Searching for good vegetarian meals in Charlottesville, Virginia

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.

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