"Vegan" sometimes gets a bad rap. People often ask me, "Is that the crazy healthy diet?" Or they might take it further and say, "Vegan stuff scares me. I need my meat." The idea of a dairy and meat free diet can be intimidating to more than a few people, especially when so many aren't sure what a diet without meat looks like. But I'm hear to tell you that protein can be more than hamburgers and hotdogs, and vegan and vegetarian dishes can be found all over this fine city.
The good news is vegan and vegetarian diets are catching on and are being offered at more and more eateries, but still many people do not know the difference between vegan and vegetarian, and the many shades of each.
Some vegans do not eat any animal product, including the gelatin in sweets like marshmallows, while other vegans might simply consider it a dairy-free and meat-free diet. On the vegetarian hand, some do not eat any meat, including eggs, while other vegetarians will kill a plate of deviled eggs in a second. The confusion might make eating out difficult.
While terms like, are you ready for this, "lacto-ovo vegetarian" -- meaning a vegetarian who still consumes dairy and eggs -- are not yet used to define restaurant menu items, it is still surprisingly easy for many with unique dietary preferences to find an item on the menu that suits their needs, especially in a hip, forward-thinking town like Ferndale.
Known for its progressiveness, as well as an environmental- and health-conscious community, Ferndale is a pretty good spot to forage for these vegan and vegetarian dishes. So, if you've decided to drop meat from your diet, or meat and dairy, or meat and dairy and gelatin (along with all the other food with animal-byproducts in them), this column will be a place to turn to for finding these dishes here in Ferndale. We'll even seek out interesting and special items in places such as the Natural Food Patch, too, in case you're interested in cooking something yourself.
So, where should we start? I decided to make it easy for the first edition and drop into Om Cafe.
OK, I know. It sounds like a pretentious, hippie, meditation-based restaurant. I also know places off the beaten path like this can be intimidating. On top of that, it's only open one day per week (Friday from noon to 9pm). Yet, it is a favorite spot for vegan and vegetarian eaters, and one of the only restaurants of its kind in Metro Detroit. So, be sure to get there early because by late dinnertime there is a line out the door.
While there are various methods of finding dairy and meat free foods at mainstream restaurants, it is always comforting and relaxing to walk into a place that caters to your eating habits. It takes out the embarrassing moment with the waiter where you have to say, "I'll have the house salad, but no cheese, no chicken, and no ranch." So this is what makes Om Cafe experience less stressful and more adventurous.
My personal favorite is the Walnut Pesto Fettuccini. This would be classified as lacto-vegetarian, or a dish that eliminates meat, but still has dairy from the Parmesan in the pesto. The items on the white board stating the daily specials clarifies that the dish contains no meat, and when it arrives -- complete with gently cooked broccoli and vegetables, alongside some lightly grilled tofu -- it is one of the tastiest dishes I have eaten. The tofu does not taste strange, as many sometimes think, but when grilled it has a firm texture on the outside and meaty texture inside, usually taking on the flavors of the items it is cooked with. The wheat noodles are soft and perfect for slurping up with the pesto sauce.
The line out the door, the wide array of singles, couples and even large parties, the small room and candle-lit atmosphere -- all of these things make Om Cafe the popular respite that attracts customers of both meat-eating and vegetarian preference alike. "Vegan goodness" -- a term often used by vegans to describe a perfect vegan meal -- may not sound on the surface like a tasty dish. Yet, Om Cafe proves otherwise, and with its wide, steady customer base, it proves the versatility of a seemingly intimidating diet.
Ferndale is place to hang. It's known for its nightlife and its independent and unique restaurants. It makes sense that with a push toward healthier lifestyles vegan and vegetarian diets will increase and more and more businesses will adapt their menus to accommodate these diets. Here in Ferndale, and especially at Om Cafe, it's already happening.
So here, in this space, we'll explore these restaurants, diets, and places to get the best vegan and vegetarian fare in the city. And if the line waiting to get into Om Cafe is any indication, I'm going to be pretty busy.