-- Where: Cashew, 149 River St.
-- Phone: 423-355-5486.
-- Hours: 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
-- Price range: $3.95 (loaded baked potato)-$9.95 (kale salad).
There's nothing about me that says "vegan." However, it doesn't mean I don't appreciate the vegan lifestyle, nor do I turn up my nose at the food they eat.
So when I ate lunch recently at the new Cashew, a plant-based vegan cafe on River Street on the North Shore, I was pleasantly surprised by the generous menu that offered many dishes right up my alley, albeit meatless. But that's OK. It's a vegan restaurant.
Even the most devout carnivore can find tasty dishes at Cashew. From a loaded baked potato that ranges from the classic ($3.95) to chili cheese ($5.45) up to a portobello hoagie ($7.95), there are many mouthwatering dishes. Of course, since this is a true vegan restaurant, a cashew "cheese" is used instead of traditional cheese on the baked potatoes.
I chose the daily special: generous servings of a huge stuffed portobello mushroom, sweet potato casserole and beet green salad with diced apples, nuts and cranberries), $9.45; wild berry tea, $1.50, and an Oreo brownie, $2.95, for dessert. Everything was excellent.
The mushroom was huge and stuffed with ingredients that were foreign, but welcome, to my palate. My lunch mate, who is an experienced cook, said the main ingredient of the stuffed mushroom was quinoa, pronounced "keen-wah." It looks like grain. I'd never heard of quinoa, but a Google search revealed that the United Nations has declared 2013 the International Year of the Quinoa and singled out quinoa for its "high nutritive value." And it's chock-full of nutrients and helps to lower cholesterol, according to whfoods.com.
The stuffed portobello also contained squash, onion and bell pepper and was covered in a walnut basil cream sauce. It was delicious, as was the sweet potato casserole.
My lunch mate chose the Haystack plate. It consisted of black beans, brown rice, mixed greens, tomatoes, jalapenos, salsa and "tofutti" sour cream, served with tortilla chips ($7.45). It was a generous serving, and the only criticism he had was that the dish was a little dry. To compensate, he asked for a side of salsa but was a little disappointed that the "salsa" was mostly diced tomatoes.
We shared a warm Oreo brownie ($2.95). It was good, though my lunch mate said he would have preferred a small scoop of chocolate sauce or ice cream on the top to offset the somewhat dryness of the brownie.
In addition to daily specials, the restaurant offers entrees, sandwiches, soups and starters, salads, sides and kids plates.
Among the entrees served are a veggie plate of a choice of three house-made sides ($8.45); loaded baked potatoes and three versions of loaded baked sweet potatoes: classic ($4.50); Southwest, made with nacho cheese, black bean and corn salad, tofutti sour cream, green onions and cilantro ($5.65); and Thai, made with shredded carrot, green onion and cilantro, topped with peanut sauce and sriracha ($5.65).
Sandwiches, served with Terra chips, range from a sloppy Joe, a combination of lentils, quinoa, tomato sauce, peppers and spices served on a Niedlov's wheat bun ($6.35); to a chipotle barbecue burger, a house-made patty of buckwheat and adzuki beans topped with spicy chipotle barbecue sauce, grilled pineapple and seasoned kale served on a Niedlov's wheat bun ($7.95) and the hummus and roasted veggie wrap ($6.95).
Among the soups and starters are veggie chili $3.25/cup, $4.75/bowl), served with Niedlov's sourdough; black bean and plantain quesadilla ($8.45); polenta stacks, which are rounds of organic polenta and sweet potato topped with roasted portobello mushroom, fresh tomato and a walnut-basil cream sauce topped by a balsamic reduction ($8.45).
Salads include Caesar ($6.45), cashew ($7.95) and kale ($9.95).
The dressings - dill ranch, lemony vinaigrette, Tahini Caesar and Thousand Island - are made in-house.
For children, the kid's plates ($4.75) are a choice of peanut butter and jelly, almond butter and banana, macaroni and cheese, and half of a baked potato.
Sides available are kale salad, roasted roots (beets, sweet potato, red potato, onion, garlic, carrots, parsnips and turnips), macaroni and cheese, Greek quinoa salad, Caesar salad, cashew salad, cup of fruit, chili or soup, hummus and chips, cashew cheese and chips, and half of a loaded baked potato or sweet potato. Each choice costs $3.25.
Drinks include unsweetened iced tea in organic green or wild berry hibiscus blends ($1.50), Guayaki Yerba Mate, in citrus or mint ($2.75) and coffee ($1.95-$2.25).
The cafe is small.
My lunch mate and I arrived about 12:10, and there was just one two-seater table available. There are only six tables, which seat about 20 people total.
It's conveniently located on River Street, but if you drive over, you'll have to pay to park.
Diners order and pay at the cash register and seat themselves.
The server checked on us several times and was generous with the free tea refills, a service I find extremely important.
I will definitely go back to this restaurant because there are items on the menu I wish to try, such as the polenta stacks, the hummus veggie wrap and the cashew salad.
I didn't leave a morsel of food on my plate, and there's nothing about my meal I would have changed. I think nonvegans, as well as dedicated vegans, will be pleased with the food at Cashew.
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6396.