You could probably count the number of vegetarian restaurants in Porkopolis on one hand. And vegan? Don't bother taking your hands out of your mittens! The Sandwich Shoppe (120 E. Seventh St., 513-621-2126, 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.), a new take-out restaurant downtown, tries to fill this culinary gap, offering a meat and dairy-free vegetarian menu.
The shop's customer space is roughly 10-by-7 feet, so there's no option to eat in. But I was delighted to see a fairly extensive menu for such a small establishment. I was even more thrilled at the idea of tasting a seitan gyro. Alas, I was informed they didn't have gyros that day because they were out of homemade seitan (a meat substitute made from wheat gluten). OK, I said, I'll try the chicken nuggets. Nope, don't have it today.
All right, minestrone soup. Only have three-bean pasta soup today. Well, third time is the charm. I'll take the Sloppy Joes ($4.50) advertised on the sign outside. Bingo! How about Shoppe Fries to go with that? Well, that'll take another 20 minutes because they bake their fries to order. Sounds delicious, but not an option for a corporate worker bee on a lunch hour.
After all that, I'm sorry to report that the Sloppy Joes were a bit of a disappointment. While they had a wonderful smoky aroma, they really didn't have much flavor. I was longing for the tangy taste of tomato and green peppers I recalled from childhood lunches, but these Joes had none of that. I was also disappointed that my side was an identical sandwich rather than the creamy coleslaw, chips and dill pickle I expected.
Fortunately, my lunch date had better luck. He picked a chef salad ($5), which was on the menu that day. The crisp, shredded iceberg lettuce was topped with soy mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, yellow peppers, onions and strips of vegetarian turkey and ham. While the brown ribbons weren't exactly eye candy, the strip I tried did taste like ham.
I've always found it a little odd when a vegetarian restaurant concentrates on meat-inspired dishes, but given the location of the Sandwich Shoppe, owner Orlando Clark is probably smart to provide traditional fare that sounds familiar to the average working stiff. Being on a first-name basis with food allergies and psychoses, I'm a major fan of alternative dining experiences, so I do hope the Sandwich Shoppe settles into its downtown home.