Right through the liver and to the gut,
The Holiday Season goes;
The booze knows the way to carry the food
‘Till your belt needs another loo-oop!
(To the tune of that Thanksgiving classic “Over the River”)
Sure Thanksgiving’s over, but now (altogether) “it’s the most glut-ton-ous time of the year!” Realizing, then, we should probably squeeze-in healthy meals whenever possible — but they gotta taste good too — I naturally thought about Susan Sontag and Annie Leibovitz. What?
OK, a couple weeks ago, prior to attending a play about the relentlessly brainy Sontag at the Wexner Center, I re-ran through the Wex’s much-celebrated and celebrity-laden Leibovitz photo exhibit (Leibovitz and Sontag were longtime companions); then I had a delicious and veggie-packed dinner at the Wex’s terrific Heirloom Cafe. Ergo this article.
Heirloom has grown up nicely since its birth a year ago. It’s fleshed out cuts-above breakfasts (e.g. housemade granola, “Eye Opener” vegan burrito) and gotta-have-’em lunchy sandwiches (I’m looking at you, Gila Monster) with more dinner-type fare that can now be enjoyed with wine and/or beer — and comfortably suit Heirloom’s new extended hours.
As for its focus on local sourcing, how much more local can you get than plucking herbs and greens from wooden planters currently sitting right behind the counter? Plus Heirloom’s talented chef (John Skaggs) recently began a laudable collaboration with OSU’s Ecological Engineering Society to help create a ground-to-fork organic garden — situated directly beside the Wexner Center.
Fortunately, what hasn’t changed is Heirloom’s commitment to scratch-made preparations that don’t sacrifice pleasure for health. Check out the innovative Squacamole ($5.75). This might sound like a mythological beast, but it’s a practically fatless, guacamole-treatment for roasted squash. Brightened with citrus, peppers, chili and cilantro, it’s an addictive yet guilt-free dip.
Soups of the day ($5) also excel. Lately, I loved a nutty, deeply developed and Indian-hinting Vegetarian Roasted Curry Cauliflower. That caramel-colored, unfunky potage might even convert haters of its unfairly maligned star.
Speaking of disparaged ingredients, marinated tofu took on an alluringly browned and tangy guise in the wonderful Stir Fry ($9.75). This bountiful, ginger-kissed and brown rice-anchored colorfest came outfitted with broccoli, cabbages, carrots and egg. If this sounds like a fiber-filled, nouveau Asian/ hippie amalgam, it is — but one that impresses with lively textures and clean, straightforward flavors.
Ditto for the Quinoa Bowl ($9.75). Swamped in a sorta friendly brown gravy and provoked by thyme and caramelized onions, it didn’t look pretty, but I enjoyed its tender and plump chicken chunks and baked-warm crunch (apples, nuts, celery and wild rice).
Less tender poultry flirted with overcooked — not deal-breakingly so — in otherwise strong items: an entree-sized Greek Salad ($9.50; with creamy feta, pickled onions, good greens and olives plus an inspired sun-dried tomato vinaigrette); and a bold Chipotle Buffalo Chicken sandwich with a toasted (I bet Auddino’s) bun and kicky garnishes of arugula, aggressive blue cheese and pickled onions ($8.50 with a side — go with the always intriguing “grainy”).
The hearty Vegetarian Tamale Pie ($9.75) topped a zesty bean and veggie chili with a thick yet puffy, cheddar-crusted cornmeal cap that struck a happy balance between cornbread and polenta. Yeah, I’ll have seconds of that.
But I’ll save room for Heirloom’s none-better oatmeal butterscotch cookie ($2) or its moist and dense, gluten-free chocolate bizache ($3; think elegant round brownie, but big and nutty). Who am I kidding — I’m having both.