Published November 15. 2012 4:00AM
When I first began reviewing restaurants, I received an email from a reader encouraging me to try out some of the vegetarian-friendly spots in the area.
The writer lamented the closing of a Norwich restaurant with significant vegetarian options but sounded optimistic about the future of meatless cuisine in southeastern Connecticut.
Well, if you're reading, Mr. Email Writer, your day is coming. In fact, it may have already come with the opening of Kate's Café in Mystic.
Kate's, started by former Pfizer researcher Kate Straub, opened its doors this past summer. Already, it seems to be building a reputation as a place to go for health-conscious and delicious vegan fare.
Kate's is located in the complex at 27 Broadway Avenue, next to the rotary near downtown Mystic. It's a smaller building and easy to miss. (On my first visit, I drove around the rotary two or three times, like a high school student studying for his driving exam.) Remember it's the same parking lot as the CVS.
Some readers might remember I visited Kate's during a recent round-up highlighting healthy-eating options in the region. I thought the menu was diverse and inventive enough to merit a longer follow-up.
Kate's specializes in vegan breakfast and lunch dishes. On the breakfast side, you'll find a tofu scramble with spices, blueberry or chocolate chip pancakes, and a breakfast wrap with scrambled tofu and the option of soy sausage, fakin' bacon, tomatoes, peppers, onions and an assortment of non-dairy cheeses.
For my dollar, one of the highlights of Kate's is the delicious and creative soup of the day options ($3.99 a cup; $4.99 a bowl). It's also worth noting that the daily specials are posted on the restaurant's website, www.katescafe.net.
In addition to the Russian borscht beet soup, which I previously spotlighted, I've tried the summer squash, apple and yellow curry. The squash had a nice, savory curry taste while the apples added a hint of sweet without off-setting the balance of this soup. Delicious. The consistency was also quite nice, not too thick but, at the same time, not runny and thin.
Kate's is a fairly small, 500-square-foot café. You can get some of the wrap and lunch options to go, along with a bottled tea or juice. But there's also full-service dining available at a handful of tables.
The dining area has an earthy vibe to it, with wood floors and tables, and earth-toned wall paint. The kitchen is right behind the register counter. The smell of health food permeates the dining space.
I've been to Kate's a couple of times now and tried a good range of the lunch options. Some recommendations I have: the seitan sliders ($10.99), curried chickpea wrap ($7.99) and basically anything they make with soba noodles.
On the permanent menu, there is a soba noodle salad ($8.49) with cabbage, carrots, peanuts, pea pods and red onions mixed with vinaigrette. On a recent visit I also tried a phenomenal soba noodle special served in a red curry sauce.
The dish was prepared with peanuts, cabbage and celery. It was held together with an excellent coconut cream, red curry sauce, which had immense flavor. The peanuts added a delightful texture.
For someone looking for a lighter option, there's the raw beet salad made with scallions and sunflower seeds mixed with balsamic vinaigrette. If you're a beet person, you'll love this item. If you're not, you may want to choose something else, as the beet taste dominates the dish.
The beets come shaved. Combined with the nutty taste of the sunflower seeds and tied together nicely with the vinaigrette, this is certainly a stand-out dish.
I continue to marvel at the ways vegan restaurants are able to substitute traditional meat and dairy ingredients without sacrificing flavor. At Kate's, this is particularly true of the desserts.
A recent special I tried was the dulche de lece soy ice cream with cardamom brittle. This is a perfect dessert for people who like their sweets not overly sweet. The ice cream was creamy and flavorful, certainly enough to fool any dairy ice cream connoisseur. The brittle was crunchy - don't try this one on a sore tooth - and added a nice texture and flavor to the ice cream.
People who appreciate good health and vegan food seem to be already taking note of Kate's Café. The times I've been in for lunch, most of the tables have been taken, while people came in for meals to-go. But I'd also tell vegans and vegetarians not to be afraid to take their meat-loving friends to Kate's.
On my last visit, I was accompanied by The Day's arts writer and resident carnivore, Rick Koster. When I first told Rick we'd be going to a vegan restaurant, he replied, "It's vegan?" as if I had inquired about obtaining one of his kidneys, or suggested we take synchronized swimming classes together.
But after this barbeque-lover started into his open-faced taco sandwich ($10.99) - ordered without the non-dairy tofu sour cream - Rick seemed to warm to the blend of Mexican quinoa, black beans, salsa, guacamole, greens, non-dairy cheese and diced black olives. He said the quinoa was the "most interesting and dominant component of the meal." Rick added, "I'm not going to say some beef fajitas wouldn't liven this baby up, but Kate isn't about beef fajitas - so good for her!"
But his sense of humor may betray his true enthusiasm for vegetarian food. The very next day, I caught Rick sipping a bottle of Kombucha tea and sneaking bites of seitan from his desk drawer.
So, if you're like Rick and just starting off in your exploration of vegan foods, or you're a stalwart health food enthusiast, I think you'll be impressed by the nutritious yet delicious offerings at Kate's Café.