If you’re in the mood for vegetarian fare, allow me to recommend a place where the food is both tasty and imaginative, the ambience funky-eclectic and the mood music comes from vinyl records that spin all day.
Earthly Delights, for years a popular health-food emporium on the Jay Street mall, also offers patrons a Vegetarian Cafe that is popular with the lunch crowds, whether they choose to eat in or order a brown bag special.
On a recent Saturday visit, it became clear early why the cafe is succeeding. It’s not just the food. There’s an easy, friendly feeling about the place, probably because it’s a bit reminiscent of your first apartment. Many of the products offered wear “fair trade” labels, emblematic of the social movement that promotes fair prices for commodities and handicrafts from struggling groups and individuals.
WHERE: 162 Jay St., Schenectady. Phone 372-7580
WHEN: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; and extended hours on downtown event nights.
HOW MUCH: $24.54
MORE INFO: All major credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible, but not bathroom. Kids’ food available.
Partners Lori and Jennifer Sendra, who have owned Earthly Delights for seven years, have expanded their menu recently to offer a greater variety of sandwiches, soups and salads. One of the nice things about vegetarian fare is the freshness of the produce that’s used, and certainly that’s the case at Earthly Delights.
We decided to start with soup, and there were two choices — a vegetarian chili ($2.49 for a cup) and roasted garlic and potato soup ($2.35). The chili was thick and flavorful and piping hot. Besides chunky tomatoes, onions and peppers, there was a textured vegetable protein that gave every impression that someone had slipped some ground beef into the stew. It was well spiced, and our server offered hot sauce on the side in case we want to make it even zestier, but we didn’t see the need.
The roasted garlic and potato soup was warm and earthy, with the distinct flavor of baked potatoes, though that might have been because the skins had been left on. It needed just a dash of salt and pepper to bring it to full flavor, and we enjoyed it immensely. The true test of a dish for us is whether we’d order it again. The chili and the potato-garlic soup both passed with high marks.
The chili was especially good, and Lori Sendra, who was on duty this day, was psyched about its chances in the chili contest planned during the winter festival in Central Park.
For sandwiches, we tried one each from the “Hot Off the Grill” column and the “Brown Bagging It” section. They make all their sandwiches on Vermont Baking Co. bread or a vegetarian flour tortilla, and you can order gluten-free.
The grilled sandwich was called Tuscan Delight Panini ($6.25), consisting of smoky provolone cheese, baby spinach, tomatoes, red onions, basil, pine nuts and Tuscan white bean spread. It is grilled panini-style until the cheese melts, and the varied textures and flavors of the crunchy veggies, gooey cheese and savory white bean spread made for a wonderful meal in itself.
As good as the panini was, my lunch date and I agreed that the standout was the brown bag sandwich called “Olive You,” which the menu says is “made with love.” It’s also made with mozzarella cheese, freshly made olive trio tapenade, lettuce, tomatoes and sprouts. Again, there was a good contrast of textures and flavors, and the tapenade was wonderfully flavorful, really the heart of the sandwich.
For drinks, we chose coffee, which is organic and fair trade and quite good. You can get it with organic half and half or Silk soy creamer and organic raw sugar. Hot tea is also available, made with spring water.
If you’re looking for something more conventional, you can try a vegetarian BLT ($4.25), in which the “B” is vegetarian soy bacon. The grilled sandwiches include a curried tuna with garlic cheddar, along with veggies and a soy “nayonnaise,” and there’s a black bean burrito made of seasoned vegetarian black beans, the house salsa and roasted corn, topped with grated cheddar cheese and grilled in a soft flour tortilla.
There is, of course, a selection of salads ($4.50) featuring spring mix greens or baby spinach with a multitude of additions you can order, including dried cranberries, crumbled blue cheese and fresh blueberries (in season). Organic juices are made to order and include “add-ins” such as vitamins, ginseng and noni juice ($2.75 for 8 oz. and $3.95 for 12 ounces.)
Lori Sendra told us that kids especially love Earthly Delights’ PB & Jelly sandwiches, and little wonder. They get to make their own peanut butter.
Desserts include cookies, cakes and snackbars, varying daily.
The cafe offers delivery service and catering.
We left the place feeling good about what we’d eaten, but also about our entire experience. You can’t help but browse while you’re eating, and there’s a lot to see — including big containers of exotic spices and grains, the peanut butter machine and the juicemakers.
Our tab, for sandwiches, chili and soup and coffees, came to a modest $24.54 with tip.
Ask a foodie about how a particular food can evoke all kinds of memories and he’s likely to rhapsodize about his own food-triggered memories. (Think Proust and his madeleines.) I was reminded of that by a warm and fuzzy essay in the February issue of Saveur magazine in which Steven Shaw writes of the 1980s in Manhattan when as a teenager he consumed great numbers of egg rolls from the Empire Szechuan outlet in his neighborhood. Today, he and his wife take their 2-year-old son there for his favorite treat — an egg roll, of course.
The name of the place has changed, though. It’s now the Empire Szechuan Kyoto because, like many Chinese eateries, they’ve added a sushi bar.