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Restaurant Fri Dec 07 2007
Toasted oil-touched bread gave way with a crisp and chewy crumb, and then came fresh green lettuce that broke sharply with my teeth, luscious seitan with juices of fresh tomato wrapping around my tongue, sautéed peppers and onions, and a mild tang of a vegan cheese. That's the sandwich that much talked about co-owner Michelle Garcia brought to my table from the kitchen - the Chicago cheese steak (or cheese seitan for vegans like me) - just after she'd arrived through the front door with a big hug for me. Moroccan couscous salad came on the side - thick Middle Eastern style couscous tossed in an olive oil vinaigrette with square red onion slices, pieces of eggplant, tender zucchini and thin slices of red and orange peppers.
Michelle's husband and co-owner, Vinny, makes the seitan from scratch. This is one of many vegan(izable) items on the menu of their new Painted Lady Organic Eatery, the red and pink Chicago Avenue storefront space that their Bleeding Heart Bakery left behind when it moved to 1955 W. Belmont. Anyone who'd been here when it was Bleeding Heart will recognize the red, pink, yellow and white marbled Formica topped tables, although they're arranged differently - many against a new long wooden bench along the wall. A chalkboard hangs with a new drink menu laid out with headings well done in block letters of various colors and sizes.
Vegan items are well integrated with meat options. For example, the Omega Burger comes either vegan (with black bean burger) or with grass fed beef - and with a poached egg, "except if you specify vegan." The whole menu continues like that. Their Neato Mesquito is either BBQ baked chicken or tofu, Chicago cheese steak options vegan cheese and seitan, Jalisco Mexicali is either a steak or seitan sandwich, roasted beets and arugula come in a salad with goat cheese or vegan cream cheese, another salad comes as the Ultimate Kung Fu (with chicken) or Kung Faux (with tofu) with Japanese style cabbage and peanut dressing, and similarly for the big bowl of veggies in the Roller Derby salad. Vinny explained the vegan chili haystack as a mountain of sweet potato fries covered in vegan chili and vegan cheese. Various pizzas are available vegan, as are treats "for the wee ones" like grilled cheese. And of course, you can get Bleeding Heart bakery's vegan treats.
Painted Lady is still working out the kinks of the new location. They sell Metropolis Coffee by the bag to take-away at Bleeding Heart on Belmont, but not yet at Painted Lady. Twists like that didn't matter to me right then. I felt good. My stomach was full and I had an excuse if I needed one to go to Belmont. I left and I walked across the street to the new Dominick's - where it's a different world. They're not playing Dead Kennedys' Kill The Poor and The Addicts' Viva La Revolution as I had heard minutes ago. As I walked in through the front doors right off the sidewalk, I heard a loudspeaker voice trying to tempt me with gift cards for my holiday loved ones. It didn't work. Instead, it confused me and I got lost looking for what I wanted, passed a few stroller-clad Moms looking stressed, and then a tiny little kid who made me smile. From the front of a cart, he asked his Mom, "Am I driving you crazy?" The sweet Mom inquisitively asked back, "Are saying I'm driving you crazy, or are asking if you are driving me crazy?" I smiled at her as they continued their discussion, checked out, and walked back across the street to my bicycle parked in front of Painted Lady. I hopped on and pedaled through the salted streets. Snow on the streets had given way to melting except along parked cars and an occasional soft spot that would send some slush through my fenders. As I parked in my building's bike room, the snow started to drop from my tires and pedals. Everything else and I were clean - less a few drops on my boots. My stomach was still full.
2018 W. Chicago Avenue, (773) 278-3638. Bus: 66, 50.
Photo: Bleeding Heart.