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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.