Like many other Groupon users, I waited until the last night to use my Groupon to Soul Vegetarian East Restaurant over on the south side of Chicago. There are a number of soul vegetarian type restaurants on the south side, but this one is the most talked about and the oldest. Other restaurants include: Sistah's Vegan Restaurant, Brother Tim's Vegetarian Fast Food, and Yah's Cuisine.
Both times I've been to Soul Veg the wait has been awfully long. I will admit the first time was also with a Groupon within a week of it expiring and this last time was the night it expired, so my wait time may have been altered due to that. From reading Yelp reviews, though, it seems like the service is always pretty slow and the servers are rather scatter-brained.
Aside from the restaurant, there is a juice bar and a take out bar. The take out bar has various kinds of salads, seitan, greens, etc. The juice bar is pretty much your standard juice bar with carrot juices, green juices, and additives of wheatgrass and spirulina.
Before I begin, let me just say that this is southern cooking. It isn't healthy, even if it is vegetarian. A lot of it is fried or it is made of seitan. They do have salads which are pretty awesome. More on that later.
To start, my friends and I split the battered cauliflower. Pretty much most vegetables battered and fried are tasty and the cauliflower didn't disappoint in this aspect. It is definitely something to be split among 3-4 people, though, because it would be too much fried food for just two people. Other appetizers on the menu are more battered things like mushrooms, onion rings, fries, and tidbits (seitan).
We got a side of carrot supreme salad which was absolutely amazing. If you get anything at this restaurant, get this salad. For $4.50, it could have been a meal! It was gigantic and packed full of awesome veggies. We got the creamy garlic dressing with it and I'm thinking they use fresh garlic because it was super garlicky, but the creaminess balanced it out.
For sandwiches, we had the East Coast BBQ Roast Sandwich and the Hand Burger. The BBQ sandwich was as to be expected: messy. They use their signature seitan tidbits and coat them in their own bbq sauce. Overall, it's a good kind of messy sandwich. I'd get this again for sure. My friend had the Hand Burger and he said it's the best veggie burger he's ever had (and he's an omnivore)! It is made out of lentils and various spices. My only problem with the sandwiches are that they come with no sides. It feels a bit like an incomplete meal to just have a sandwich. Of course, you can order a side, but you get what I mean. The last time I was at Soul Veg, I got the gyros and I didn't care for them too much. It was too dry for my taste. They sell their Jerusalem Steak sandwich and Tofu Salad Sandwich at the local Whole Foods here and those are pretty good even pre-packaged. I imagine having them fresh at the restaurant is even better.
My other friend had the dinner special. This dinner was something like $12 and for that price, there was SO much food. All three of us could have eaten this for dinner and been stuffed. It came with greens, steamed broccoli, breaded tofu (think catfish fillet style), a whopping piece of lasagna, and a choice of soup or salad (he got the soup, bean curd veggie, with fresh cornbread). I've had the greens from Soul Veg before and I always find them a bit too musky from the liquid smoke they use. I only use a pinch of it when I make greens and that may be why (if I even use it). Otherwise, they are perfect. The steamed broccoli was pretty standard, tender and healthy. Now, this breaded tofu business. Wow, you would think it was real breaded catfish strips the way they have it done up. I've never had breaded fish like that in my life (what? I grew up in San Francisco. Fresh fish from the ocean... who breads that?!). One of my friends who was with me is from the south and the other grew up eating breaded catfish and both of them were as impressed as I was with the breaded tofu. They have a breaded tofu sandwich and I bet that thing is amazing. The lasagna was alright. I didn't love it or hate it, but I wouldn't order it again. Just wasn't my thing - something about the taste of it. My friends liked it though. Lastly, the soup and cornbread were really tasty. I've never had bean curd soup before (I've had bean curd in Chinese dishes at restaurants before, though) and this was a great introduction. The cornbread passed the Southerners test from my friend meaning it was pretty damn good.
We had tons of food and took a lot of it home so we couldn't possibly have dessert. I had a Beta Green juice drink from the juice bar, so I suppose that was my dessert (carrot and spirulina juice). They do have soy ice cream and a variety of cakes and pies for dessert, though.
Our fair city of Chicago is blessed with the Vegan Food Truck. It is run by the people over at Ste Martaen (one of the best vegan cheese companies out there, trust!) and Soul Veg. You can get a number of Soul Veg's sandwiches and entree's on the food truck. Also on the truck are goodies from Canary Confectionery, a local vegan baking team. It is run during lunch and dinner hours and their menu changes daily. Find them in the city or request they come to your area through their Twitter account or Facebook account. They also sometimes make Saturday day trips up to Milwaukee. Check their Twitter and Facebook to find out when.
One last note: the Soul Veg mac 'n cheese. Aside from their carrot salad, this stuff is addictive. It is, hands down, the best vegan mac 'n cheese I have ever had. I challenge someone to find a better one. Seriously, this stuff will change your life.