Going vegetarian in Southwest Louisiana

By By Nichole Osinski / American Press

In a state where boudin, gumbo and

po’boys are the norm, finding a good vegetarian meal that isn’t limited

to beans and rice

can sometimes be a challenge. Thankfully, all it takes is a little

international exposure to get a palate-satisfying — albeit

meat-free — lunch.

Looking for a well-rounded vegetarian taste for food, I settled on three countries’ cuisines: Greece, Japan and Ireland.

First up was Zeus Cafe, which serves an eclectic mix of Greek-inspired meals with some Lebanese dishes. I started out with

the baba ganoush and a hot cup of lentil soup.

It was a cold, rainy day, and the slightly spicy soup did the trick to help me warm up. The pureed eggplant in the baba ganoush

then helped cool my mouth after the heated lentils had hit my tongue.

The mix of garlic, lemon and sesame oil dressing gave the eggplant a distinct, almost sweet flavor. Add a few purple kalamata

olives, and my mouth was filled with a burst of slightly salty and rich flavor.

As a seasoned vegetarian I turn to

eggplant when I want a hearty meal; the vegetable has an almost meaty

flavor and texture

to it. The last part of the meal came in the form of vegetarian

moussaka — more eggplant but mixed in a soupy broth with onions,

tomatoes, garlic and some unnamed spices.

The $5.99 vegetable medley, along with the $7.75 baba ganoush, was filled with such a mix of flavorful foods that I didn’t

think twice about the meat pies the man across from me was eating. Top it off with a warm-your-belly lentil soup for $4.50

and I was drifting off into my own Mykonos dinner table scene overlooking the Aegean Sea.

I then ventured to Miyako, a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar. I decided on miso soup, edamame and hibachi vegetables. Instead

of a side of rice I opted for $5.50 miso eggplant.

I special-ordered the eggplant without batter and was pleasantly surprised when I was rewarded with the freshly cooked purple

vegetable without it being covered in crispy carbs. It tasted like a mix of squash and taro drizzled with olive oil.

The soup and edamame were not overloaded with salt — a problem I run into in many Asian restaurants. Pieces of tofu and scallion

in the soy broth added substance with nori seaweed thrown in for taste.

The vegan-friendly hibachi vegetables consisted of the usual mushrooms, onions, broccoli, plus lettuce, which gave it a nice

texture. But the lettuce, yellow and limp, looked to have been sitting in the sauce a bit too long. Still, it didn’t take

away from the flavor.

Next, I went to MacFarlane’s Celtic Pub. The dimly lit pub with its dark wood tables and Irish sayings tacked on the walls

is the perfect setting to tuck into a hearty beef stew or spicy sausage — or, in my case, a strawberry balsamic salad.

A side of cooked zucchini and squash with sweet potato fries — more Southwest Louisiana than Celtic, but still a favorite

of mine — and my vegetarian palate was soon satisfied.

At $10 for a spring mix covered in

candied pecans, red onions and strawberries, the salad delivered a

lightly sweet and crunchy

alternative to the regular house fare. A stickler for fresh

lettuce, I was happy to find the greens were crisp with a satiating

crunch only a vegetarian can appreciate.

The strawberry balsamic vinaigrette was a sugary bonus to the honey-flavored pecans and ripe strawberries. My two sides cost

only $2 each and were just as fresh.

The fries were covered in a dash of black pepper and salt — which added just the right amount of extra flavor. I only wanted

to — and did — savor each orange stick one bite at a time.

The squash and zucchini are a favorite not only for the creamy taste but because they’re both high in vitamin K.

The meal proved that vegetarians can dine in meat-centric restaurants. It just takes some skimming of the menu and a love

of food from the garden.

MacFarlane’s Celtic Pub

• 417 Ann St., Lake Charles, LA 70601

Phone: 337-433-5992

Monday-Thursday: 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday: 10:30 a.m.-midnight.

Miyako Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar

915 East Prien Lake Road, Lake Charles, LA 70601

Phone: 337-478-1600

Monday-Friday: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m.; Saturday: closed; Sunday: noon-10 p.m.

Zeus Cafe

409 West Prien Lake Road, Lake Charles, LA 70605

Phone: 337-439-7099

Monday-Friday: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday: closed.