Diner: Vegging Out

One old favorite, one newcomer = two good choices for alternative fare

Jul 13, 2000 at 2:06 pm

Meat on a bun. That seems to be the summer staple, especially this time of year. After holiday cookouts and summer barbecues, even meat-eaters can face burger burnout. Mullane's Parkside Café and the Healing Earth Café in Clifton both offer tasty vegetarian and other healthy alternatives at fair prices.

Casual, Coffeehouse Style
I'd visited Mullane's in the past, usually for lunch with "the girls" during the work week. We loved munching on fresh salads and could justify devouring every morsel of the huge creations by reminding ourselves they were just "salads." I was surprised when I heard Mullane's had closed last fall, because we always had to wait to grab a table during the lunch hour. Fortunately, it's reopened under new ownership, but with the same old favorites for lunch and dinner.

This time around, my husband, a friend and I visited on a weekday evening, wanting to give the dinner menu a try. We arrived shortly after seven to a nearly full dining room and front patio. We found a nice table in the corner, next to a well-stocked bookcase, and ordered a couple of imported Pilsners from the ample beer and wine menu.

Mullane's dining room is modest: just a smattering of small tables, mostly for two or four, covered in burgundy vinyl cloth, most sporting a small reading lamp. The dim lighting and stacks of reading material give the place a coffeehouse feel. The servers are equally laid-back, and that's part of Mullane's charm.

We started off with a combination plate ($8.95) from the appetizer menu: cheeses, cut veggies, homemade hummus, pesto pasta salad, crackers and a curried yogurt for dipping. I liked the smoked Gouda cheese, and the curried yogurt dip with the sliced veggies. The hummus had a good consistency, but was a little bland. I'd have preferred more garlic. My husband stuck with the cheese and crackers, although I did see him sneak a piece of pesto rotini a couple of times.

For dinner, I chose the Vegetarian Sauté ($7.25) with tofu ($2.50 extra). Served over rice (or pasta), the veggies were crisp but a little dry. Our guest enjoyed his Parkside Salad ($8.25) — a plate of iceberg and romaine lettuces, bacon, blue cheese, tomato, black olives and sprouts — although the curried yogurt dressing became a little overpowering. My husband also enjoyed his Pasta with Herb Tomato Sauce ($7.50) topped with Romano cheese. Although he could have topped it with grilled chicken, ham or smoked turkey sausage, he chose vegetarian style. (I was surprised when he didn't order the one meat-lover selection on the dinner menu: the New York Strip Steak ($14.50), but then again, how many do you think they really sell?)

Desserts are incredible at Mullane's, baked at Take the Cake in Over-the-Rhine. We tried the Chocolate Cake with White Chocolate Icing ($3.50) and thought it rivaled Bonbon-erie's Opera Cream Torte. Our guest equally enjoyed his red raspberry pie ($3.50).

All Vegetarian, All the Time
Our meal at Clifton's Healing Earth Café took our vegetarian adventure to the extreme. The self-described "totally natural vegetarian deli" serves up fresh fruit smoothies and veggie juice concoctions that are meals in themselves.

I strayed from the veggie juice drinks, too reminiscent of childhood punishments. The Cleanser ($4.75 for 16 oz., $5.75 for 24 oz.), for example, sounded like a salad in a blender: tomato juice, carrots, lemon juice, cucumber, zucchini, bell pepper and parsley. However, someone ordered one as I waited for my fruit smoothie, so people must like them. I opted for the Original Smoothie ($2.95 for 12 oz.), a mix of frozen orange juice, apple juice, frozen strawberries and bananas. It was delicious, and made me wonder why I don't make one everyday for breakfast.

Although smoothies and juices comprise the bulk of the offerings here, the Healing Earth Café offers made-to-order sandwiches, an organic salad ($3.50) and occasional soups (today's was gazpacho, $1.95/$2.95). I chose a delicious veggie sandwich ($5) on honey whole wheat bread, chock-full of organic lettuce, carrots, cucumber, bell peppers, sprouts and onions, stuffed between a slice of provolone and a layer of red pepper hummus. Served with tortilla chips and salsa, it made for a satisfying lunch.

For my carnivore husband, I ordered vegan (soy-based) turkey with non-dairy cheddar, egg-less mayonnaise on honey whole wheat bread ($4.50). I couldn't fool him. As he walked outside to fire up the grill, he remarked that the only good part about the sandwich was the bread. I tried it, and had to agree. Both the turkey and the cheese were poor substitutes with little flavor. The salad with tomato basil dressing, however, was delicious. Full of the same organic veggies as my sandwich, I easily met my veggie requirement for the day with these two selections.

If you're vegetarian by choice or just searching for a healthy dining option, both Mullane's and Healing Earth Café offer fine alternatives for lunch and dinner alike. ©