Aug. 10—Meat eaters almost never have to worry about finding something acceptable to eat at a restaurant because meat is the default on most menus. Even if you order a salad, you can get one with chunks of steak, pieces of fried chicken, a filet of salmon or other animal protein on top.
Options are fewer for vegetarians and fewer still for vegans looking to find a good meal when they dine out. Meat eaters always get multiple options; they can even eat the vegetarian dish, if it looks appealing. The same can't be said in reverse. But now, there are several vegetarian/vegan restaurants in town where meat eaters are welcome, and vegans are saying, "Hallelujah, it's about time."
The latest is Real Roots on North Market Street.
Real Roots is known for its smoothies — smoothies made from beets, berries, mangoes, dates, peanut butter, bananas, the list goes on. Smoothies for energy and smoothies for health. Smoothies in glasses and smoothies in bowls. There's carrot juice, beet juice, apple juice, wellness drinks and coffees. Get the picture? This place is all about health.
But there's more to Real Roots than smoothies. There's a menu with salads and Buddha bowls, red lentil chili, a smothered burrito and several "meat"-based paninis.
The difference at Real Roots is that "meat" is not meat and "cheese" is not cheese — at least in the way meat lovers think of meat and cheese. In the vegetarian world, meat is seitan, and cheese is made from soaked and softened cashews. It's nothing short of amazing what cooks and purveyors of vegetarian foods have done to imitate the flavors of meat and cheese.
I ordered a Reuben with salad and miso Asian dressing. It looked like a Reuben, had the texture of a Reuben and tasted like a Reuben, but the Real Roots Reuben is layered with house-made seitan — a product high in protein and low in fat and well-seasoned to mimic corned beef. The texture was unexpectedly good, too. A healthy portion of sauteed mushrooms on the sandwich added even more texture. Finished off with beautifully melted, though imitation, mozzarella, grilled onions and sauerkraut on tasty panini bread, and the sandwich has the makings of one of the favorite paninis at Real Roots.
It's one of those two-fisted kind of sandwiches that's deliciously messy and demands several napkins.
All paninis are served with low-fat kettle chips or, for $2.50 more, a generous side salad or hummus with crudites.
Real Roots opened in March in an old building on North Market, one that has been given a remarkable face-lift inside and out. The old red brick is now painted a clean, soft white. The restaurant, which occupies one side of the building, has a large dining area with tables nicely spaced, some with chairs, others with bench seating. A newly opened covered patio extends the space and offers al fresco dining, perfect for those wanting extra social distancing or a nice breeze if the weather allows.
Inside, a large counter stretches across the center of the dining room. It's filled with after-meal or take-home treats, such as muffins, custard fruit tarts, cookies, big cocoa bonbons made with nut butters and other mouthwatering temptations.
Real Roots works on a semi-self-serve basis. You order at the counter, take a number and a seat, and the food is delivered to your table. Mine came in a matter of minutes.
Drinks are self-serve. There are cans of flavored sparkling water and coconut water, or you can fill a glass of filtered water from a large glass jug. And while you're at it, pick up some extra napkins. You'll need them for that sandwich.
Vegan, plant-based meals were one time known as "specials," meaning that in order to get one, on an airplane for instance, you had to order ahead. Real Roots proves that vegan meals are special — in the true sense — and shows that a dedicated meat lover, such as myself, isn't missing out.