21 Furnace St.
Akron, OH 44308
When a rock star is involved with a restaurant that doesn’t have guitars on the walls, it’s noteworthy.
Chrissie Hynde is one of the more vocal vegans out there. So when she found herself going back to Ohio to deal with aging relatives, she was a little frustrated by the lack of vegan food. And so, she opened her own restaurant, The VegiTerranean in Akron. No animal products are used in the food, and the emphasis is on organic and sustainable ingredients. Â This makes the menu friendly to many who have food allergies or who keep kosher. The restaurant is open all day: coffee and baked goods in the morning, followed by lunch, dinner, and bar service. Â J. Scot Jones, another Akron native, is the executive chef.
Looking around, I had the feeling that this was a celebrity restaurant that didn’t want to be a Celebrity Restaurant of Planet Hollywood vintage. Hynde’s name is associated with the place, clearly, and the menu includes “Chrissie” fries and the “Back on the Chain Gang” fake sausage sandwich. But the dÃ©cor is almost minimalist, mostly black and white and chrome, and few of the black-and-white pictures on the wall were of the Pretenders. Hynde’s name is on the menu and on the door, but this isn’t a Chain Gang CafÃ©. It’s a serious restaurant that attracted a serious business crowd for lunch on a recent weekday.
The menu features Italian-style foods and flavorings, using many meat analogues produced by Gardien. It includes several salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas. The emphasis is on presentation; everything arrives with a pretty shape and a nice garnish to remind you that this is no hippie hangout. I had gnocchi with artichoke and creamy cashew sauce ($12.50), and it was outrageous. It was also a good reminder that vegan food is not necessarily low in fat or calories.
The grilled soy-cheese sandwich ($9.00) is a salad on bread. The onion, tomato, arugula, and dulse are topped with an orange substance that tastes a lot like cheddar. It’s good, if not traditional, but it will not impress a picky child. The Chrissie fries ($4.00) have a delightful seasoning and are served with dips of soy ricotta and balsamic ketchup. The ketchup missed the mark not because it’s not like Heinz but because it is too sweet. Were the fries spicier, it might have worked. The soy ricotta, on the other hand, was a lovely treat.
Instead of bread, we were offered bread and butter pickle spears to start. It’s a light, gluten-free way to start lunch, especially if you are a fan of pickles. Â If not, skip ahead to the menu and order some hummus ($8.00).
I was delighted with the lunch fare but disappointed by dessert.Â I’m no Martha Stewart, but I make a vegan chocolate cake so good that it will surpass any egg and butter concoction, with nothing more exotic than vegetable oil, baking soda, and vinegar for moisture and leavening. (A vegan chocolate cake is also easy to make. Several good recipes can be found online, the best-known of which is the Moosewood Chocolate Cake .) The VegiTerranean chocolate cake with margarine-cream frosting, was a whopping $10.00. Good thing it was plenty big for two. Unfortunately, it had the distinct flavor of soy-based addition that threw off the flavor and that is unnecessary in a good vegan cake.
The VegiTerranean has an extensive bar list with specialty cocktails, beer, and wine. They aren’t all organic, unless you happen to be a chemist, but those items produced sustainably are given special mention and include the much-loved local Great Lakes Brewing Company lineup. Diet coke and other soft drinks are offered for those who are thoroughly unwholesome, although the root beer is from Sprecher, a Wisconsin microproducer of beer and pop alike.
The service was a little less than perfect. It would have been nice if our soup (a rich and flavorful tomato-artichoke bisque with a goodly shot of olive oil, $4.00 for a cup) had arrived before, not with, the main courses. My companion and I discovered that we were underdressed given that businessfolk make up the lunch crowd, which may have contributed to the relative lack of attention we received. Still, that should not matter.
The VegiTerranean has one amazing feature that deserves to be emulated at every restaurant in every nation: the ladies’ room has twice the facilities of the men’s room, if my lunch date is to be believed. A woman as thin as Chrissie Hynde might not know much about great chocolate cakes, but she’s all right.
If you are in Northeast Ohio, a trip to VegiTerranean is a good way to shake up the mix of bar food, red-sauce Italian, and chains in the region’s restaurant choices.Â Rumor has it that the next branch of the VegiTerranean will be in New York City. Hey, if vegan food can make it in Akron, it can make it anywhere.