First Bites: Munch

New vegetarian/vegan restaurant focuses on lower end of food chain

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By David Hammond

When Sage O’Harrow was about two years old, her mother Robin brought her over to our house to have dinner with us and some other friends.  Robin had raised her child to be a vegetarian out of moral concerns about the way animals are raised in the United States. Sage had never seen a pepperoni, a spicy Italian sausage that I put out as part of an antipasti tray at many family gatherings. She tried some, and then some more, and then a lot. After about half an hour, Sage had eaten a huge amount of the sausage – so huge that fourteen or so years later, I still remember her incredible feat – and so does she.

I ran into Sage today at her mother’s vegetarian restaurant, Munch, on Marion Street in Oak Park. She is still a vegetarian, though neither she nor her mother are doctrinaire in their personal lives, and their preference for vegetables is more motivated by morality than taste preference.

Oak Park is a town that seems ready for a restaurant that focuses on the lower (and usually healthier) end of the food chain.

We were told that the most popular item on the menu is the Amazing Black Bean Burger, so I had one of those with “bacon.” I am philosophically opposed to foods that masquerade as something they are not, and the bacon here is made of seitan (a wheat gluten product made of meat-like protein), but I found it tasty, and actually quite pork-like, I cannot say it is as attractive or as delicious as a fried slice of pig belly. The burger was soft, lightly spiced, and satisfying – I had just had a hamburger the night before, and I have to admit that I prefer meat, but on a warm day, or if you’re trying to avoid eating animal for moral or health reasons, it’s a good sandwich.

After lunch, I chatted with Robin, and she told me that cooking with only vegetables is hard work. Not only because there’s a lot of chopping and other “prep” work, but because you have to work harder to make a dish without meats that’s fully satisfying.

I have to believe that it’s also hard dealing with vegetarians. Now, let me be clear: I admire people who avoid meat for reasons of health or morality.  Unfortunately, vegetarianism and veganism can sometimes lead to a a revolting holier-than-though attitude that does a disservice to what could be a very admirable cause. 

Meat is the main attraction on most American plates, and many of us feel almost as though we haven’t eaten if there isn’t a slice of animal protein in front of us. Munch faces the challenge of satisfying the diner without resorting to serving a piece of meat.

After lunch I asked Sage if she would ever eat another pepperoni. She said she probably would.

Editor's note: Health blogger, Lisa Browdy, also shares her prespective on Oak Park's new vegetarian restaurant and encourges even the most carnivorous diners to give Munch a try. Read more...

Reader Comments

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Corinne DiLorenzo from Peoria, IL  

Posted: October 7th, 2011 4:31 PM

So... here's what I learned from this article: 1. Certain meat-eating authors have much more of a "holier-than-thou" attitude than the majority of vegetarians and 2. Never trust David Hammond around your vegetarian children.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 6th, 2011 4:45 PM

FWIW, we're shooting for 100% vegan home meals. Nobody's perfect.

Marla Rose from Oak Park  

Posted: October 6th, 2011 4:25 PM

I am really glad to have a vegetarian and nearly vegan restaurant open in Oak Park and I think that our progressive and diverse population is more than ready for it. I am disappointed by the incendiary tone here against people who maintain our core values in how we consume. Are we allowed live with convictions without labeled as doctrinaire? If others are unsettled by vegans living by our values, then so be it. Cruelty to animals is far worse. (I have been happily pepperoni-free since 1983!)


Posted: September 26th, 2011 12:53 PM

Nice condescension there, Dave. I'm sorry you were forced to endure an entire meal without a piece of meat on your plate, but it sounds like you struggled through with your sense of entitlement attached.

Violet Aura  

Posted: September 21st, 2011 6:30 PM

It's quite ironic that Dave chose to use the word "revolting" to describe the sanctimony he accuses vedges/vegans of having. I find the notion of dead flesh and the bloody mess of handling dead flesh rather revolting. I find the idea of animals suffering for lust of the tongue revolting. I find it revolting that it takes the water equivalent of a 5-min. shower every day for a year to produce ONE POUND of meat!:(

Bruce DeViller from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: September 20th, 2011 3:31 PM

Headline should be "Some villager threatened by opening of vegetarian restaurant". (Oops, thought I was reading The Onion)

epic lulz  

Posted: September 20th, 2011 3:12 PM

It's unfortunate to see Hammond adopt the hoary "if vegetarians object to being patronized, mocked, and insulted by meat-eaters, they are being revoltingly holier-than-thou" stance. I wonder if he'll take the same bigoted approach if and when he reviews a halal or kosher restaurant.


Posted: September 20th, 2011 8:02 AM

I'm sorry, but this reads more like a "haha, silly vegetarians, let's see if we can get them to eat meat!" story, which is a sadly worn out trope that most of us vegetarians don't find cute.

Trin from Chicago  

Posted: September 19th, 2011 3:28 PM

Was this supposed to be a review? Because all I see is a guy who likes pepperoni.

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