Our Gourmet: Finding an outlet for vegan desires

January 18. 2017 1:34AM

Willows Plant-Based Eatery
55 S. Main St., Concord; 715-1095; online via Facebook

Wednesday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. To 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. To 4:30 p.m.; Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Cuisine: Vegetarian/Vegan.

Pricing: soups/salads, $5-$10; light plates, $8; sandwiches/wraps, $7.50-$9; entrees, $13-$16.

Scores for Willows
Atmosphere: 17/20
Menu: 17/20
Food: 18/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 17/20
TOTAL: 87/100

We’re not against a perfectly roasted, medium-rare prime rib ourselves, but we know it isn’t the healthiest option out there and the Dining Companion, as we’ve said before, is trying to go vegan.

With that in mind, we went looking for vegan options on the Granite State dining scene, and found they’re few and far between. In fact, they’re even few and far between down in Boston or over in Portland.

After searching high and low, however, we discovered a lovely little spot toward the south end of Concord’s Main Street that was just what we were looking for. Willows Plant-Based Eatery is, as its name suggests, devoted to plant-based eating, offering wholesome vegetarian and vegan options for lunch and dinner.

We stopped in one recent evening with the Fussbudget (FB), who is 7, in tow.

Willows is small, offering about a dozen four- and two-top tables along the walls and a couple more in the center of the room, as well as a single window booth overlooking Concord’s newly refurbished Main Street. A kindly old dog acted as greeter, welcoming us in with a sniff before heading to a corner to lie down.

Though small, the room feels a tad sparse, despite warm, purple walls offset by dark trim. Artwork on the walls depict a decidely (and inexplicable) aquarian motif, hung high enough that it is best viewed on the opposite wall lest you get a crick in your neck trying to look up at it. Those quibbles aside, and noting the dining room is BYOB, Willows nails it on its food.

Our Gourmet started with a cup of pea soup ($5/cup; $7/bowl) that was as hearty, rich and thick as any we’ve had anywhere. A simple soup, the cup offered a refreshing, clean taste of peas. The DC opted to open with a salad called The Far Out ($9), a gluten-free offering of spinach, avocado and cucumber under a drizzling of apple cider vinaigrette.

The salad was super-fresh, and the DC raved over the sweet, tangy dressing. Even the FB — though he apparently caught on to the vegan theme of the place based only on what we’d ordered and declared loudly, “You know, I’m NOT vegan” — approved, and ate up everything on a small plate he’d been offered.

Main courses took some time to appear from the kitchen, but were well worth the wait. OG decided upon the lentil loaf, offered as a special this night. A large slice about an inch thick came served with mashed sweet potatoes and kale, all of it criss-crossed with a delightful cilantro-lime drizzle. The loaf was hearty and filling and filled with both mashed and whole lentils and spiced enticingly. A tad dry, as such dishes can be, it could have used a larger dousing of the drizzle, or some gravy.

The sweet potatoes were to die for, sweet and creamier than any mashed potatoes we’ve had. The kale was fresh and crunchy, its bitterness offset by the lime-cilantro sauce. A fresh-squeezed limeade was delicious and helped wash it all down.

Willows offers several options for wraps and sandwiches, and hoping to keep the FB on track, we ordered him a “Southwest,” ($9), a lentil-walnut “burger” that comes topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, jalapeno and veganaise (it’s mayo without eggs). We ordered without the pepper and asked for some ketchup on the side. Once the onion was removed and ketchup slathered, he downed half of it. We suspect that a slice of cheese (OK, maybe faux cheese) might have kept him interested longer.

The DC opted for one of Willow’s signature hearty bowls, ordering the Big Splash ($16), consisting of garlic-ginger marinated seitan (wheat gluten), broccoli, avocado and cilantro over basmati rice because she wanted to try Willow’s seitan.

A mix-up saw her served The Supa’ Fly ($13) instead, which was seared tofu and pad Thai noodles with carrot, onions, cabbage, spinach, basil and peanut. She was disappointed, but not for long, and the meal disappeared between explanations the dish reminded her of peanut/sesame noodles we’d tried last summer at home.

Our trio was completely stuffed by this time, but when told the night’s dessert offerings included baklava ($5) and carrot cupcakes ($5), as well as cookies, the FB’s eyes, especially, lit up, and we ordered one of each to take home.

Vegan baked goods sometimes get a bad rap for being dry, but not the case with these offerings. The FB regained his appetite after a single bite, and finished the cupcake without sharing. The DC did the same with the sweetly sticky baklava, leaving OG with only a cookie. It too was good.

Again, we wouldn’t begrudge anyone their carnivorous cravings, but it’s nice that there are places offering other options, and that a good one is right in our state capital.

Our GourmetConcord

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