Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Greenspace Cafe

Greenspace Cafe
215 West Nine Mile Road, Ferndale, MI 48220
QISA (4, 4, 4, 4), $13-20, Vegan

While looking for a new vegetarian restaurant to patronize in the Detroit Metro area, I came upon Greenspace Cafe, a fancy, vegan, kosher restaurant and bar along the fashionable Nine Mile Road in downtown Ferndale, just north of Detroit proper. The restaurant was started by Dr. Joel Kahn, a “plant-based cardiologist who combines the best of Western and complementary therapies for total healing.” Kahn, who was voted “Sexiest Male Vegan Over 50 by PeTA,” has created a plant-based restaurant and bar “inspired by health, as well as global culinary traditions and Detroit’s exciting artisan food culture.” His restaurant focuses on subtle flavors, textural variety, and fresh ingredients. The mixed drinks incorporate the therapeutic benefits of various fruits and botanicals and uses raw organic juices to become healthier versions of their standard form.

There was no way in Hell I was missing out on this one.

With its wooden Jenga block art motif and slightly too loud music, the restaurant was clearly going for a trendy vibe to wrap around its healthy vegan focus. However, the wait staff were very friendly, and the clientele included everyone from swanky 20-somethings, to middle-aged men and women in business suits, to elderly refugees from old Jewish diners. I felt perfectly at home.

I started with an Autumn’s Cup, a cocktail of cardamom birch bark infused rum, Saskatoon jam, fresh lime, orange bitters, and a wedge of blood orange. Although the drink started on the palate like a standard citrusy cocktail, it had a complexity that made you sit and think while exotic flavors danced at the borders of your subconscious. I felt all sorts of sophisticated.

I then began my meal with a cup of red lentil shorba, a North African stew with a dollop of green chermoula in the center that provided a sharp tangy contrast to the mild, comforting soup. The entire dish was artfully decorated by a swirl of cashew labneh on the top. And now, thanks to Wikipedia, I know that chermoula is a lemony marinade used in Tunisian and Moroccan cooking. Shorba is a type of stew found in the Balkans, North Africa, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. And labneh is a strained yoghurt cheese. I felt all kinds of cosmopolitan with my new found worldly knowledge.

Finally, I got to my main course, a Chiapas Bowl, which was an esthetically rendered mix of seasoned black beans, chips, greens, quinoa, corn, and tofu, each residing in its own sector. The dish was a work of art unto itself. Although it was marked “spicy” on the menu, it wasn’t really. Rather, the flavors were subtle, focusing more on the inherit flavors of each ingredient, brought out through gentle cooking. “Oh,” I found myself saying, “That’s what quinoa is supposed to taste like.” The tofu, which was a local organic Michigan product called Panda Brand, was lightly marinated and baked, giving it a strong texture but mild flavor.

For dessert, I had a piece of turtle cheesecake. The cheesecake was a little small for its $8.00 cost, but considering how full I already was, it was the perfect denouement to the meal. The cheesecake had a slightly yoghurty tang that seems to be typical of vegan cheesecakes, but it had a ribbon of chocolate throughout, and it was covered with chocolate and caramel sauces that upped the decadence factor. The crust was a chocolate coconut crust, which was a different take on the standard crumb crust, but very effective and very delicious.

The restaurant is certified kosher by Kosher Michigan, which makes it the perfect place to take your Jewish vegan date. And the prices are quite reasonable for this type of restaurant, which means you can impress your date without wiping out your bank account. In fact, men, I would recommend you target Jewish vegan women and put Greenspace Cafe in your arsenal of romantic moves. It will show your woman that you are a self-confident, sophisticated, worldly, eco-conscious, and yet surprisingly physically fit suitor. Just pray that Dr. Joel Kahn is not there that night. I mean, really. Nobody needs that kind of competition.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


6207 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60646
QISA (4, 3.5, 3.5, 4), $10-12, Vegan

So much on my mind. Too much on my mind. I am so tired. I had a long drive to Chicago this morning and another a long drive ahead of me. Just had an unpleasant meeting. And I hate my health insurance. And it’s cold outside. What should I do? Wait, what is Amitabul? Vegan Korean cuisine?

Well, the restaurant looks promising. Inside it’s all fancy tables and Asian artwork and calligraphic prints and meditative music. It sounds like a Buddhist monastery with waves crashing on the shore.

What’s that sign on the wall?

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened, happiness never decreases by being shared – Buddha

OK, maybe I can spare a little time.

I can not believe how frosty that business meeting became. Trying to ameliorate a doctor who was angry at my company and barely holding it together with me? Not something I want to repeat any time soon.

Maybe I will start with a cup of warm date tea. Oh, this tea is fantastic! This fermented date tea tastes just like sweet dates with a very mild tang. It is incredibly warm and comforting.

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned – Buddha

I can’t believe how cold it is already. I am not ready for winter. Not, not, not. I need a vacation. I need to go somewhere warm. I don’t know how I am going to make it through another snowy January.

What about this seaweed miso soup. Oh my! This generous bowl is a delicious miso broth with tofu, greens, and seaweed. It is moderately salty and makes me think of a warm day on the seaside. I can smell the salt in the air, hear the gulls and the waves, stretch out on the sand...

To conquer oneself is a greater victory than to conquer thousands in battle - Buddha

What’s up with my health insurance? I can’t believe they think my provider is out of network. There are no similar providers in network. How are we going to pay for this?

Maybe I should eat the mushroom bi bim bop. Wow! The bowl is huge, and it’s a perfectly blended mix of slivered vegetables, Chinese mushrooms, and beans over brown rice with a wonderful peanut miso sauce. It’s so filling, so satisfying.

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly – Buddha

I am so full, but I want to come back and try the seaweed mushroom soup or maybe the healing noodle soup. Maybe I can try the tofu young patties or another bi bim bop or one of their creative noodle dishes. With all of this, I can handle anything. Anything!

President Trump.

Maybe I had better take another sip of tea. Maybe another. Maybe one more...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Marie Catrib's

Marie Catrib’s
1001-1003 Lake Drive SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
QISA (4, 4, 3.5, 3.5), $7-12, Vegetarian-Friendly

Marie Catrib’s is where the beautiful people eat. This is not the house of the wealth and well-dressed nor the movers and shakers of the Grand Rapids elite. No, this is the place where the actual beautiful people eat, the incredibly attractive college age men and women, the young families with photogenic children, and the occasional “normal-looking” middle-aged and elderly thrown in for good measure. Even the old man toddling his way past the bar looked stooped and creaky but not unattractive. This is the land of clean living.

Marie Catrib sounds like the name of a 18th century pirate queen, buT in fact she is the founder and owner of this experimental restaurant using, “a twist of Lebanese, a hit of Yooper and a yen for unique pastries.” I enjoyed the artwork on the walls which ranged from an impressionist painting of an 18th century woman pouring tea to a surrealistic painting of an airplane flying past planets to a lovely close-up photograph of Playmobile toy characters in an inner city setting. Obviously, the word has gone out about this restaurant because the place was hopping at lunchtime. I waited 20-30 minutes for a table for one. Upon arriving, I put my name on a yellow legal pad and waited along with the other hopefuls.

The restaurant is quite vegetarian friendly; the many creative vegetarian and vegan dishes offered are clearly mere afterthoughts to appease non-carnivorous patrons. I ordered the lentil quinoa burger, a side of Marie’s seasoned potatoes, and (because how could I not) a half pot of Turkish coffee. The burger had a pleasant chewiness and curry spice, and it was loaded with lettuce, curried vegenaise, and ginger-tomato chutney. The generous portion of seasoned potatoes were cut into large chunks, coated with a tangy, salty seasoning, and roasted. The accompanying pickle spear was just slightly under crisp for my taste, but it was moderately spicy which came as a pleasant surprise.

The Turkish coffee was one of the best I’ve ever had. It was strong, slightly sweet, and flavored with a touch of cardamom, creating a perfectly balanced blend. The half pot was clearly intended for more than one diner, but this did not stop me from refilling my little cup over and over again.

Marie Catrib’s is comfort food with a creative exotic twist. I definitely plan to come back to try out her falafel or her ancho lentil tacos or perhaps her marinated portabella mushrooms and onions on grilled challah bread. And perhaps next time I will treat myself to one of her wonderful looking pastries. I am definitely getting another half pot of Turkish coffee and nursing it in the corner. Y’all can get your own.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bartertown Diner

Bartertown Diner
6 Jefferson Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
QISA (3.5, 4, 4, 3.5), $7-12, Vegan

A vegan, community-focused, breakfast and lunch joint like Bartertown Diner could only exist in a small liberal college town. San Francisco, New York, or Chicago? They are way too trendy and metropolitan for anything this grass roots. South Bend or Terre Haute, Indiana? Way to blue collar, and slightly too red. Bloomington, Indiana? Possibly. Maybe.

But it is Grand Rapids, the second largest city in Michigan, a city of 192,294 people nearly evenly divided between Democratic and Republican voters, a city where the largest college is Grand Rapids Community College (student population 32,000), that supports this unique establishment. In fact, it is Grand Rapids with its beautiful three dimensional murals gracing the side of buildings downtown, visual and performing art institutions, and variety of locally-owned, locally sourced restaurants that is the perfect place for Bartertown.

Bartertown Diner advertises its mission as serving, “delicious affordable food that increases the overall well-being of our health, our community, and our planet.” They use locally sourced and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. They sell Sonder Farms organic produce in the corner of the restaurant like a micro-farmer’s market. They also give much lip service and ink to paying their wait staff a fair living wage and advertise themselves as a “no tip restaurant." Instead of leaving a tip, they encourage patrons to purchase $2 taco or $5 food bowl coupons that can be used by ANYONE who walks in the door. These coupons are posted on a large bulletin board near the door, and are used every day by college kids, homeless people, or whoever else needs a free meal. It’s a great way to provide judgement-free food to the community while encouraging vegan eating.

The food itself is quite good, not fantastic, but still very good. I ordered the jalapeno lentil burger, topped with cilantro aioli, spinach, thick slices of tomato, thin slices of jalapenos, and their house mustard. The patty was a soft puree rather than a chewy burger. It was moderately spicy with a lot of flavor. I liked the taste, but I personally think it could have used a grain to give it more crunch or chewiness.

The Fox Force Five smoothie contained almond milk, banana, peanut butter, cacao, and chia seeds. It was blended smooth with only a slight graininess, and the flavor was balanced nicely without being too sweet. I could almost feel the antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids turning me into a better version of myself.

I treated myself to a dense, cakey cinnamon-sugar coated donut. If you are looking for baked vegan pastries, you could do a lot worse.

In fact, you could do a lot worse than the Bartertown Diner. I recommend it for its mission of healthy, locally-sourced vegan food, its tasty meals, and its devotion to the community. I even purchased a $5 food bowl coupon and proudly taped it to the bulletin board. Hopefully, some young student at the Grand Rapids Community College will make good use of it.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Om Cafe

Om Cafe
23136 Woodward Ave, Ferndale, MI 48220
Vegetarian (Vegan Friendly)
QISA (4, 4, 3.5, 3.5), $11-14, Vegetarian (Vegan-Friendly)

It was a cold, wet, snowy day when I stumbled into the Om Cafe.

Wow. That last sentence reads like Robert Frost smoking pot with the crew of the Firesign Theater. Kids, go ask your parents. I’ll wait.

Perhaps, I should start again.

The Om Cafe is a 31-year old family affair, started way back in 1985 by a Colleen Smiley. The restaurant’s Website describes Colleen as a woman who was “waging a war of vegetables against meat, antibiotics, growth hormones and processed food.” Passed on to her eldest son Jason Smiley, and then eventually passed on to Jessica Norwood, a woman, “whose parents had been bringing her to the Om Cafe she she was three years old,” this hippie hideaway is obviously a labor of love.

Any epicurean establishment started as a political movement runs the risk of being a relic, a testament to a by-gone era. I’ve seen this time and time again, typically with old natural food co-ops that never learned to keep up with the Trader Joe’s, Wild Oats, or Whole Foods phenomenon. I’ve seen it with old vegan lunch spots that never learned how to marry flavor with fervor and that simply crank out food that tastes raw, earthy, and unrefined. Frankly, I was surprised to find out the Om Cafe was as old as it was; it felt like a new entrant into the vegetarian food market.

The interior of the small restaurant was decorated with strikingly colorful paintings by SooMee Lee, a local artist with her own expressionistic style. The alt rock music over the loudspeaker made me think of a particularly trippy Pink Floyd album with violins added in, but in a good way. Needless to say, the restaurant was creating its own modernistic style that leaned toward “in your face” but then fell back toward its own aesthetic groove.

I’d even be willing to go out on a limb and guess that back in 1985, there was a lot more paisley and sitar music, and a lot less trippy modern aesthetic groove with violins. But that’s just a guess.

Even the food has its own artistic flair. I ordered the El Mexicano, a big plate of loaded nachos, which was a crazy flavor mix of beans, black olives, kalamata olives, baked tofu wedges, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, jalapeno slides, and onion. It was a group think of spicy, salty, chunky, crunchy, and meaty, all vying for the attention of your tastebuds. It was as if the color palate on the walls was bleeding into the food. But in a good way.

The meal was also my first experience with kukicha tea, a tea composed of stems, stalks, and twigs, giving it an earthy, toasty, and slight carob flavor. The tea was served with a slice of lemon, which added even more flavors to the taste palate. The fact that I got free refills didn’t hurt either.

The menu is not very large, but I have to give them points for originality. The loaded vegan mac, for example, adds kale and tofu to the noodles and mac sauce and tops the entire dish with crushed peanuts, cilantro, and lime. It’s macaroni and cheese meets pad thai. The General Tso Dinner is a mix of sauteed broccoli, cremini mushrooms, diced organic tofu, organic brown rice, and black sesame seeds, all covered with their house made sauce of ginger, tamari, and sesame oil. And bottles of tamari and sriracha join the salt and pepper as standard table condiments.

My only complaint was that at times, the restaurant felt a little too much like an art gallery. The waiter, for example, seemed a bit stand-offish and perfunctory in his duties until I asked him questions about the tea. Only then did he engage me in more than the basic level of human interaction.

Maybe this is what happens with any local family restaurant when one’s clientele becomes so local that the restaurant forgets to reach out to the strangers, the travelers, the new vegetarians, or the casual explorers. If so, this just won’t do. Not if they expect to last another 31 years.

Of course by then, a whole new generation will be in charge of the restaurant, and the style will shift again to match the times. The artwork will be neo-socialist retro steampunk and the menu will be inspired by farm-to-table pan-African-fusion cuisine.

I don’t know. Don’t ask me. I’m sure I will need my grandkids to explain it all to me over a shared plate of loaded nachos.

PJ's Lager House

PJ's Lager House
1254 Michigan Avenue, Detroit, MI 48226
QISA (4, 3.5, 3.5, 3.5), $8-10, Vegetarian-Friendly

Sure, we've all heard about Detroit’s dire economic forecast. Stories of high unemployment rates and soaring city debt have created an image of a post-apocalyptic urban sprawl ruled by gangs, mutants, and rodents of unusual size. Whenever I travel there for business, I expect to climb over rubble, leaking pipes, rotting corpses, and a doleful Eminem sobbing into his hands on my way to meet with pulmonologists still trying to improve the lives of patients suffering from pulmonary hypertension.

The reality, of course, is nowhere near this extreme. A drive through the city reveals trees even in the most urban settings, music in the downtown area, and a vibrant restaurant culture. In fact, according to the New York Times, Detroit is in recovery, drawing in developers and entrepreneurs.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that buried in a desolate part of the city, overlooking the intersection of I-75 and Highway 10 near the MGM Grand Detroit, is a friendly little bar with an even friendlier menu. I speak, of course, of PJ’s Lager House.

The building dates back to 1914 when it was a neighborhood bakery and restaurant. Masquerading as a furniture store during prohibition (“I’d like to buy a chaise lounge and a shot of Templeton rye, please”), it re-emerged as a beer garden as soon as Prohibition was repealed. And then it changed, and changed again, and changed again. The current incarnation still looks a bit antique, but the menu is anything but.

I ordered the tofu banh mi, a delicious sandwich of marinated and deep fried tofu triangles, served with lettuce, cucumber/carrot/jalapeno slaw, a homemade peanut sauce, and chopped red peppers, all served on a crusty bolillo bun (basically a Mexican version of French bread). Complementing this were the best sweet potato fries I’ve had in a long, long, long time. They were medium thick cut and fried to a crispy perfection. And of course filled with healthy vitamin A and beta carotene. I cleaned my plate because I needed my vitamins.

Beers ranged from standard boring watery macrobrews to very intriguing bottled and draft microbrews. I opted for an incredibly good porter whose name escapes me (I am kicking myself for not scratching it onto my hand) followed by a glass of Brooklyn Lager on tap.

The bartender was a very friendly sort and seemed to recognize everyone who entered, including and especially the family with the young child. He had a constant smile and patter with the young hipsters and aging hippies decorating the joint. It was definitely a non-traditional neighborhood bar in a non-traditional neighborhood.

I had the good fortune of visiting on a quiet night when the bands were not playing. After a long day at work, I wanted to take in the food and beer at my own pace and let the day’s grind wash away. Still, had I come on one of the more musical nights, I would have gladly paid the cover to hear the Corn Potato String Band (an old timey American string ensemble) or maybe Sleepy Kitty (a two piece indie rock band) or perhaps the Smoking Flowers (a Nashville country rock duo) or even Jason and the Punknecks ("Punk makes nice with Country").

I just don’t think I would have walked home by myself late at night. Come on. This is Detroit, after all.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


104 North Marion Street, Oak Park, IL 60301
QISA (4, 4, 3.5, 4), $7-14, Vegetarian (Vegan-Friendly)

Munch is a hidden gem in Oak Park, Illinois. It is a small cozy restaurant sporting local artwork on the walls, silver globe paper chandeliers, and an over-worked but still attentive, pleasant, and very friendly waitress who is more than happy to explain anything on the menu. Munch is a cash-only restaurant, with an in-store ATM for patrons (like me) who don’t automatically keep cash on hand. It is homemade comfort food that makes artistry out of meaty, or at least meaty-tasting dishes.

David Hammond, the food writer for, praised the restaurant in his video blog, “You Really Should Eat This.” Admittedly, at times, his review of Munch feels like an apologetic justification of vegetarianism to a skeptical omnivorous public nervous about veg heads indoctrinating their children. However, I agree with his general premise that one can not compare vegetarian food to meat-based food since they are different entities entirely. Munch, he explains, stands on its own. And he really, really likes the Wrap Italiano, a tortilla wrap of seitan breakfast “sausage”, organic tofu, marinara, and either provolone or vegan mozzarella. I personally can not vouch for this dish, although it did look quite tasty, but I definitely can say, to steal Hammond’s punchline…

You should definitely eat this: “Beefy” tostado plate. These tostados are definitely a fork food, spilling over with seitan-based “beef”, cheese, black beans, corn, red onion, tomato, and sliced avocado on top of a crunchy tortilla. The entire dish is served over a bed of lettuce, radicchio, and shredded carrot, giving it an artisanal feel. The proteins and veggies blend well, and the flavors and textures really pop. In addition, the avocado is at the perfect ripeness. Yes, it's those little things that count.

You should definitely drink this: Cacao almond sin smoothie. This thick smooth drink is a blend of cacao powder, dates, almonds, and bananas. Smoother than you would expect, this a decadent-tasting shake.

Although Oak Park is farther west than my typical route through Chicago, I may have to make a couple more side trips…for research purposes of course. I need to know if you should definitely eat the Groovy Breakfast Plate, an organic tofu scramble with sautéed portabella mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and spinach. Or if it you should possibly eat the Tarragon “Chicken” Wrap, with marinated “chicken” seitan, caramelized onions, roasted bell peppers, leafy greens, cucumbers, and herbed veganaise. Or if you might possibly want to definitely eat the Groovy Plate with pan-seared “beefy” marinated tofu, mashed sweet potatoes, red quinoa pilaf, sautéed greens, and a kale salad with orange vinagraitte.

Who am I kidding? Of course you should. And wave to me while you are there.

Inn Season Café

Inn Season Café
500 East Fourth Street, Royal Oak, MI 48067
QISA (4, 4, 3.5, 4), $10-18, Vegetarian (Vegan Friendly)

Royal Oak, Michigan, a tree-laden northern suburb of Detroit, was the home of the infamous 1920s fascist anti-Semitic radio personality Father Charles Coughlin.

There, I said it. Now I can move on.

Royal Oak is also the birthplace of iconic director Sam Raimi, birthplace of bechinned actor Bruce Campbell, early home of Eagles founding member Glenn Frey o.b.m., the setting for 1990s sitcom Home Improvement, and the home of the Detroit Zoo. Add to that resume the Inn Season Café, an elegant, cozy 34-year old vegetarian restaurant that is destined to become one of my new favorite haunts.

It is possible that the restaurant is not nearly as good as I think, but somehow they managed to find, target, and exploit all of my weaknesses. The Budapest mushroom soup, for example, was possibly the best mushroom soup I’ve ever eaten; creamy golden broth, big slices of mushroom, bursting with visible herbs and exotic flavors. Or how about the 4th Street Burger served on an herbed artisanal whole grain bun that is soft but thick with a perfect yeasty flavor. I can’t help but praise stuff like that.

The burger itself was grain-based, comprising oats, lentils, brown rice, millet, cracked wheat, cornmeal, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds, and somehow it held together with just the right chewiness, crunch, and flavor. The banana strawberry smoothie was fairly standard, which is to say it tasted like a very decent smoothie. Even the coleslaw, while a little heavy on the raw onion, was a vibrant mix of cabbage, carrot, red onion, and a light sauce, using fresh herbs to bring out the flavor.

The restaurant defies traditional classification, mixing its elegance with a modern appeal. Interesting still life paintings, including one of floating artichokes decorate the wall. Bottles of olive oil complement the salt and pepper shakers on the wooden tables. Tattooed ladies with multiple piercings cheerfully take your order. And then there is the elderly ladies at the corner table discussing their grand kids. For all I know, they’ve been coming here for 34 years.

To top it all off, the restaurant is kosher certified by Kosher Michigan. Take that Father Coughlin.