Whatever vegetables can do, meat can do better. Vegetarian dishes are often delicious—get between me and a bowl of chana masala, for instance, and I will crack your skull—but most of them would taste even more spectacular with meat. From time to time I rant against vegetarian food, and inevitably vegetarian friends will recommend vegetarian restaurants that they believe will change my mind, places like in New London. So I gave it a try.
Bottom line: Mangetout makes great food—for vegetarians. Would I eat there again? If I were a vegetarian, I would eat there all the time. But I’m not.
No doubt, Mangetout is shaking in its boots at the prospect of losing a carnivorous non-customer like me, but before they despair, let me explain what I liked about the place. First, $30 buys a filling meal. A couple can eat soup, sandwiches, and dessert for that. Second, my dessert was incredible. And third, though meatless, the sandwiches were fresh and filling and sure to appeal to those of us who appreciate creativity in the kitchen.
The tofu-walnut burger ($7.65) ate more like a meatloaf sandwich than a burger, but it was creative indeed and flavorful. Inside the loaflike patty of crumbled tofu, crunchy pieces of walnut competed for attention with bits of red pepper and the tiniest shreds of sautéed carrot. Tahini contributed to the nutty flavor of the patty, which sat atop a slice of tomato and leafy green lettuce.
Despite a layer of savory caramelized onions and a vegan Russian-style house dressing that Mangetout calls “Le Pink,” the burger tasted a touch dry inside a thick, wheaty, focaccia-style bun. A real burger with real meat and real fat and real grease could handle a bun like that, but the tofu had a tougher time of it.
Much like the tofu burger, the tempeh reuben wrap (also $7.65) did its best to imitate a meaty classic and won points for creativity. Chunks of sautéed tempeh, which I learned is compacted, fermented soy beans, took the place of the traditional deli meats. It had a crumbly texture rather than the stringy, chewy feel of a regular reuben. Studded with caraway seeds to reproduce the flavor of rye bread, the tempeh shared space inside a delicately soft, ultra-fresh wrap with crunchy kraut and more Le Pink dressing, as well as lettuce and tomato.
Mangetout uses tamari, a thicker, richer soy sauce, to flavor the tempeh, and it will prepare the wrap with Swiss cheese or, for purist vegans, without. Other than the caraway seeds, the wrap really bears little resemblance to a reuben. As I said to the waitress when she asked me how I’d liked it, “It’s very good, but it’s no corned beef.” They really ought to drop the word “reuben” and call it simply a tempeh wrap. Be proud.
The soup of the day ($3.60 a cup, $7.25 a bowl) played it safe with firm chick peas and chunks of potato with stewed tomato and carrot. The cup-size serving was generous.
For dessert, I ate a gluten-free chocolate-walnut-something-or-other bar ($2) that was pure dynamite. Held together with Mangetout’s homemade sticky caramel, it had an oatmeal base that carried a load of chocolate chips and broken walnuts. I had only a taste and took the rest home, but it didn’t last long. It was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a long time. On its website, Mangetout implores its customers to “leave room for dessert”—advice worth heeding. The two sandwiches above, two small soups, and one of these oversized cookies to share, plus tax and tip, add up to $30 on the nose.
Also on its website, Mangetout touts its commitment to preparing organic food “with the goal that hunger and curiosity should be simultaneously satisfied” and hopes that its customers will “experiment with flavors you may not have otherwise considered.” Although my meal achieved all of these aspirations, my mind remains made up that the stomach achieves them more easily when we feed it meat.
Mangetout Organic Café
140 State Street, New London, CT 06320