By Bob Condor-Chicago Tribune (Metromix.com)
Soul Vegetarian East joins two seemingly divergent cuisines. You expect soul food to taste good but maybe not be so good for you. You think vegetarian food tends to be good for you but it doesn't exactly taste good. You think wrong. Try Soul Vegetarian East. Soul Vegetarian East has been a fixture on the South Side and at area health fairs for 15 years. It is one of several restaurants run by the African Hebrew Israelite community.
The happy and healthful eating experience in a restaurant that serves the Chatham and Park Manor neighborhoods begins with a sizable basket of battered cauliflower ($3). The still-crunchy vegetables are lightly breaded without too much grease. This is followed swiftly by a thick, tomatoey vegetable soup ($2 small; $2.50 large). For now, we move on to a feast of salads, sandwiches and entrees. The green salad has romaine lettuce with sprouts, tomatoes, purple cabbage and cucumbers ($2.50 small, $3.50 large). It is enlivened by a nutty house "prince" dressing that uses fresh tahini made from sesame seeds. The carrot supreme salad ($2.50 for two scoops) is thankfully less sweet than most versions due to a hint of homemade soy mayonnaise. It goes nicely as a condiment for the green salad and other goodies on the table. Some of those goodies include two versions of grilled veggie burgers spiced with garlic, onions, paprika and seasoned salt: the sunburger ($3), made with ground sunflower seeds, and hand burger ($3) formed with lentils. Both sandwiches are dressed with lettuce, tomato, pickle and mustard on a whole-wheat bun.
The BBQ twist sandwich ($3.50) is made with a soybean seitan in steaklike form that Soul Vegetarian East makes on the premises. The "meat," slathered in a tangy barbecue sauce, is satisfyingly crisp outside and tender inside. An interesting note: The BBQ twist is so named because the seitan has some peanut butter in it. There is a nightly dinner special ($8.50). Our evening's platter contains generous portions of barbecued tofu, greens, macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables and pleasingly dense cornbread. You also get a choice of soup or salad. The tofu is firm and smoky, but the greens and macaroni are the stars. Garlicky greens are bursting with juices; the mac and cheese is al dente.
We fill out the meal with a vegetable stir-fry ($3). Soul Vegetarian East's version is above average with numerous fresh vegetables and brown rice. A bit of broth heightens the flavors. We can't resist the carob cake with tahini-nut icing ($2.25), enjoying a large and moist slice. Herbal teas, juices and sodas are available. Soul Vegetarian East asks that customers not bring alcoholic beverages. Service is quite friendly and prompt. You will feel at home. The restaurant seating and decor is comfortable if a bit drab. But it doesn't seem to stop the steady clientele or the frequent takeout orders, and shouldn't stop you.
Soul Vegetarian East Restaurant205 E. 75th St.773-224-0104Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thur.;9 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat,; 9a.m.-noon (brunch) and noon-8 p.m. (dinner) Sun. Credit cards: M, V-Other:Wheelchair accessible