BY ERICA SAGON
Even the famously carnivorous Janko’s Little Zagreb offers a black- bean burger and an eggplant dish as entrées.
In Bloomington, vegetarians don’t have to seek out a true vegetarian restaurant to eat well. PETA confirmed that in 2010 when it ranked Bloomington the fourth most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly small city in North America.
“Most of our restaurateurs realize that vegetarian isn’t just the absence of hunks of meat,” says Fred Turner, an attorney and longtime vegetarian. Turner says servers are now more knowledgeable about how dishes are prepared—and whether ingredients like chicken stock are used in an otherwise meatless dish—-than when he moved to Bloomington in 1990.
This sampling of the vegetarian-dining scene starts on and around the downtown Square.
With the largest vegetarian menu in town, Roots on the Square serves up Asian-inspired dishes, and also country-fried seitan, black-bean burgers, and sweet-potato curry soup. The menu at Samira’s Restaurant is heavily vegetarian, too, with traditional Afghanistan fare such as spiced baked eggplant and yellow lentils. Nearby, FARMbloomington and Restaurant Tallent have seasonal vegetable entrées that let produce shine.
Bloomingfoods, both east and west locations, boasts a vegetarian-conscious deli with prepared foods and a hot food bar, which goes totally meatless on Mondays. The Near West Side is also home to quick-and-casual Soup’s On, where vegetarian-loaded baked potato soup is a mainstay.
East 4th Street, with its dozen or so ethnic restaurants, is a haven—many dishes start out vegetarian, allowing diners to choose whether to add meat. A sampling of standouts: Anatolia, a Turkish/Mediterranean eatery, offers stuffed baby eggplants; Siam House is known for its Thai lunch buffet with several vegetarian dishes; and the nearby Turkuaz Café on East 3rd Street serves up red lentil soup and nearly a dozen veggie pides.
The East Kirkwood area is home to Cafe Django, Falafels Flavors From Jerusalem, Finch’s Brasserie, and Laughing Planet Cafe, where local produce is the star. Save for a handful of chicken dishes, most of Laughing Planet’s burritos, bowls, and quesadillas are meat-free, featuring tofu and seitan.
Other options are peppered around town. Upland Brewing Co.’s menu goes beyond traditional brewpub fare with seitan tenderloin, portabella Philly sandwiches, and a salad with coconut-breaded tofu. And at Feast, a café that opened this summer at South Henderson Street and East Hillside Drive, an ever-changing menu of tamales includes vegetarian varieties like black bean and goat cheese.
Roots on the Square owner Andrew Stevens says he’s happy to see Bloomington’s vegetarian-dining scene broadening.
“I have seen a lot of menus grow in terms of vegetarian options,” Stevens says.
“The standards have really changed,” he adds, which has brought about more thoughtful vegetarian dishes citywide.