Friday, September 14, 2007

Can a Brother get a Veggie Burger?!


When I became a vegetarian in 1980, the only restaurant where I could find a veggie burger was T.G.I.Friday. Sadly, T.G.I.Friday stopped carrying veggie burgers on their menu about a year ago.

Fortunately, it is now possible to find veggie burgers at several chain restaurants, national and local (to D.C.): Ruby Tuesday’s is quite good, Houston’s is exceptional, the Hard Times Café’s is very good, and so is Chee’ Burger-Chee’ Burger’s. On the other hand, 5 Guys, Bennigan’s and Applebee’s have no veggie burgers or sandwiches. Note to restaurants: salad on bread does not a veggie sandwich make!

Still, only one national fast food chain has stepped up to the plate in all these years and put a veggie burger on their menu nationally: Burger King with their BK-Veggie, and yes it is a good veggie burger. I’m told McDonalds test-marketed a veggie burger in California and Canada only but it never caught on and it has been discontinued, at least in California.

Actually there is one more national chain with a veggie patty: Subway, although I hesitate to call it fast food. It’s actually quite good, which begs the question: why hasn’t chief competitor Quiznos followed suit? Their veggie sub is just handsful of mushrooms and black-olives, lettuce, onions and tomatoes (with or without cheese) with guacamole slathered on. A salad sub. Blechh!

The best idea I have found is the one encountered at the Sidewalk Café in Venice Beach, California. They have a menu with a variety of sandwiches and burgers named after noted writers. Best of all, each burger is made with the customer’s choice of a beef, turkey, or veggie patty! Why doesn’t every restaurant do this? It should be a no-brainer (for reaching the greatest variety of customers).

This way, the vegetarian doesn’t have to search for some tiny vegetarian ghetto on the menu. They can eat burgers with all the fixings just like everybody else. Only with a veggie patty instead of meat. Genius!

The other thing that blew this veggie away at the Sidewalk cafe was being able to get veggie sausage on my pizza. My spinach pizza with veggie sausage was off the hook! No wonder I love LA!

Sidewalk Cafe, Venice Beach, CA, June 2007

Photo (c) 2007 by the Incorrigible Curmudgeon

1 comment:

deeceevoice said...

Veggie burgers are okay, but I'm a falafel kinda girl.

Back in the day, when I was a vegan and spent a lot of time in New York, I loved to drop by a little stand called Mahmoud's, in the Village. Warm pita bread stuffed with perfectly seasoned morsels of chickpeas, crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, lettuce, tomato and sesame tahini. Simple. Fantastic.

In the years since, I've prowled the specialty aisles of supermarkets and health food stores in search of good filafel mixes, eschewing those made in Israel for political reasons.

Now, my neighborhood, Adams Morgan, in Northwest D.C., has two great spots for falafel aficionados, the Amsterdam Falafel Shop on 18th Street, and the Old City Cafe (formerly Cafe Shawarma) on Columbia Road. The proprietor of OCC was the cook at AFS, took note of the amazing success of it (literally, mobs standing in line on Saturdays after the bars close at 3 in the morning) and decided to start his own business.

Smart man.

The brother is Palestinian, and I try to support his establishment whenever I can. Unlike AFS, which is basically a stand-up and takeout affair, Old City is a sit-down restaurant. It's not posh, but it's comfortable and roomy. The piped-in music is a curiously appealing kind of weird bellydance house music -- Middle Eastern, but very clearly influenced with black funk/jazz.

And the food is fabulous. The falafel is cheap, tasty and filling. The fixings bar has 20 or more condiments/vegetables to choose from, varied enough to please anyone's palate: pickled beet salad, chickpeas, cucumbers in a sour cream sauce, jalapenos, onions, mushroom salad, tomato-cucumber salad, etc., etc. Anything you could dream of pairing with falafel or Middle Eastern cuisine, it's there.

A vegetarian/vegan can spend about 7 or 8 bucks for a large falafel and a beverage and walk away supremely satisfied.

And there's an expanded menu for the omnivore: kifta, kebabs, eggplant, soup even breakfast food (but no pork). Everything I've tried at Old City Cafe is great. Though I haven't had the beef or lamb, they smell heavenly (sorry for mentioning the dead meat! :( ). And the grilled salmon with saffron rice is perfection.

One more note. The Old City Cafe people are just plain nice. Recently, on my way home with carryout from the place, I encountered a rather rough-looking homeless brother, whom I offered to buy a meal. He wanted Pizza Hut, but I dragged him instead back to OCC; I wanted him to have a decent meal. The attendant and I helped him place his order as he asked all sorts of questions (pointing at the fixings bar or the menu, "What's that?" "What's it made of?" etc.) Then we sat and waited for his order and talked. It was just after COB, and the after-work crowd had yet to wander in, so I knew it'd be cool. No prying eyes, no hassle from management at all (which is the way it should be.

When the man at the cash register handed Tony his food, he thanked him, smiled and said, "Enjoy your meal, sir."

"Sir." :)

When I got home, I called and thanked the guy for treating Tony with dignity.

But I was so busy attending to him while we were in the restaurant (I spooned his fixings onto his plate -- because, frankly, while he wasn't really grimy, he still wasn't exactly someone I'd want at a food table, I'd laid down my wallet there and never realized it!

Upshot? I got a call back, returned and retrieved my wallet that, uncharacteristically, had a substantial amount of cash in it. Everything was there.

So, next time you're hungry and want a treat -- vegetarian, vegan or meat eater -- check out the Old City Cafe.

Great food & even better people.

And you can't beat that with a stick. ;)