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A Vegetarian’s Guide to Dining in New Orleans
Jen Reeder


The Big Easy is the land of turtle soup and jambalaya, so it can be tough for vegetarians to navigate its culinary waters. Whenever I tell someone I’m a vegetarian, they usually give me a funny look and ask why I bother living in New Orleans. (“I’m an alcoholic” is the acceptable reply.) Sure, Whole Foods keeps our refrigerators stocked and good pizza abounds – Reginelli’s, Slice and Louisiana Pizza Kitchen leap to mind – but what about stepping out? With the closure of veggie staple Old Dog New Trick Café, it can be a challenge to find a restaurant with more to offer vegans and vegetarians than a few meat-free side dishes. Where can we go?

Byblos Mediterranean Cuisine is a great place to start. I was so overwhelmed by the myriad vegetarian options that the poor waitress asked our table several times if we were ready to order. Each time, I’d look at her with delighted bewilderment and apologize, “Not yet – there’s so much to choose from!”

Luckily, there is a vegetarian platter ($8.95) for the indecisive that offers a choice of four “favorites.” I chose the baba ghanouj, rice pilaf (boring), mousaka, and cheese pie (well worth the extra dollar). To round it off, we added a cup of spinach and lentil soup ($2.95) and “Chehardy” fried eggplant ($4.95) with tahini. The latter was a fortunate choice, because the eggplant dishes at Byblos steal the show. Improperly prepared, eggplant is tough and chewy, but at Byblos, it melts in your mouth. The Chehardy – long, thinly sliced strips of eggplant lightly fried in 100% cholesterol-free vegetable oil – was juicy and spectacular. The roasted eggplant also shone through the baba ghanouj. The mousaka/eggplant stew with sautéed vegetables in a tomato-based sauce wasn’t big enough even though I was quite full.

Yes, the cheese pie (feta cheese, onions, herbs and spices baked in philo) was as good as it sounds. The lentil soup could have used some seasoning, but it was soothing comfort food nevertheless. But truly, it’s all about the eggplant at Byblos (and the belly dancing).

Byblos Mediterranean Cuisine is located at 3218 Magazine St. (894-1233) Open Mon. – Wed. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Thurs. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Sun. noon – 10 p.m. A second location is at 1501 Metairie Road (834-9773). Open Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Fri. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Sat. noon – 10 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Incidentally, for the true Middle Eastern food fanatic, there are two other excellent, more casual spots in town: Lebanon’s Café and Mona’s Café. Both are B.Y.O. alcohol and serve traditional favorites like hummus and falafel, among many others.

Lebanon’s Café is located at 1506 S. Carrollton (862-6200). Open Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri./Sat. 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Sun. noon – 10 p.m.

Mona’s Café is so legendary that it has four locations: 3901 Banks St. (482-7743); 3149 Calhoun St. (861-2124); 504 Frenchmen St. (949-4115); 4126 Magazine St. (894-9800). Call individual locations for hours (and specials!).

Meat-eating friends are sometimes surprised when I suggest going out for sushi, but they haven’t discovered the simple pleasures of the avocado roll. In fact, restaurants like Sake Cafe are even popular with our vegan friends, since dairy is by no means a central component of Japanese cooking. I started with salty miso soup ($2.50) with tofu and seaweed, and edamame ($3.95) – steamed, lightly salted soybean pods that are chock full of cancer-preventing isoflavins.

The agedashi tofu ($3.95) – deep fried tofu – became soggy in the tempura sauce. Eat it fast! The avocado roll ($3.25) had ripe, buttery avocado inside of sticky rice and soft nori. The bean curd sushi ($3.25) featured a tofu skin around rice – a bit sweet for my taste, but I am a sodium fanatic, so take that criticism with a grain of salt (ahem).

Sake Cafe has plenty of sake, beer and tea to help wash the deliciousness down. It’s located at 2830 Magazine St. (894-0033). Open Mon. – Thurs. 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri./Sat. 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Sun. noon – 10 p.m.

Breakfast is served all day at Slim Goodies Diner, which is a beautiful thing. The self-described “classic diner and a vegetarian delight” is vegan friendly but not in a “rabbit food” way. Take the Vegan Slammer ($8.50) – hash browns covered with tofu scramble, smoked tempeh, and vegetarian chili served with multi-grain toast or a biscuit. I like mine with Swiss melted on top, if for no other reason than to hear the waiter yell to the chef “That’s Swiss cheese on the Vegan!” (For the record, vegan cheese is also available.)

Often, dishes at Slim Goodies come prepared differently than the menu suggests – no chili on the slammer, but with cheese, or no caramelized onions on the Vegetable Napoleon – but it’s so tasty that it just doesn’t matter. The “not really nachos” are a great hangover cure, incidentally; the good folks at Slim Goodies substitute crispy French fries for the tortilla chips. Not really healthy, but it can really hit the spot. Be sure to say hi to the resident pug that hangs out in front of their retail shop next door.

Slim Goodies Diner is located at 3322 Magazine St. (891-EGGS). Open Sun. – Thurs. 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. 7 a.m. – midnight.

La Fee Verte (620 Conti) promotes itself as “vegan sensitive,” with the motto “Herbivores and carnivores eating together.” Since I’m an herbivore and my husband Bryan is a carnivore, we thought it would be a perfect place to spend our first wedding anniversary. Besides, the stuffed red peppers – two roasted red peppers stuffed with sautéed eggplant, Portobello mushroom, zucchini and goat cheese served on a bed of saffron rice – sounded too good to be true. So we headed to the Quarter and Bryan ordered a bottle of champagne. Here’s to another happy year of herbivores and carnivores eating together. (Call for hours, 525-8763)

 

 


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