What you are about to read is a true story.
"I hope this isn't, like, mind-control tofu," I half-joked while dining in one of the strangest restaurants I've ever been in - and I've been in a lot of restaurants. Jammed into a Reynoldsburg strip mall, it was a spiffed-up, fast-food-like joint endowed with a provocative name - Loving Hut - that conjured up dubious motels and swingers clubs. Plus, in quotes and photos on this place's walls and menu, meat eating is vehemently condemned and vegetarianism is displayed being embraced by great minds throughout the ages like Plato, Einstein and "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson.
But that's not the half of it. See, as I gazed up, I realized the restaurant's TVs were permanently fixed to a bizarre satellite channel covered in streams of multilingual translations that's called, uh, "Supreme Master Television." At that moment, SMTV was playing a documentary telling me how its namesake spiritual leader (the "Supreme Master" is a Vietnamese-born 60-year-old woman) had "immense wisdom and compassion;" was "esteemed as a Renaissance artist" who sings, writes poetry, paints and designs jewelry and animal clothing; and has penned a screenplay she "directed by remote control."
But wait, there's more. A server told me the Hut workers were volunteers brought in from all over the map to help open this new Reynoldsburg store - one of more than 100 worldwide Huts. My widely smiling server also informed me that every worker there was really into meditation and was a member of the Supreme Master's special "organization." If the C word - "cult" - is popping into your mind, I don't blame you.
But I was there to review the food. Also, somewhat parenthetically, internet research had me concluding that if this was a cult, it's apparently a well-meaning one that promotes going green, planet saving and veganism.
Pertinently, Loving Hut's food (and its "mostly organic" smoothie-type drinks) did not suck. And with nothing over $8.50, the Hut is a viable and healthier alternative to standard Asian takeout and fast-foody stuff.
For starters, the thickly pureed and Indian-curry flavored lentil and sweet potato-laden Golden Soup was excellent, but the homey, bright, chunky and tomatoey Russian Cabbage (both are $3.25) was even better. I also liked a couple fresh, colorful and crunchy salads: a chilled Quinoa ($4, with pineapple, peppers and raisins) and the Love Letter From the Earth ($4, with olives, avocado, cukes, sprouts, julienned apple and walnuts).
Less successful were an inoffensive but dilute Royal Pho ($6.50) and summer roll-like Saigon Rolls ($4) that were actually pretty damned good except for their odd and bland vegan shrimp and phony chicken bits.
The BBQ Sandwich ($8.50, with a cup of soup) ordered panini-style wasn't bad at all. Inside grill-ridged, crispy bread was faux-smoky sauced soy protein plus a fresh-tasting and not-unpleasant vegan mayo coleslaw.
A General Tso-ish daily special called "Home Run Balls" ($8) was weird in an amusing way. They were easily poppable, almost-hollow, deep-fried spheres of veggie protein matter slathered in a spicy ketchup-like glaze.
Probably my favorite entree was a lively stir fry called Lemon Tofu ($8 and without mind-control power, I'm pretty sure). I thought its hacked cabbage, broccoli, mushroom, carrot and fried, soft tofu mix worked great with its rosemary-kissed, light and lemony gravy.
Verdict: You won't be lectured - and needn't be a convert - to enjoy Loving Hut's healthy, fresh, inexpensive and harmless food.