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Tuesday, March 28

Gapers Block

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I felt somewhat out of place taking a seat at Alice and Friends Vegetarian Café, especially when I saw "With respect for all life, we proudly serve our dishes free of meat, poultry, fish, egg and MSG" written on the front of the menu. Suddenly, reviewing a vegetarian café seemed like a bad idea, considering I am not a vegetarian. Eating "unbeef" is not something I ordinarily do, so I was worried that I wouldn't know how to evaluate it.

Luckily, the menu at this Edgewater spot is long and creative. Instead of feeling limited by the lack of meat options, I was actually overwhelmed by the number of entrees that looked appetizing to me -- not to mention curious about how the variety of meat substitutes would fare in each of the dishes.

We began the meal with shakes (vegan versions are also available) and steamed dumpling appetizers. I didn't enjoy my dining companion's green tea shake as the tea flavor was too strong for my liking; he, on the other hand, didn't mind it as much. The ginseng shake was much better, a tasty, subtlety sweet, pale orange concoction that was topped with whipped cream. Both shakes were light and refreshing: We had pretty much finished them by the time the entrees arrived, yet neither of us felt full.

The six steamed dumplings were average -- a mixture of tofu and veggies enclosed in a doughy pouch. The filling of these dumplings was tasty, but the dough was bland, rubbery, and required numerous dunks in the tangy dipping sauce to render palatable. Next time, I'd opt for the fried version.

I might not have been thrilled with our appetizer, but I was certainly impressed with my Korean Style BBQ entree. Fresh broccoli, carrots, cabbage and rice cake slices were tossed with a generous portion of unbeef in a somewhat addicting spicy barbeque sauce. Granted, the unbeef was more squishy than the real beef I'm used to eating, but overall the robust flavor of this meal overpowered whatever reservations I had about the actual ingredients. I would definitely order this dish again.

My dining companion's yakisoba entree was also good: Pan-fried Japanese noodles, unchicken, red cabbage, and broccoli were stir-fried in a sweet soy sauce. The sauce was good but not very intense, and, therefore, the tastiness of this dish was completely dependent on the freshness of the vegetables and the quality of the unchicken -- both of which in this case, were excellent. And, surprisingly, the unchicken was quite comparable to real chicken.

For dessert, we tried the vegan chocolate cake. I've sampled vegan cakes that have been too dense to enjoy, but the one at Alice and Friends had a good consistency and was even a bit moist. We would've finished the entire gigantic slice if we hadn't already loaded up on shakes, appetizers, entrees, etc.

The staff of Alice and Friends is laid back -- at times, a little too laid back, if you ask me. A pitcher of lukewarm water was delivered to our table (without ice), the tables were wobbly, and the servers never seemed to be around when we needed them. Yet this easy-going attitude seemed quite appropriate for the casualness of the café. And, if the line of friendly customers waiting to eat on a recent weekday evening is any indication, I'd say nobody pays any mind to this inattention to detail.

After all, it is the food that really stands out here. The thing that I liked best about this place is the variety of the menu; I'd go back for the yakisoba or Korean BBQ again, but I'm more interested in trying some of the other creative offerings -- smoked veggie duck, bi bim bob with tofu, almond unchicken -- to see how they'd stack up. Sure, Alice and Friends isn't going to convert me from my carnivorous habits, but I'd recommend it -- even to my fellow meat-eating peers.

Alice and Friends Vegetarian Café is located at 5812 N. Broadway.

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Naz / August 23, 2004 12:13 AM

The Korean BBQ dish is pretty good but the Kabobs are even better. The Almon Unchicken and Katsudon are two of the best dishes there and the best app to get is the unchicken drumsticks, they look and taste like real chicken down to the texture.

Service is indeed a little too laidback, as it tends to be with some vegetarian places - as it is with Soul Vegetarian down south.

But that's the kicker - by the time you're irritated by the wait, the food comes and everything is forgotten.

pj chmiel / August 23, 2004 12:19 AM

I love Alice and Friends! The menu is about 90% good, with a just a couple dishes on the bland side. The service can be spotty, as they seem chronically understaffed and with an odd sense of timing. I've noticed that most of my favorite ethnic restaurants tend to have service like this, and I attribute it somewhat to differences in culture; a lot of other people just aren't in quite the same hurry that Americans are. Also, like many vegetarian restaurants, for better or worse Alice's comes with some spiritual underpinnings. A TV set in the smaller main room usually plays entertaining videos of a woman called The Supreme Master Ching Hai. It's not so in-your-face as to be uncomfortable, but it's something that people tend to notice on the first visit.

Food-wise, not to be missed at Alice's is the Kabob (probably the favorite dish among any of my vegan friends, it's similar to Korean BBQ but with more of a "grilled steak" taste) and the Don Ka Su (donkatsu in Japanese; breaded pork cutlet). Both are sinfully tasty, as are most things on the menu. They also do a strong cup of cinnamon ginger hot tea which is delicious.

You can see photos of many of their dishes by clicking here. Enjoy!

Katie / August 24, 2004 1:17 PM

Alice and Friends is a favorite of mine. My boy and I normally get it to go though because we prefer to have a tasty beer with our meal and we live a couple blocks away. Plus we get to avoid the slow service, but they are always so sweet that you can't get that upset at them!

Definitely get the dumplings fried. And I highly recommend the Lady Fingers appetizer. Some sweet red bean paste rolled into a flakey sweet roll, not quite sure how to describe it, but it is delicious! And the Don Ka Su is our absolute fav dish!!! So good! Breaded, fried, soy Japanese goodness!!!!! Can't go wrong with that. I'm also a big fan of the Korean Style BBQ and the Full Moon Pancakes. I tried the Duck one time and although it was quite good, I kind of got tired of the taste half way through my meal. Perhaps I'm just not a duck or un-duck person.

Matthew / September 2, 2004 1:47 PM

Alice and Friends serves great veggie food. They are followers of Suma Ching Hai, a spiritual leader who advocates lacto-vegetarianism.

The Don Ka Su Salad is fantastic, just like the Mongolian BBQ whatevers. I had the Almond Unchicken that everybody raves about but honestly I liked other items on the menu much more. It did have lots of slices of fresh almonds. Oh and the Mung Bean Cakes tasted fantastic.

My girlfriend and I tried a variety of items there. The main courses are by far better deals than the appetizers. I haven't tried a dessert yet so I can't speak to that. The service isn't the greatest but they're very nice. I guess that counts for something.

I just moved here from Richardson, TX (north of Dallas) where there was a great Suma Ching Hai restaurant. I missed the food there so much, but now I have Alice and Friends!


About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

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