By Danny Garrett
This column began in January of this year, and it’s now coming to an end. Throughout its run, I had the pleasure of covering more than seven restaurants within the Lake Area. I started with Toga Grill and concluded with 1910. I would like to thank the owners, chefs and restaurant staff for their participation. They made the process an informative and exhilarating experience.
I’m sure vegetarian and vegans, and those with similar diets, found this column helpful. If they didn’t already, they now know they have plenty of restaurants and recipes to choose from, all of which will satiate their plant-based appetites.
However, the column wasn’t only for them. It was also for those who love food and are always in the market to try a different meal or a new restaurant in town. It was, furthermore, for those who enjoy learning the why behind certain eating habits.
Sometimes, vegetarian foods can be largely ignored or scoffed at based on surface stereotypical views of vegetarians and vegans themselves. You know the perception: They’re holier-than-thou individuals who are more concerned with excoriating meat eaters than simply enjoying a delectable meal and wholesome fellowship at the table. Or, maybe worse, they’re seen as weak-muscled and starry-eyed sunflowers who frolic in open grassy fields, and only eat food that befits a diminutive rodent.
It’s been my goal to obliterate those kinds of stereotypes and focus on criteria — the big three — when it comes to not only eating vegetarian/vegan cuisine, but great cuisine in general: health, atmosphere and taste.
I have one last surprise before closing the book on this column. A part of the experience of great cuisine is to find new places in which to enjoy it. This means exploring; and I urge food lovers in the Lake Area to never stop exploring. Lake Charles is a fast-growing city. Every time I turn around, there seems to be something new popping up, whether a hotel or a new yoga studio. This, of course, also means new eateries.
While writing this column, even at the last restaurant I covered in full, I still kept discovering new restaurants and eateries to try, which were perfect places for vegetarian and vegans to dine. Therefore, as a part of the last surprise and treat for this column, I’ll provide a rundown of those places for you: Main Squeeze, Garden Path Groceries and The Velvet Pig.
What’s amazing is that none of these places are traditional restaurants, which is another testament to Lake Charles’ growth and how accepting Lake Area residents have become of the new and creative food culture.
Main Squeeze Juice Co.
Main Squeeze is located on 3629 Nelson Road. It’s a juice and smoothie bar that opened in May. Even though it’s only been open for a short time, my visits to the bar already number almost in the double digits. Main Squeeze is that good.
When I go there, my main goal is to order a smoothie that’s both healthy and flavorful. I order The Classic. It’s originally a mix of fresh apple juice, banana and strawberry; however, I like to deviate from the original recipe, almost making the smoothie into their Plant Power. I add spinach or kale for my leafy green, almonds for protein, and sometimes pineapple for an extra dab of sweetness.
I’ve yet to order one of their juices in full. You’d most likely assume that I’d order their Vitality first, which has similar ingredients to what I prefer in my smoothies, with the exception of the zucchini. But you’d be surprised. I’ve sampled their Detox juice once before, a juice that’s as cleansing as it is tasty. It comes with filtered water, lemon, activated charcoal and agave.
The juice is black, which I’m sure would cause hesitation for some. But it shouldn’t. The black comes from the activated charcoal, which is a natural treatment that generally removes toxins from the body and, more specifically, cleanses the digestive system. Minimizing harmful toxins minimizes joint pain, provides energy and increases mental acuity. And don’t worry. The Detox juice isn’t bitter. The agave nectar and lemon make sure of that.
There’s so much to choose from at Main Squeeze. There’s wheat grass and cold-brew espresso shots. There are juices with even more ingredients like ginger, cayenne, cinnamon and Blue Majik.
The juice bar is a collaborative venture between brother and sister, Nick and Miranda Fontenot. They’ve done wonders with the establishment. It’s a place that treasures fresh and organic fruits, nuts and vegetables, making it a haven for vegetarian and vegan diets.
To learn more, visit their website, mainsqueezejuiceco.com, or call 426-0114.
Garden Path Groceries
Next is Garden Path Groceries, owned and operated by Heather Hamilton. Garden Path is another restaurant that isn’t exactly traditional, if only in that it’s a restaurant on the move. On Tuesdays, they’re inside the Cash And Carry Farmer’s Market from 4-6 pm. On Wednesdays, from 11 am-2 pm, you’ll find them in a courtyard behind the old Calcasieu Marine National Bank. And on Thursdays and Fridays, from 11 am-till, they’re assuming a post at Memorial Hospital.
I visited them on Wednesday for lunch. The outside courtyard off Ryan St. is too beautiful to pass up on a perfect summer day, with the flowers in full bloom and the sky a peaceful light blue.
The menu offers a vegetarian a nice selection. If you haven’t had a sandwich with apple slices and arugula, I’d recommend you try the Pomme Piquant Grilled Cheese. Without turkey, the dish comes with a Granny Smith apple, pepper jelly, Monterey Jack cheese and arugula on whole grain bread.
I’ve come to associate sandwiches made of apples and arugula with the fall season, but it’s the perfect summer treat, as well, especially when a piquant pepper jelly is added in concert with the Monterey Jack cheese.
The last time I ate at Garden Path Groceries, however, I ordered the Thai Buddha Bowl with peanut dressing. I’m glad I did. The meal was amazingly fresh, and the sweet peanut sauce mixed with mango, sour cucumber and cabbage took home the prize.
Another hit that’s similar to this meal is the Athena Buddha Bowl. The major twist — and the name Athena gives a hint — is that it’s more in line with Greek/Lebanese cuisine, as opposed to Thai, coming with quinoa tabbouleh, hummus and lemon-tahini dressing.
Garden Path Groceries is definitely up a vegetarian’s or vegan’s alley. Give them a visit, wherever they happen to be on a particular day. To contact them, call 309-0205, or visit their Facebook page.
The Velvet Pig
Then there’s The Velvet Pig. Like Garden Path Groceries, this is an eatery that’s on the move. But there’s an essential difference. The Velvet Pig is a food truck, so being on the move is a bit of a literalism for them.
They’re posted at the Cash And Carry Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays from 4-6pm, and Crying Eagle on Thursdays and Fridays from 5-9 pm. They’re available on Waitr, too, accessed through the Crying Eagle Brewing Company’s page.
The Velvet Pig is owned by Nicole Butler. She is also one of the cooks, along with Michelle Jones.
Frankly, I can’t recommend this place highly enough. They’re not only very accommodating to vegetarians and vegans, but the food is extraordinary.
One of the first meals I had at the Velvet Pig was their Red Curry. I was in Lake Charles when I tried this meal, at Crying Eagle, and I might as well have been in Thailand. I’d follow this meal to the southeastern Asian country; luckily, all I have to do is follow The Velvet Pig to three locations in the Lake Area.
What makes this meal so appetizing? It’s the smoothness of the coconut milk; the spiciness of the red chilis, and the floral notes of the coriander in the Thai curry paste; it’s also the sweetness of the organic pineapple. All of the ingredients pair very well.
There’s still more for a vegetarian to try on the menu. The Velvet Pig also has black bean egg rolls, which are filled with organic black beans, corn and fresh poblano peppers, and served with vegan verde ranch dressing and a locally grown green bean stir-fry with mushrooms, which is also cooked in a Thai style.
You can’t miss The Velvet Pig, whether you’re at the Crying Eagle or at the farmer’s market. It’s a bright silver food truck, with a strong aura of warmth and friendliness surrounding it. Every time I’m there, Butler and Jones are in high spirits, and their welcoming moods are infectious to their customers who sit outside their food truck, laughing, smiling and engaged in happy and meaningful conversation.
Visit The Velvet Pig on their Facebook page, or call 842-5520 for more information.
Happy eating everyone!