Meatless in Columbus

It’s not all hummus and carrot sticks

  • Photos by Meghan Ralston
    The Northstar veggie burger
  • Zpizza
  • Banana Leaf
  • Explorers Club
  • Hal & Al’s
  • Pattycake Bakery
  • Banana Leaf
From the November 8, 2012 edition

Meat consumption among Americans this year is expected to be the lowest it’s been in decades (according to a December forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

The reasons behind this drop are diverse and many, but I’d like to believe one possibility is that meatless foods don’t taste like s--- anymore. (Well, most of them anyway.)

While meat-like dishes have grown in sophistication, texture and taste, your best bet to being satisfied is to mostly avoid products that are processed and titled with “faux” or some other cringe-worthy meat pun — or at least change your expectations prior to biting down on that Tofurkey dog.

Still, as you’ll see in our guide, Columbus meatless eating in 2012 isn’t all hummus and carrot sticks. You can still be a red-blooded American and enjoy a pizza or sandwich even without the meat — and even in the city (in)famously known as Cowtown.

Situation: It’s time to nut up or shut up. Prove to a meat eater that meatless meals can be inventive, better tasting and satisfying.

Get: The Northstar veggie burger (various locations).

Pro tip: Get it vegan (the focaccia bread that’s used as a bun is better than the vegetarian version’s plain one).

Additional notes: The best-known veggie burger in the city (and on its way in the country), the Northstar veggie burger has perfected perhaps the biggest challenge to a satisfying veggie burger: be visually appealing with a hearty and crunchy texture to boot.

Honorable mentions: Pretty much anything meatless at Till (formerly Dragonfly). Also, RIP On the Fly, you’re forever in our hearts.

Situation: Hungover. Must stuff face. Grumble. Donuts. OK maybe slightly healthier. Grumble grumble.

Get: Breakfast pizza at Hal & Al’s (South Side).

Pro tip: Pair your meal with vegan donuts and a little hair of the dog from the extensive beer menu or try the deliciously spicy Bloody Mary.

Additional notes: The breakfast pizza is one of those American culinary concoctions where how it tastes and how it sounds like it will taste are inversely related. This “pizza” is served on a Brezel crust loaded with gravy, tofu scramble (think scrambled eggs) and Daiya cheddar cheese. It’s infinitely tastier than it sounds.

Honorable mentions: Whole World’s all-vegetarian Sunday brunch might not include booze, but the black bread almost makes up for it. Also worth a mention: Sunny Street Café’s vegan brunch on Saturday and The Angry Baker’s Vegan Biscuits and Mushroom Gravy.

Situation: Happy hour booze cruises or Margarita Mondays with the gang.

Get: Tofu Tacos from Mad Mex (Campus).

Pro tip: The 22-ounce beer special is always a great deal and almost always worth a second round. (That is, unless you have to work the next day. Then: Yikes.)

Additional notes: The fried tofu at the heart of these tacos is among the best-tasting and most texturally pleasing you’ll find at a non-Asian restaurant.

Honorable mentions: If you’re feeling especially calorie-deprived, anything at Hal & Al’s will do. From fried Oreos and avocados to sushi samplers, pizza and BBQ mushroom burgers, Hal and Al’s has perfected vegan bar food (yes, it does exist). Oh, and their happy hour is pretty righteous, too.

Situation: Jim from accounting wants to do lunch while going over that spreadsheet.

Get: The Sweet Chile and Soy Tempeh with black beans, brown rice and Sriracha Cole Slaw from Explorers Club (Merion Village).

Pro tip: Order the Tempeh Tots with Sriracha Ketchup appetizer to get through awkward small talk.

Additional notes: One of the big holes in meatless dining is barbecue. It’s easy enough to slather some tasty sauce on something, but that something needs to be hearty, at the very least. Explorers Club, one of Columbus’ undervalued stars of meatless dining, does meatless barbecue right — and proves that, no, meatless barbecue is not an oxymoron.

Honorable mentions: Luna burger at Lexi’s on Third, eggplant fries and the vegetarian Philly cheese steak at Tip Top, and PBLT at The Angry Baker.

Situation: You’re just starting out on this whole meatless kick and you’re feeling a little adventurous.

Get: The lunch buffet at Banana Leaf (Northwest Side).

Pro tip: Banana Leaf semi-regularly circulates coupons on its website or through sites like Groupon.

Additional notes: At Banana Leaf, you’re not only treated to some of the best Indian food in the city, you’re also served multiple courses of appetizers that are made while you wait. Oh, and don’t forget the free mango lassi, one of the most deliciously refreshing drinks you’ll have in the city.

Honorable mentions: Most ethnic eateries offer extensive vegetarian options since their native countries are not typically as meat-centric as the U.S. My go-to favorites include Clintonville’s Lavash Café and campus’ Japanese Oriental Restaurant.

Situation: You’ve got a hankerin’ for sweets.

Get: Pattycake. Everything and all of it. (Clintonville).

Pro tip: Bring some galoshes. You’ll need them when your jaw splatters on your feet. Yea, vegan baking can be this good.

Additional notes: Pattycake’s side project, City Beet, is tentatively scheduled (and we use that term loosely) for a spring opening. This all-vegan, whole-food diner is eagerly anticipated among the veganrati.

Honorable mentions: Whole World and The Angry Baker offer vegan baked goods, while Till usually has at least one vegan dessert that alone is worth a visit.