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Plant Power

Featured Restaurants by Kristyn Lak Miller / August, 2016

Vegetables take center plate at Seacoast restaurants

Expertly conceptualized and prepared vegetarian dishes have the ability to thrill any diner, even committed carnivores. With exciting offerings such as a complex Korean bibimbap (a rice dish topped with a mélange of veggies, mixed with a spicy sauce), hearty mushroom “Bolognese” with seared polenta, and lively tofu banh mi (a multicomponent Vietnamese sandwich), many Seacoast restaurants are helping vegetables transcend side-dish status to take over entire plates. We highlight a few of the most exceptional places to harness plant power—within several culinary categories—along the shores of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

FINE DINING
The finest upscale dining experiences might include entrees comprised entirely of vegetables. “Vegetarian and vegan dishes should be just as rich, delicious, and enticing as any other menu item,” says Steve Sicinski, executive chef at Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. “Our Harvest Shepherd’s Pie is completely vegan, satisfying, and comforting. The ‘meat’ is created by rich mushrooms, with peas, corn, onions, and yams layered above. The dish is topped with a dark vegan gravy Romanesco for a comforting meal.”

In nearby Kennebunkport, Earth at Hidden Pond strives to serve dishes that taste good and leave guests feeling good. “When guests eat our food, we want them to be satisfied and energetic the next day,” says Executive Chef Justin Walker. “Wood-Fired Broccoli, with yellow tomato curry, crunchy yellow split peas, chamomile-bee-pollen honey, and curry leaves, is fresh and light but also packed with flavor and truly is satisfying.”

Plant Power EarthWoodFiredBroccoli670x

In Portsmouth, Black Trumpet’s Chef-owner Evan Mallett says “I am a devout carnivore with a son who declared himself a vegetarian at the wise old age of 11. Since his declaration, our entire family has consumed a lot less meat.” Mallet makes it easy with several veggie choices (including a vegan dessert). “Our vegan and vegetarian dishes have a heartiness that can appeal to everyone. A Lentil-Stuffed Sweet Potato dish we offered last summer had incredibly complex flavors and started to outsell our steak dish. I guess that is the ultimate achievement for a vegan dish—to outsell steak!”

CASUAL
At casual restaurants, guests don’t have to dress up, but the vegetables just might. “Our goal with vegetarian dishes is to provide the same effort we do for meat-based dishes,” says Jameson Small, general manager (and menu creator) for Leaven, a beer and bread house in Somersworth, New Hampshire. Small spent five years working on organic farms across the state. “They are big portions, full of flavor, and feature a diversity of locally sourced ingredients. Our Portobello Sliders are marinated with shallots and garlic, grilled, and served on our house brioche with baby arugula, Maine-grown tomatoes, and a tarragon aioli.” (Click here for recipe.)

Portsmouth’s STREET serves interpretations of international street food, including veggie options. In addition, many dishes can be made vegetarian or even vegan, including their most popular dish, Bibimbap, where what they call “fake chicken” (made from soy protein) can replace meat options atop a bed of crispy sticky rice, sesame-sauteed carrots, mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, and bean sprouts served with gochujang sauce made with chili peppers.

street-bibimbap

At Laney & Lu Cafe in Exeter, fresh and natural ingredients create food that nourishes the body and feeds the soul. Their vegan and vegetarian menu ranges from breakfast to blissful desserts—and covers everything in between, with smoothies, salads, wraps, bowls, and more. Dishes include offerings like the Epic Egg Sammie, where locally baked bread (from Leaven) sandwiches an organic egg fried in coconut oil and topped with spinach, sliced tomato, pesto, local grass-fed raw cheddar cheese, and avocado.

FARM-TO-TABLE
With a local bounty at their disposal, farm-to-table restaurants have a distinct advantage when it comes to highlighting vegetables. “We have great gardens on our property,” says Chef-owner Benjamin Hasty of Thistle Pig in South Berwick, Maine. “We also have great relationships with Brandmoore Farm and Greenlaw Gardens, from whom we currently source 75 percent of our produce.” Their ever-changing menu always includes a score of meatless options, such as Rutabaga Bisque, a vegan soup made with apple cider. (Click here for recipe.)

“We believes in the power of plants for a healthy diet and wellness,” says Kath Gallant, owner of Blue Moon Evolution in Exeter, New Hampshire. “We’ve had a large organic garden for seven years now.” She explains that the eatery’s vegetarian and vegan dishes are “appealing to the average meat eater because they are delicious, full of flavor and texture, and so satisfying. Our Raw Board with sundried tomato flax crisps should not be missed.”

For Applecrest Farm Bistro in Hampton Falls, super-seasonality is key. “We grow some amazing vegetables that come literally right out of the ground to plates in the same day,” says Chef Patrick Soucy. And if the veggies don’t come from their own farm, they’ll be grown nearby. Guests might dine on New Hampshire Red Garnet Yams roasted with bourbon, dried chilies, rosemary, and orange bitters.

At nearby Hayseed Restaurant at Smuttynose Brewing Company in Hampton, “We’re adding a produce garden here at Towle Farm to supply us with some estate-grown veggies,” says Executive Sous Chef Bob de Haan. “The dishes we offer are specifically designed to appeal to everyone, not just people who have chosen to exclude animal-based foods from their diet.” The Mushroom & Crispy Polenta Bolognese, for example, features local mushrooms and tomato ragout served over crispy polenta.”

Plant Power HayseedMushroomPolentaBolgognese335x

ETHNIC
Anyone can taste the world without leaving the Seacoast (and without eating meat), at several of the area’s ethnic restaurants. At Green Elephant, an Asian-inspired vegetarian bistro with locations in Portland and Portsmouth, guests are invited to try the distinctive flavors of Malaysia, Japan, China, India, and Thailand, through dishes such as Singapore Noodles with stir-fried rice vermicelli, curry powder, egg, bok choy, snow peas, bell peppers, and tofu, topped with sweet pea shoots and fried shallots.

Cafe Nostimo in Portsmouth is an easy place to enjoy a meatless meal. “I think that the Greek diet as a whole appeals to all diet preferences,” says co-owner Nancy Zottos. “Currently, our Spanakopita [layers of crisp phyllo filled with spinach and cheese] is the hands-down winner for both carnivores and vegetarians. A favorite vegan option is our Dolmathes [stuffed grape leaves]. We keep the recipe simple with rice, olive oil, and dill wrapped in grape leaves—we let the traditional flavors be the focus.” (Click here for Dolmathes recipe.)

In Kittery, Maine, Tulsi offers a vegetarian section on its menu, featuring dishes such as Aloo Gobhi Matar, with cauliflower, potatoes, and peas and an onion, tomato, and coriander spice blend. On Sundays, Tulsi’s buffet clearly identifies its vegan selections.

SANDWICHES
The simple sandwich reaches sensational status when composed of freshly made bread, local produce, and creative condiments. “We always appreciate people recognizing us for our natural and vegetarian options,” says Mariah Roberts, owner of Kittery’s Beach Pea Baking Co. Four of the ten offerings on their sandwich menu are vegetarian or vegan, including “68 Hours” Veggie, with cucumbers, carrots, poached red onion, tomatoes, pea shoots, and romaine with hummus on multigrain bread.

In Portsmouth, Madeline’s Truly Organic Kitchen at Portsmouth Health Food Center has a grab-and-go case and makes sandwiches to order, using fresh, organic, and often local ingredients. Kitchen manager Sarah Andrews describes their veggie sandwiches as “creative vegetarian twists on classics, such as Tofu Banh Mi.” Most popular is the grilled Tofu Reuben.

Just down the street, White Heron Tea and Coffee honors its roots as an organic tea and coffee company with healthy and earth-friendly food. “There are more vegetarian than meat options on our menu,” says owner Jonathan Blakeslee. “Hands down, the top-selling is our 2 Eggs & Cheese on English Muffin, a hand-made English muffin with Nellie’s New Hampshire eggs and Cabot cheddar. The most popular vegan sandwich is our Tofu Tiger Wrap, with Thai peanut sauce, roasted tofu, greens, shredded carrots, and red cabbage.”