Greenhouse Canteen + Bar offers healthy alternative to heavy holiday meals
Bold flavors are common at this vegan and gluten-free eatery that offers uncommon spins on dishes with Italian, Mexican, East Asian and American influences
With the onset of November, we’re inching toward another indulgent holiday season, aka (paraphrasing a soon-to-be-overplayed-again song) “the most gravy-ful time of the year!”
Speaking of inching, in an effort to limit holiday waistline increases that I will blame on decadent seasonal foods rather than a lack of discipline, I figured it was a good time to check out a restaurant whose healthful-minded cuisine is entirely vegan and gluten-free: Greenhouse Canteen + Bar in Grandview Heights.
The only American iteration of a small Australian chain of plant-based eateries, the Greenhouse Canteen occupies a modern, roomy and airy space. With its upbeat-yet-chill soundtrack, concrete floor, oversized Edison bulbs and thematically on-point green accents — swaths of verdant paint, potted plants and a long banquette — the largely white-tinted, impeccably tidy restaurant is casually attractive in the manner of an upscale cafe. Its inviting atmosphere is underscored by generally quick service that was always personable and infectiously friendly.
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More mood-improving arrived via cocktails like The Drake ($14), which is shaken with local vodka (from High Bank Distillery Co.), and whose passion-fruit-derived tropical brightness and foamy/creamy body make it a cousin to the classic pisco sour. The gin-forward and even prettier Lilac Ophelia ($12) boasted a foamy layer, too, along with blueberries accentuated by floral and refreshing citrus notes.
Many dishes I sampled at Greenhouse were imposingly large and flavorful, if occasionally a bit unusual. Italy is a major influence on the food, but the moderate-sized menu includes riffs on Mexican, East Asian and all-American favorites, too.
My enormous serving of deep-fried cauliflower wings ($12) in a Buffalo-ranch sauce displayed Greenhouse’s savvy tendency to use high heat and botanical heat to goose-up wholesome ingredients. Probably the best value here, the nicely presented heap of tangy-spicy, dark-spotted “wings” (read: cauliflower florets) arrived with odd but fun-to-munch flaps of crunchy, fried chickpea-based batter and with a sizable salad (heavily dressed in a perky vinaigrette), plus a side of onion-scented vegan ranch textured like tahini.
If somewhat misnamed, the Moroccan chickpea crepe ($20) was another hefty success. This essentially was a hearty, chickpea-dominated vegetable curry enlivened by good black olives, onions, carrots and the lemony “sumac yogurt” sauce smeared on the titular crepe (which recalled an Italian socca) that the stew rested atop. The entree’s crowning touch — crinkly fried kale leaves that could convert kale-haters — was a delight once I ignored the tough middle ribs.
Inhalable fried kale (this time without the thick-rib distraction) likewise topped my chickpea fettuccine ($21), one of several pastas offered. This intriguing composition featured a bold tomato-and-chile-powered vodka sauce with postprandial staying power, and minced sunflower seeds playing the part of ground meat. The heaving dish also included flaky, enticingly pungent and believable pecorino-esque “cheese,” plus rather slick chickpea noodles.
The fried vermicelli pancake ($18) featured a thick-and-crisp, rice-noodle disk topped with a kale-strewn “chili jam tofu scramble” with potent fruit and capsaicin notes. Served with make-a-taco pristine romaine leaves, diced cucumbers and sriracha aioli, the oddly compelling plate seemed to emanate from Southeast Asia and left field.
Actual tacos ($8; $5 on Tuesdays) arrived in good soft corn tortillas that were lightly fried to boost their toasted-masa flavor and lend a slight, alluring crispiness. That’s the beginning and end of any traditional qualities. Greenhouse’s tacos are otherwise mammoth, knife-and-fork-needed creations overflowing with uncommon fillings. My favorites were the cooked-to-firm, chile-enhanced Cajun jackfruit — one of the better treatments I've encountered with the popular pulled-pork substitute — and the caramelized cauliflower in a gently sweet tomato sauce.
Both tacos were garnished with good-looking but questionably compatible grassy microgreens that were better nibbled separately. Bonus: Eating such entertaining and healthful items can incidentally mean saving room for holiday foods that might not be as nutritionally virtuous.
Greenhouse Canteen + Bar
1011 W. Fifth Ave., Grandview Heights