First, it should be noted that eating the vegetable plate at a traditional Southern meat-and-three restaurant is as different from eating at a true vegetarian eatery as sipping Welch's sparkling juice is from drinking champagne. They are different, but both can be enjoyable.
I am by no means a vegetarian, but I have enjoyed many vegetarian meals over the years. We eat a lot of vege-burger at our house, for example, and as long as it is presented as such, I'm OK with it. Don't dress it up in a patty form and tell me it's just like a hamburger, because it's not.
Country Life is a cafeteria-style restaurant with a decent-size salad bar and a hot bar that offered five dishes the day I ate lunch there. They also offer sandwiches, soups and vegetarian pizzas to order.
The walls are adorned with large posters offering lifestyle tips on things like diet, child raising, relaxation and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
Located on Market next to Qdoba, it's a relatively open and friendly space with tables and chairs. Some vegetarian products are also available for purchase.
Where: Country Life Vegetarian Restaurant, 428 Market St.
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday.
Price range: Vegetarian Chili Dog $2.99; 100 percent vegan salad and hot bar under $5.99; Vegetarian Wham Turkey, Corned Beef $6.99.
The menu offers almost 20 vegetarian burgers, submarines, hot dogs and other sandwiches with traditional deli names.
I opted for the salad and hot bars on both of my visits.
On the hot bar during my first visit were green beans, potatoes in a light cream sauce, a taco salad made with corn chips and vege-burger, whole-wheat pasta and carrots and stir-fry with broccoli and what I believe to be FriChik, a vegetable-based chicken substitute.
On my second visit to the restaurant, the hot-bar items were green beans and potatoes, corn, vege-burger tacos with a cheese sauce, taco salad with beans and the stir-fry, though with rice this time.
The salad bar featured fairly standard offerings, though there was a tuna-salad substitute.
The order (for one): I sampled several items, including all of the hot items. Folks accustomed to green beans that have cooked all day in fatback will notice a big difference in the Country Life version. The potatoes also will taste different. Some might call them bland. Others might say they taste like Mother Nature intended them, though it can be argued she came up with salt and spices as well.
Both taco salads were more to my liking, and the tacos were quite good. The pasta had a rich grain flavor, and the carrots were a nice complement to the dish.
The stir-fry was a disappointment on the first visit as the broccoli was overcooked and soggy. This was remedied on the return trip, and the addition of the rice was a bonus.
As long as the items are fresh, it's hard to go wrong with a salad bar. The tuna item, however, was watery, as was the ranch-type dressing. In fact, it had the consistency and flavor of milk. The Thousand Island version was better, though neither was particularly tasty. I should have gone with oil and vinegar.
The carob-based brownie was quite tasty and a good way to end my lunch.
Lunch is ordered and paid for at the cash register, so there was little interaction with the staff. Drinks are served in bottles. The staff was friendly and courteous when we did interact.
I liked several things I ate at Country Life. The things I didn't care for were almost always the "substitute" items, like the dressing that was supposed to taste like ranch and the faux tuna. So much of food likes and dislikes are based on familiarity, so if you are accustomed to foods cooked in fats, salt or heavy spices, the fare at Country Life might be too different, but I found plenty enough to like.