Searching for good vegetarian meals in Charlottesville, Virginia

Saturday, July 31, 2010

In which I make Marcella's tomato sauce with butter

Yes, you're looking at spaghetti with tomato sauce. But it's no ordinary tomato sauce, even though it's the one my mother made, and it's the one I usually make. It's the one the Carnivorous Husband created for me time and again as I recovered from the birth of Miss Voracious. Actually, it is possibly the only meal he's ever made from scratch.
Well, not entirely from scratch--the tomatoes are canned, not fresh.
When he made this sauce, he might have used pureed. I prefer this method:
Notice the food mill that was a gift from Miss Voracious.
Notice also the ample butter, Parmigiano Reggiano (please don't use anything else), and halved garden onions. You remove the onion pieces after the sauce has simmered adequately. My father liked to eat them, and maybe you will, too.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

In which I avoid Cooking

It's been a slow week for cooking and baking. When the Carnivorous Husband is out of town, I tend to put my own culinary desires on hold and appease Master Persnickety and Miss Voracious instead. In other words, we've been eating pasta. Last night's hoisin seared tofu and vegetables pushed Master Persnickety to his limits of open-mindedness, even though he loves tofu and vegetables and hoisin sauce--just not together.
We've also had our hands a little fuller than usual with a certain house guest. He's the gray and white blur on the photo's left. His name is The Professor.

The Professor returned to his usual home today, and the children, who have been uncharacteristically reasonable in their demands this week, required a small treat to take their minds off things. The best solution to a house with no kittens is, of course, Eppie's.

You'll be hearing about Eppie's again. It's not one of those family restaurants with only Kraft-like macaroni, french fries, and stewed apples for vegetarian diners, because the "vegetables" actually contain more meat than the meat dishes. Here, herbivores can peruse the menu with confidence. The greens do not contain bacon and are nonetheless delicious. Actually, much of the menu, unlike several trendier ones in town, is pleasantly bacon-free.

You won't find gourmet fare at Eppie's--the food is much like what I would make at home if I wanted to cook a long time and use lots of pots and pans, which I don't. Master Persnickety had penne with pesto and pumpkin bread, his favorite. Not a bite remained. Miss Voracious loves to partake of the ample vegetarian selections on the menu, and tonight she settled on one of the myriad options of the "Three Veggie Plate:" the Greek salad (a favorite), the cornbread (featured on the plate unless a substitution is requested), and the evening's dessert: banana pudding. Yes, dessert counts as a veggie; if you go when they're offering a crisp or cobbler, get it. My three veggies also included dessert and cornbread as well as black beans--sort of a chunky soup/stew--and a large baked sweet potato. It is also possible to order Four Veggies, but I usually find this amount to be too much for one meal. Not being able to decide on only three because there are so many choices that sound good is a novel problem for a vegetarian to have.

The combination provided the hearty meal I needed after a long week with no husband, and the banana pudding was not in the least bawdy like the song of the same name (Southern Culture on the Skids). The salads are crisp and freshly-prepared with no wilted greens and several interesting flavor combinations. The Daily salad (a favorite of mine) is spinach with blue cheese, cranberries, tomatoes. The Greek salad has lots of onions, feta, and olives. A special I've had several times, an inspired Cesar salad, has a chipotle dressing and cornbread croutons. Vegans can enjoy several selections here, from a hummus sandwich to several of the veggie options. Personally, I love the black beans, sweet potatoes and collards with a generous drizzling of their spicy vinegar, but there are several other possible vegan combinations, and the marinara sauce for pasta appears to be vegan--just make sure to ask for no cheese. For conventional vegetarians, even the macaroni and cheese is tasty and has tiny bits of mushroom cooked into it for added depth of flavor.
I could go on and on, but I'll leave you in suspense until the next time. Eppie's is quick and great for those weeknight meals after baseball practice or dance class. It's probably not the most romantic choice and does not offer table service, but tables and restrooms are kept clean, and it's a favorite spot of mine for a casual dinner with friends.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In which I order the Blue Plate Special

Having first moved to Charlottesville more than ten years ago, I have seen many restaurants come and go. Some of the departed were exclusively or predominantly vegetarian: Garden of Sheba, Liquid, and Veggie Heaven. Last week, on a rare lunch date without kids, we went to an old favorite that always has a vegetarian offering: Hamilton's. It's the most upscale local restaurant to offer a decidedly vegetarian lunch option, so I thought, "We may as well start at the top."
Their soup of the day is always vegetarian, and they have a vegetarian "Blue Plate Special" that may vary subtly from day to day and changes entirely from time to time. Because, aside from a salad with goat cheese, these are their only vegetarian dishes, it's fortunate that they are not always the same. This statement might sounds snarky but isn't: the food here is a lot more interesting than most. You won't find the ubiquitous "veggie lasagna" or sandwich smothered in sprouts here. In fact, my plate has always been blissfully sprout-free.
Hamilton's cuisine is not "budget" fare, but the lunch is, in my opinion, generally a good value for the calibre of the food. Last week's lunch specials included a chilled vichyssoise as the soup, and a mini tofu burger, two bean salads, and eggplant fries could be found on the blue plate. The vichyssoise was simple and seasoned mainly with black pepper and a splash of bright green infused oil. The flavor was mainly pepper: not bad, but another herb wouldn't have been unwelcome. The tofu burger was a bit overwhelmed by the copious spicy sauce but wasn't oily, and the texture was pleasant. The only funny bit was that the tiny bun had a papery film of baked egg-wash stuck to its bottom. One salad was of green beans in a buttermilk dressing, and the other was black-eyed peas: both were fine. I was a little put off by the elderly-looking undressed watercress that was taking up a lot of room on the plate. It and a small sliver of tomato looked like they might have gone on the burger, but it was much too small for them. The eggplant fries were good and light rather than greasy. I might have liked a bit of that spicy sauce from the burger to dip them in. Lunch was filling, so we didn't order dessert, but the desserts I've had there in the past have been delicious. The service was, as always, efficient and amiable.
For vegans, there were no menu options. The salads on the blue plate did not seem to have been made to order, so it's unlikely the green beans could be had without the buttermilk. Usually, there are more dairy products in the vegetarian special--this time, the other elements were plausibly vegan.
Note to self: Next time, remember to bring the camera.

In which the Search begins and I bake Bread

A Sunday of baking, inside and out. It's possible that I could save energy by using the car as an oven. Cooling storms are breaking up before they reach us. The garden, pictured in its former glory and recently untended during our trip to Ireland, withers and turns brown. My plans to tame the blackberries and plant beans are on hold until the weather breaks. Cleaning out the attic, piled high with boxes from three moves to and from Charlottesville, will have to wait.
So, bread. Instead of the planned Irish brown bread, for which I ordered proper Irish coarse wheat flour, buttermilk white bread. It's probably very naughty of me to begin a vegetarian blog with white bread, so call it a guilty pleasure. We plant-eaters like our fun, too.

Brown bread seems best with soup or a good aged cheese, such as the ones we sampled some in counties Kerry and Clare. The Kerrygold butter was waiting in the fridge. As hot as it is, a simple soup seemed to fit, so I made one from green peas and potatoes. I used onions and parsley, which is somehow thriving, from the garden, and I seasoned it with smoked salt and pepper. Topped with raw milk blue cheese, it didn't seem too hearty for summer, even today.