Going Meatless

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Last week, I wrote about Sprouts Green Cafe, a new place with plenty of enticing options for vegetarians. I’m not a vegetarian, but I sometimes feel as if I could be without too much effort—especially in the summer, when heavier meat dishes just don’t have the same appeal. Inadvertently, I went all-veg at two recent restaurant meals and came away more than satisfied.

Since I moved to Atlanta, I’ve been craving good Ethiopian food. It’s one of the best-represented ethnic cuisines in my hometown of Washington, D.C.—there’s even a neighborhood dubbed “little Ethiopia”. I missed the fragrant stews and most of all, the vegetables and legumes. Within hours of reading Bill Addison’s short write-up of Desta Ethiopian Kitchen in last month’s Cheap Eats issue, I was on my way over. The charming little place, located in a side building of the Williamsburg shopping center off the Clairmont exit, definitely lived up to my expectations, and I agree wholeheartedly with his endorsement of the $9 vegetarian combo. The colorful platter looks like a piece of art and the flavors were spot-on—I especially loved the collard greens and spicy red lentils.

We also shared a starter of sunflower seed fit fit, an Ethiopian dish that was new to me. Described on Desta’s menu as a cold sunflower seed “soup”, it was really more like a dressing over bits of injera, chopped tomato, and onion—a refreshing and filling salad. After all of those veggies (and, of course, all that injera), I left Desta stuffed and certainly didn’t miss the meat.

A late dinner at Leon’s Full Service in Decatur also turned into a top-notch meatless meal. To start, we snacked from a small bowl of addictive chili-dusted nuts and another of sweet little peppadews stuffed with goat cheese. Perusing the gastropub’s wide-ranging menu, I bypassed the sandwiches and more typical entrees (roast chicken, pork chop, scallops…) in favor of the seared veggieloaf. When I asked about it, our server’s face lit up and she pronounced it “awesome”, so I took the bait.

It may not be the most photogenic dish, but the loaf was full of mushroomy flavor, seared until crispy on all sides and soft within. This is no pulverized meat substitute—quinoa and bulgur give it a great texture. The salad of cauliflower, shitakes, and sun-dried tomatoes on the side was lovely (and admittedly makes the plate a bit prettier).

So, vegetarians, here are two more places to try where your options are more intriguing than a boring green salad or lame pasta. As for me and my fellow omnivores: I just read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, and this string of great meatless meals makes his oft-quoted mantra of “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” seem pretty doable.

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