so I decided to find out.

The daily soup du jour is always vegetarian, and the luscious Tomato and Wild Rice Soup that was on the menu during my visit was easily made vegan by omitting the locally produced chevre crumble that would've gone on top.  The crunchy, peppery papadum that it was served with made a nice contrast for the velvety smooth soup.  A cup cost $6.

As I scanned the menu for veganable items, I noticed a rice and bean burrito served with guacamole and pico de gallo that could easily be veganized by omitting the cheese.  But I felt like I wanted more than starch for lunch and instead looked to the list of salads for inspiration.  I found it in the Wilted Baby Spinach Salad with Warm Red Globe Grapes and Pineapples, Sauteed Shiitake Mushroom and Tofu.  As far as I could tell, this was entirely vegan on its own, but I made sure to mention that to my server just so there wouldn't be any surprises when my plate arrived.

I was happy to find a substantial amount of spinach along with a decent pile of tofu and mushrooms.  I had never had a savory-sweet combination like this before, but the flavors contrasted perfectly and left me feeling satisfied.  And now that I've eaten warm grapes, I'm going to make a point of incorporating them into some of my own recipes!

It's always nice to discover something new and exciting on a menu at an omnivore restaurant that strays from standard vegan offerings, and I'm happy I made the trip.