Homestyle for Herbivores

Cincinnati restaurants interpret stick-to-your-ribs classics for vegetarian and vegan diets

click to enlarge Vegan Sloppy Joe at the Loving Hut
Vegan Sloppy Joe at the Loving Hut

Classic comfort foods are frequently hard to come by if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Most of those stick-to-your-ribs recipes don’t just have a meat base but are also loaded with butter and real cheese — filling and unmistakable flavors that can be difficult to source cruelty-free. Fear not, veg heads, CityBeat has your back. We scoured the city for our top five favorite vegetarian and vegan comfort foods to satisfy all your warm and hearty fall cravings. And for quality control, we even had a meat-eater weigh in to make sure our palates weren’t totally skewed. Vegan Macaroni and Cheese, Melt Eclectic Café
4165 Hamilton Ave., Northside,

Vegan Shells & Cheeze
Photo: Jesse Fox
A cheese-based dish like macaroni and cheese has a huge potential for failure when made vegan because all vegan cheese is not created equal. Recreating the texture, mouth-feel and meltabililty of cheese using plant-based ingredients is difficult, but Melt Electic Café in Northside does it right with its Vegan Shells and Cheeze ($6.50). The dish doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Whole-wheat penne pasta (not shells) is tossed in a housemade smoky “cheddar” sauce, made with nutritional yeast and soy, and topped with spinach and pico de gallo. No butter-soaked cubes of bread or fatty cheese blends to be found, just fresh ingredients and a new twist on a classic.

The non-vegan take: It’s nothing like Velveeta, but science hasn’t even invented a vegan cheese that creamy. Definitely the right choice to take it in another direction; the smoky flavor really gives it depth.
Vegetarian Chili Cheese Fries, Green Dog Cafe
3543 Columbia Parkway, Columbia Tusculum,

Green Dog Café’s vegetarian GD Chile Cheese Fries ($9.50) replace the sloppy neon cheese, frozen fries and murky brown chili of traditional diner chili cheese fries with fresh vegetables. The heaping bowl starts out with impeccably seasoned housemade french fries and is topped with a mound of corn, black beans, fresh salsa verde, shredded white cheddar and a dollop of sour cream. The meal would be just as tasty for vegans without the dairy. It hits the spot for something filling and a little sinful without making you feel like you need to unbutton your pants after you eat it.

The non-vegetarian take: It’s no greasy spoon but it doesn’t taste like the meat is “missing” — it wouldn’t really belong there. The house fries are 10-times better than crinkle cut.

Vegan Sloppy Joe, The Loving Hut
6227 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge,

We don’t want to say that you’re a bad vegan if you haven’t been to the all-vegan Loving Hut in Pleasant Ridge, but if you haven’t, you’re probably a bad vegan. The Loving Hut is an international restaurant chain, though the local branch is family owned. Their menu is pretty extensive, with burgers, soups, salads, wraps, raw dishes and even a kids menu, but one of the stars is the Vegan Sloppy Joe ($6). So darn close to what mom used to make, the spicy, messy, dripping faux-meat mixture oozes over the edges of a soft and squishy whole-grain bun. The meal comes with a side of lightly dressed coleslaw and organic corn chips. It’s also available in a mild version, but we don’t see any reason not to go full tilt; the original is perfection.

The non-vegan take: The texture of the “meat” probably wouldn’t ever be mistaken for ground beef (get on that, science), but the sauce is so rich and tasty you’ll wolf it down so fast there will be little need for chewing.

Vegan Biscuits and Gravy, Park + Vine
1202 Main St., Over-the-Rhine,

Cheddar & Chive Biscuits and Gravy
Photo: Jesse Fox
Sunday brunch is a time when vegans are often surround by plates of sizzling bacon, fluffy, cheesy omelets and steamy goetta. They are too often forced to post-up to a plate of limp salad and a mimosa. Thankfully, Sundays at Park + Vine are a particularly special time for them. It’s the hallowed day when P+V’s lunch and brunch counter — which serves only dishes that are free of animal byproducts, cholesterol, dairy and lactose, made with non-hydrogenated oils and available gluten-free — offers their vegan Cheddar & Chive Biscuits and Gravy ($8). Biscuits and gravy always feel slightly taboo to vegetarians and vegans because this down-home dish looks like such a meaty, creamy indulgence. And P+V’s version doesn’t disappoint. Housemade biscuits are topped with a seasoned potato gravy that fills you up the way a hearty, traditional brunch ought to.

The non-vegan take: The look is a little strange. The potato gravy is thick and brown and the biscuits are shapeless, dense and yellow. There is definitely some sausage seasoning happening, and it’s odd at first bite but grows on a carnivore.

Meatballs, The Meatball Kitchen
2912 Vine St., Corryville,

One great thing about Meatball Kitchen in Corryville is that if you have a dining mate who refuses to eat anything that doesn’t come with a meat option, you can come here and order the same dish without making them feel like you’re trying to convert them. The restaurant’s meatballs are offered in beef, spicy pork, turkey and vegetarian varieties, which are then plopped on a sandwich ($6), salad ($8) or pasta ($7). We challenge you to find another restaurant in the city that does vegetarian meatballs as well as they do — if you can find one that does them at all.

The non-vegetarian take: These meatballs aren’t trying to be meatballs, which is why they’re good. They taste more like flavorful beans than like a meat alternative taking on whatever spices you throw at it to cover the bland flavor. That’s pretty rare for a meat alternative. © 
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