Ethnic restaurants offer tasty vegetarian options
Photo by Gregory Cherin
The most recent “Vegetarianism in America” study reported that 7.3 million adults in the U.S. follow a vegetarian-based diet, and an additional 22.8 million follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. That translates into 13 percent of all U.S. adult diners. Despite these significant numbers, it can be a challenge to find vegetarian fare when dining out.
So I set out to dine veggie in Berkshire County and, having worked my way through dozens of menus and calories too numerous to count, I’ve concluded that ethnic is the way to go for great vegetarian options. For example, among Indian restaurants (one of my faves), Aroma Grill in Great Barrington offers 16 vegetarian dishes, while Pittsfield’s House of India has an eye-popping 22. Spice Root in Williamstown offers ten vegetarian and ten vegan dishes, and Bombay in Lee lists ten vegetarian and five vegan entrees.
And that’s just Indian restaurants. But whether Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, or Malaysian, plant-based options at ethnic eateries are wide-ranging. Then there’s Italian. Dozens of ristorantes and trattorias dot the county, and most offer a selection of pastas, gnocchi, polenta, risotto, and eggplant dishes. Elizabeth’s Café Heaven in Pittsfield goes one step further. Except for daily specials, its menu is entirely vegetarian and mostly Italian (though curiously printed with French headings).
I even found several so-called “American” restaurants that offer at least two plant-based entrees. And at just about every one of those restaurants, an Italian dish is at least one of the choices. This is certainly true at Sullivan Station in Lee, where you’ll find six vegetarian dishes, including eggplant parmesan, wild-mushroom ravioli in a white-wine sauce, homemade gnocchi, polenta lasagna with roasted vegetables, pasta primavera with tofu, and stuffed eggplant.
The two veggie entrees at Alta in Lenox—linguini and grilled organic tofu—have a decidedly international flavor. Likewise, Alta’s sister restaurant, Church Street Café, crosses multiple borders with its Church Street lasagna and a tofu-and-vegetable stir fry.
Firefly in Lenox offers three vegetarian dishes from the “Comfort Plates” section of their menu that represent a cross-section of the immigrant experience, including a Mediterranean-style linguini, the Firefly flatbread, and their pan-roasted veggie burger.
And the menu at Castle Street Café in Great Barrington features a roasted vegetable sampler that includes a scoop of lentils as well as two entrees representing the global village, including a saffron risotto with asparagus and Equinox Farm spinach, and a southwestern black-bean burger.
Heading north, Williamstown’s Hobson’s Choice offers four vegetarian options, all consisting of various permutations of pasta dishes, including shells-and-cheese, angel-hair pasta with garden-fresh vegetables or without, and shells in a creamy garlic sauce with vegetables.
Public Eat+Drink in North Adams offers two vegetarian flatbreads, “Mids” and “Bigs.” Among the “Mids” are summer risotto, prepared with lemon, roasted summer squash and zucchini, asparagus, fresh tomato, garlic, and parmesan; and falafel in pita with Maplebrook Farm feta, tzatziki, and shaved red onion, all served with housemade Israeli couscous salad. The two “Bigs” include a mac-and-cheese (you can hold the pancetta), and pappardelle pasta made with sauteed squash and zucchini, roasted pearl onions, Maplebrook Farm mozzarella, baby spinach, tomato cream sauce, and parmesan cheese. Diners should read the new menu carefully as the restaurant has inadvertently marked virtually all of its options with a “V,” despite the presence of fish, shellfish, and pork products.
I include Mission Bar+Tapas in Pittsfield because this cozy little place has an extensive selection of small dishes that together function as a full meal. Their tortilla española, fried cauliflower, goat cheese crostini with candied pecans and honey, and patatas bravas with roasted red pepper sauce and garlic aioli will leave a smile on your face. If you want something larger, the vegetarian paella has roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, and artichoke.
The newest restaurant on North Street, Eat on North, offers three vegetarian options. (The cast-iron mac-and-cheese can be ordered without pork.) On the large plate, there’s the chickpea-and-red-quinoa burger and the Maitake-mushroom tarte.
The maza combo platter is the Middle Eastern version of tapas. At Naji’s Mediterranean Cuisine in Great Barrington, you can fill up from a long list of stuffed grape leaves, labneh, hummus, and more. Or you can choose one of three entrees: falafel, baked eggplant with tomatoes and pine nuts, or loubieh over rice. If that’s not enough, Naji will prepare items such as stuffed cabbage that are not on the menu.
Pera Mediterranean Bistro in Williamstown features dishes from the Middle East, Greece, and Italy. Vegetarian entrees are Italian: pasta primavera, linguini marinara, and mushroom ravioli in a Marsala cream sauce.
And for vegetarians seeking a casual dinner, pizzerias such as Baba Louie and Arizona Pizza are a great alternative, offering pizza, calzones, and stromboli that can be easily customized with a wide range of toppings. Add a salad and a beer, and you’ve got dinner.