“Once a year during a certain holiday in November, meat-eaters use the
hollowed-out rectum of a dead bird as a pressure cooker for stuffing.
And people think vegans are weird because we eat tofu?”
In the spirit of the much debated question of “nature or nurture,” my inaugural visit to The Mint Tulip Vegan Restaurant prompted my own philosophical contemplation, “are veggie haters born or made?” The answer is probably a little of both. Many of us were–as children–traumatized by well-intentioned parental chiding or threats regarding vegetables: “Eat Your Vegetables!” “You’re not leaving this table until you eat your rutabaga!” “No dessert until you finish all your vegetable medley!”
Then there are those of us who were once served a mushy bowl of peas, an overcooked plate of carrots, spinach suffering from freezer burn and the like. Others of us may have, in an effort to lose weight, endured a fad diet consisting solely of certain vegetables. Whatever the reason, it’s no wonder so many people become veggie-haters.
The problem with hating vegetables is that they are, almost inarguably, the most healthful food group on Earth. Vegetables are an amazing source of antioxidants, fiber, phytochemicals. potassium and other beneficial nutrients. Eating a diet rich in vegetables (and fruits) as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce risk for heart disease, protect against certain types of cancers, reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes as well as decreasing bone loss.
Aside from the clinical benefits of vegetables, the truth is when prepared well, vegetables can be absolutely delicious–even if they’re not disguised as some “pseudo meat.” Unfortunately, not even some of the very best chefs and cooks at much acclaimed restaurants do much more with vegetables than boil or saute them. Talk about bland and boring. Talk about unrealized potential.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of The Mint Tulip Vegan Restaurant is that its menu looks so un-vegan. Scrawled on a slate board behind the counter at which you place your order is a menu listing such carnivore favorites as a BLT, Club Sandwich, Reuben, Buffalo Ranch Wrap and Burger. You can also order a Brat (with kraut and onions) or a hot dog. Anyone contemplating a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle might be surprised by all the inventive and delicious potential of such a diet.
The aforementioned meaty sounding sandwich fare is made possible by something called a meat analogue…or meat substitute, imitation meat, faux meat, fake meat or mock meat, if you prefer. Whatever you choose to call it, meat analogues approximate three essential aesthetic qualities of meat: texture, flavor and appearance. Some meat analogues are so similar to the real thing that if you don’t know what you’re eating, you’d swear it was meat. While many analogues are soy- or gluten-based, The Mint Tulip also offers a number of gluten-free items such as salads, grilled vegetable sandwich, grilled cheese sandwich and even the shakes (save for the mint cookie).
Accompanying me on my inaugural visit to The Mint Tulip was my good friend Sr. Plata. We were the oldest diners in the Cafe by twenty years or more as well as the only patrons not sporting multiple tattoos, gauged piercings, multi-colored spiked hair or some other generational personal affectation. We reminisced about once being the same age as the other diners and how we, too, sported the personal attributes that defined our generation (and ticked off our elders). It’s no wonder we felt right at home.
We also felt like welcomed guests courtesy of the kindness of co-owner Rosa Zamora who patiently answered our questions and made recommendations. She pointed out that the breakfast menu, while limited, is served until breakfast items run out. On any given day, that could mean a breakfast burrito (potato, spinach, sausage and red or green chile) or a sausage cheese biscuit (fresh-baked biscuit sandwich with Cheddar spread and a breakfast sausage patty).
It could also mean pancakes, three golden brown and fluffy orbs served with syrup and Earth Balance butter, a plant-based vegan butter made without artificial ingredients or hydrogenated oils. The pancakes are made from scratch with all-purpose flour. The Mint Tulip made believers out of two converts with pancakes every bit as good as you’ll find at any conventional breakfast restaurants (and better than the pancakes at Annapurna, another Duke City vegan favorite). The only thing missing is bacon…and drat my terrible memory for not having thought about ordering it on the side.
Also as good as you’ll find at any “conventional” sandwich shop is the Buffalo Ranch Wrap, a flour tortilla encasing grilled seitan (wheat gluten which when grilled, has a texture and appearance very similar to meat), carrots, celery, mixed greens, ranch dressing and some of the best buffalo sauce this side of western New York. In total, the sandwich is moist (you’ll be grateful for the cloth napkins) and delicious, but the buffalo sauce, in particular, is spectacular. You can imagine dousing wings with it (not coincidentally, hot wings tossed in the buffalo sauce are on the menu).
Chips and salsa, chips and queso and hummus are among the starters though if the entree-sized portion of hummus is any indication, they can easily be shared. The hummus is served with grilled bread (brushed with olive oil), carrots, olives and artichoke hearts. There are Middle Eastern restaurants in the Duke City who don’t prepare hummus as good as the Mint Tulip does. It’s thick, garlicky and plentiful; you’ll run out of carrots and bread before you run out of hummus.
Whether veggie haters are born or made, The Mint Tulip Vegan Cafe is good enough to convince them that vegetables can be delicious.
Mint Tulip Vegan Cafe
2110 Central Avenue, S.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 8 March 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Buffalo Ranch Wrap, Pancakes, Hummus Plate, Ginger Lemonade