Recipe for Disaster: A Collegiate Culinary Column

Hillary Hoover, Culinary Columnist

This week’s recipe for disaster takes me on a different path from my other recipes. Rather than cooking vegan for you, I will be sampling and reviewing Eden  – A Vegan Café located in Scranton. Imagine my excitement when I heard that there was a vegan café in the area. Every time I go out for food, I’m constantly asking questions like  “What’s in that?” and “Can I get it without cheese?” I’m sure that this echoes the thoughts of many students with food allergies. It’s definitely something that needs to be brought to the food industry’s attention because it is a significant health concern.

Aside from my excitement about the chance to try their “BBQ Drumsticks,” I needed an unbiased opinion. Enter Jacob Garner, Electronic Reserves Specialist at the Mary Kintz Bevevino Library and self-proclaimed meat-atarian. “I’d rather have meat than friends,” Garner laughed. Masking my inner revulsion with a smile, we shook hands and made our way to 344 Adams Avenue in Scranton accompanied by senior Kat Jenkins, who lives a meat-reduced lifestyle and has been a vegetarian. Our motley crew represents a good chunk of the food spectrum here, and hopefully will give an honest review of the restaurant.

As we walked into Eden, verdant walls, clean wood tables and benches, tasteful artwork, and a variety of flowing houseplants invited us in. The chalk menu board captivated our attention as we chose our selections. We were intrigued by their “Tuna Melt,” “Kielbasa and Peppers,” “Turkey Club,” and one of the favorites at our own Cougar’s Den – “Chicken Cheesesteak.”

Could these “imposters,” as Garner so candidly put it, measure up to their original non-vegan counterparts? This is certainly another “Recipe for Disaster.”

We decided on the classic “Cheeseburger” and their “Sample Platter” to get a well-rounded idea of Eden’s offerings. Upon paying, we sat down near the window, relaxed, and talked about our food choices. As far as pricing, the $7.25 “Cheeseburger” on a toasted bun with lettuce, tomato, onion, and “cheese” came with a side (we chose the smashed potatoes) and a deli pickle. The $12.50 “Sample Platter” consisted of a BBQ and Buffalo drumstick, hummus, pita, crudités (a fancy way to say raw veggies), grilled chicken, grilled steak, and some of their tuna salad. Not bad for a treat on a college student’s budget.

About 10 minutes later, the waitress brought out our beautifully plated food and identified each item on the Sampler and the “Cheeseburger.” She smiled and left us to our own devices. Just like out of a Dennis the Menace movie, Garner was the first to move, poking the “burger” with his fork. He took the plunge and bit into half of the huge sandwich. “It tastes like vegetables,” he said between bites. “But I’ve never had a veggie burger before, so I guess that’s kind of expected.”

Jenkins had a completely different opinion. “I mean, I’ve eaten veggie burgers before, but this is the best that I’ve tasted,” she munched happily, contented with her meal as she swung her feet.

As for me, I was not expecting carnage when I first bit into it, which softened the initial blow and I enjoyed the subtle nuances of flavors. I would have liked to see some avocado on the sandwich, but then I would be picky.

Next: the Platter. Looking for a place to start, I went with the Buffalo Drumstick. Upon cutting into it, my eyes widened in shock as my knife hit something hard halfway through. My first thought was that there was some sort of bone inside and I let out a squeak. Upon further inspection and some laughs, I peeled back the “meat” only to find a bamboo skewer.

My first bite completely startled me. The soy protein pulled apart like chicken breast and it was covered in a tangy BBQ sauce like brown bottle that my mom uses. The weird factor for me though, was the outside coating that looked a bit like chicken skin. Needless to say, I was unsure whether I should be eating what had many similarities to meat, which gives me goose bumps. Then, I remembered I was in a vegan restaurant.

Jenkins and Garner were impressed by the effort and the time spent on creating a dish that closely mimicked its animal counterpart. The grilled steak was mildly flavorful, but rather tough and chewy.  The hummus and veggies were a nice break for the palate to be able to eat something that was decidedly a bit more natural.

One unexpected item that we all agreed on was that the tuna salad and the grilled chicken came closest to the “real thing.” “I can honestly say that if you hadn’t told me that this wasn’t tuna, I would think I was eating fish,” Jenkins said, perplexed.

When our meal was finished, we sat back and relaxed. “This is the first vegan meal that I’ve had,” Garner shared. “I mean, I wouldn’t come back on my own free will, but if someone asked me to go with them, I’d know that there would be something on the menu that I could enjoy.” That definitely is enough proof for me that Eden- A Vegan Café definitely needs to be on your list for restaurants in NEPA. They have a fun, quirky atmosphere that is both relaxing and energizing.

Personally, it was exhilarating walking into a restaurant and being able to order anything off of the menu and not having to worry about the ingredients. While I may not be the biggest fan of meat substitutes, my overall dining experience was fantastic.

At the end of the experience, Garner, Jenkins, and I made a pact. Respecting each other’s lifestyles and diets is key to a successful friendship. And Jacob will make up for the meat that we don’t eat.

Questions? Comments? Send them to [email protected]