Monday, 14 January 2013

Edmonton's "Veggie Garden" (restaurant review)

In all honesty, vegans and vegetarians in Edmonton actually have surprisingly little to complain about when it comes to restaurants that cater to our dietary needs.  I can think off the top of my head of at least two restaurants which are strictly vegan (Padmanadi and Noorish) and several more which are vegetarian/vegan-friendly (Cafe Mosaics, Loma House, Clever Rabbit, Veggie Garden).  Considering that our rivals to the south consider themselves to be SOOOOO cosmopolitan, Calgary leaves vegans begging compared to the selection in Edmonton.  And this isn't even to mention many restaurants which are not specifically vegan/vegetarian, but offer many options that are suitable (too many to mention here, see Happy Cow for the list!)

In Edmonton on a Saturday night, if you're going out on the spur of the moment and haven't made a reservation, I'd recommend a trip to Veggie Garden.  As a fairly new restaurant (less than 2 years old, located where Oriental Veggie House used to be), they could always use the business, and they are rarely very busy.  On times when we have gone there for lunch, we have often been the only customers there, or one of very few tables.  I was quite happy to see that there were at least a good dozen tables filled in this small restaurant when we went there on Saturday night. 

Despite being located in a terrible neighbourhood (south end of Chinatown, right across from the Hope Mission), Veggie Garden is actually a fairly nice restaurant.  The decor is simple, but the restaurant is always clean and the family which runs the place are incredibly friendly and eager to serve.  The free parking right out front is often full, but there are meters around each corner which are free (for now) after 6 PM and on Sundays.  Veggie Garden is open seven days a week, and has an absolutely enormous menu, making for a good selection of lunch and dinner dishes.

And now, on to the food! (forgive the photos, I took them with my cellphone camera so they're a bit lower quality than usual).

Crispy yum-yums!
For an appetizer, we had the spring rolls (which are #3 on the colossal menu, $3.99).  Spring rolls actually come as an order of five, but we couldn't help ourselves and dug in before I could take the picture!  The rolls are nicely crisp, with a filling of cabbage and tofu.  They come with a sweet chili dipping sauce.  Like most spring rolls I've encountered, these one's don't particularly blow my pants off, but they do make a nice little starter snack.

Happiness in a bowl
For his entree, DH selected the "chicken and beef" vermicelli (that's #22, $7.49).  All the vermicelli dishes at Veggie Garden come with spring rolls.  A spicy, dark sauce comes on the side with the vermicelli bowls, allowing the customer to add the amount of spice that they desire.  Everything in this dish was cooked perfectly.  The vegetables maintained their crisp juiciness, and there was definitely a difference in both flavor and texture between the faux chicken and beef.  The value is excellent on the vermicelli bowls, they are a huge dish of food, and we ended up with leftovers to take home from this one.

Presentation a bit sad here.
Something to keep in mind with Veggie Garden is that all of the menu descriptions are LITERAL.  If it says "salty tofu and shiitake", then that is exactly what you will get, a plate of just these two things, no other vegetables or noodles or rice.  I forgot about this fact when I ordered the sweet and sour pork (#44, $6.99).  It is just little faux pork nibbles in sauce with a handful of vegetables.  Not the greatest dish to have as an entree because it lacks the flavour variety that comes with eating something like the vermicelli dishes, with their diversity of components.  I found this one to be a miss; the pork was tender and flavoured correctly, but was overwhelmed by the sauce.  It was just far too sweet.  This dish really needs to be served on rice, with far less of the sauce.  I don't think I would order this again, or I would order it as a side dish to share.

Suspiciously good chicken...
Continuing with the literal, we also ordered the lemon chicken (#42, $6.99) to share.  This dish is probably Veggie Garden's biggest hook.  I have taken several omni friends to Veggie Garden, and when they taste the lemon chicken they are 100% hooked, and beg to go back again.  The lemon chicken is suspiciously good, it is flavoured perfectly, and the texture is quite firm for a faux meat.  The chicken is breaded, making for a delicious crispy bite followed by a savory chewiness. The sauce is not too sweet or overwhelming.  It comes sliced into segments, making it a great dish to share around the table.

Although I neglected to photograph them, we also enjoyed two of the restaurant's smoothies ($3.99 each).  While they offer exotic flavors like jackfruit and durian, the DH and I were not very brave on this account and opted for strawberry and mango.  The smoothies can be made vegan with soy milk upon request.  Both smoothies were delicious, they are almost pallet-cleansing like a sorbet.  I found them well worth the $3.99, especially as the restaurant does not offer alcoholic beverages (food follows Buddhist tradition).

Aside from the sweet and sour pork, all of the items were enjoyed at Veggie Garden were fabulous.  What was even better was the bill!   We enjoyed four items and two drinks for a grand total of $36!  The prices are ridiculously low here, which I think helps Veggie Garden to hold it's own against the popular Padmanadi, which is located just down the street.  For those of you planning to visit Veggie Garden for the first time, I would definitely recommend the lemon chicken and any of the vermicelli bowls as a great way to get and idea of what kind of food the restaurant has.  And, my own personal favorite happens to be the soft chowmein (#34, $6.99), which features tofu if faux meat is not your thing.

Despite it's location, I give Veggie Garden my highest recommendation.  Overall, a great restaurant with great staff that is really deserving of our business.  And with their very low prices, I won't be surprised if they continue to get busier, so get your lemon chicken while you can!

1 comment:

  1. Got to agree, an as omni-type-person, the food at the Veggie Garden is de-freakin'-licious.