With the exception of about two weeks after I first read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair in high school, I’ve never called myself a vegetarian. Many of my at-home meals do consist of beans, tofu and other non-meat proteins. But for reasons more closely related to my wallet than any ethical or health concerns, though I frequently enjoy vegetarian options at restaurant, I have never actively sought them out. Grindhaus Cafe on Allen Street may change that.
The coffeeshop and cafe sprung up a few doors down from Frizzy’s and Gabriel’s Gate last summer, to so little fanfare it even lacked a sign. My fiancé and I first wandered in for iced coffees before the Allentown Art Festival and despite jolting myself awake with its caffeinated fare on several occasions, we had never stopped in to eat until recently. The spot prides itself on local, fresh ingredients, pour-over coffee and full-leaf tea, and has become a hot spot for students, meetings and caffeine fiends since it opened.
On a recent weekday, Grindhaus Cafe’s hodgepodge collection of chairs and tables were filled to capacity. We snagged a few stools at the bar, which seats three or four, depending on the friendliness of the patrons. The space feels like someone’s kitchen, in atmosphere and mood. Its staff are all friendly, artistic types, the sort you’d trust equally to make a culinary recommendation or an art installation in your backyard. The food menu is small, featuring a handful of sandwiches, sides and sweets, all vegetarian. Sandwiches are all $6, sides are $4 and $8 gets diners one sandwich and one side. Based on price and quantity alone, it’s already a steal.
We went with a VLT, which featured bacon-style tempeh, lettuce, tomato and house-made vegan mayo on organic wheat sandwich bread and the Creature From the Beige Legume, a mock tuna salad with chickpeas, diced carrots, that same mayo, lettuce and tomatoes in a flour tortilla wrap.
On the side, we tried BBQ slaw with shredded cabbage, dried cranberries, edamame, that vegan mayo again and barbecue sauce; as well as Mujadara, a Lebanese-style blend of brown lentils and rice with diced cucumbers.
The portions were large enough for each of us to take home at least half our sides, which both made delicious and hearty additions to meals the next day. Grindhaus’s presentation is no fuss, no fanfare, but the food speaks for itself. Even the adventurous meat-lover I dragged along did not miss the animal protein in the VLT, with smoky tempeh subbing in beautifully. The tomatoes were bright and firm, the lettuce spry with plenty of crunch. The beige legume tasted like hummus’s more substantial cousin and the overstuffed wrap left me more than satiated after the first half.
Even after those sandwiches, the sides almost stole the show. The BBQ Coleslaw could give any local barbecue joint a run, with sweet cranberries balancing the pungent cabbage perfectly. Mujadara was filling and savory, nutty lentils serving up a protein-packed punch alongside lightly dressed cucumber. We took most of that home with us.
For vegetarian and vegan diners, the Buffalo culinary scene is slowly offering more options but many still put veggies on the back burner. At Grindhaus, those dietary concerns are no such thing. Carnivores, go ahead and give Grindhaus a try, if you want to be pleasantly surprised by how tasty tempeh and tofu can be. And plant-based life forms, rejoice: Buffalo’s newest meat-free cafe is a delectable and green alternative.
160 Allen St. (725-6300)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Handicapped accessible: Yes