The latest vegan eatery from a veteran culinarian prepares healthful, affordable and widely accessible dishes
Prologue: The world as we knew it has drastically changed. But everyone still needs to eat, and local restaurants offering carryout food like the one reviewed below can help lessen the ”new normal” stress of being shut-in and dicey home chefs with a limited repertoire.
Unless you began practicing extreme “social distancing” long before the measure became advisable, you’ve noticed that a growing wave of new vegan eateries has been making a big splash in Columbus. Unlike several of their bygone predecessors, these contemporary operations cater to a diverse clientele that includes meat-eaters receptive to flavorful food that won’t generate a cholesterol tsunami.
Enter Portia’s Diner, a new vegan eatery whose modern take on plant-based cuisine comes with some old-school charm. This approach isn’t stunning when you consider: 1) Portia’s Diner is the latest project from Portia Yiamouyiannis, a Clintonville-based, veteran vegan culinarian who owns long-popular Portia’s Cafe and the Clintonville Natural Foods shop; 2) Portia’s Diner is assuming the space vacated by Whole World Natural Restaurant & Bakery, a hippie-friendly vegetarian stronghold that closed in 2017 after a four-decade run.Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
While the cuisine offered at Portia’s Diner — primarily all-American classics reimagined in vegan fashion — isn’t radically different from the food that Whole World served, the interior of the place has been radically transformed into a small but cheery diner featuring wood and the on-brand color green. Add crisp white walls, plants, ceiling fans, a little counter, plus enthusiastic customers, and you have a cute, bright and tidy restaurant that seems like it’s been a neighborhood favorite for years.
Portia’s YumBurger ($14) is liable to become an instant neighborhood favorite, too. That’s because it hits all the right notes of a crowd-pleasing cheeseburger, albeit in a different key. The star is a gluten-and-soy-free amalgam of mushrooms, oats, sesame seeds, quinoa, hemp and, apparently, wizardry, because the resulting patty reasonably resembles ground beef. Tip: It’s better in the gluten-free house wrap and with all the fixings, meaning everything you’d expect at a backyard cookout.
Portia’s YumBurger is fairly hefty, but mine came with five potato chips. If famished, tack on a cup of the terrific Harvest Chili ($4). Offering a long-cooked, dark tomato broth and packed with a mix of beans, it’s a hearty soup that’s also zippy from Southwestern-style seasonings.
Among other meal add-ons, I’d pass on the unconvincing and rather unusual Mac n Cheeze ($6) in favor of the impressive Side Salad ($4), assembled with excellent lettuce, red cabbage and carrots. Several house dressings are offered, such as a fine tahini condiment that’d be even better if brightened by lemon.
I must admit that reading “Tofu Gyro” ($12) did not inspire an immediate spike in my appetite, but the sandwich is another Portia’s highlight. Like the YumBurger, this faux gyro bound in a nifty house wrap tastes almost like the genuine article. Again, credit on-point garnishes and the kind of kitchen ingenuity that can season warm tofu cubes into a credible approximation of earthy gyro meat.
My forays into forenoon-oriented fare were satisfying, if not as memorable. But if cereal sounds good, try the healthful and enjoyable plant-milk-soaked Overnight Oats ($5) with dried mulberries and pecans.
The Quinoa Morning Bowl ($12) — which conjures a breakfast-burrito salad — arrives sprinkled in house-made coconut-based “bacun” bits that are crisp, smokey and perfectly salty. Flavorful black beans, mushrooms, spinach, cooked salsa, tofu cubes, plus pseudo-cheese and sour cream contribute to the filling ensemble.
Portia's Breakfast Plate ($14) is anchored by plausible fake scrambled eggs made with tofu and “cheeze” that are enhanced with sauteed vegetables. These are partnered with good-tasting — if marginally dry — house-made “sawsage” patties, nice rosemary home fries and toast. The result is much appreciated during these trying times: a big, pleasant, healthful meal prepared by a deserving new restaurant.