Being a vegetarian is an on-again, off-again process for me. I can go months without ever thinking about meat and find myself preaching, "You know you're eating the fear that the animal experienced when it died, right?" Then out of nowhere I'm slammed with an animalistic urge to devour entire legs of lamb, to slurp down half a spit-fired pig, or to go on a citywide hunt for the juiciest cheeseburger I can find.
This impulsive feeding frenzy hasn't happened in quite some time, and now that I've discovered the best place to get my vegetarian Polish sausage fix, I'm one step closer to saying no to meat forever.
Lake Side Cafe, 1418 W. Howard St., is the most darling spot in my new favorite neighborhood, Edgewater. It's crammed onto a side street just a few blocks from the lake, but what I really love about the place is the earthy vibe, a bright-as-a-daisy feeling that I immediately sensed when I walked in the door. The sunshine pours in through the wall-of-windows, the music is mellow and the young chef is dressed in a cute demin blue chef's coat, which gives him a French schoolboy air. I wanted to sit for hours and read the paper with my soy latte (and I did).
The day I sauntered in there was only one other person in the place, and the two-person staff was busy cleaning, prepping and running about. I stood at the counter for a while and gazed lovingly at all of the homemade desserts in the glass display case. Petite lemon cups topped with a slice of baked lemon and tofu cheesecake peppered with tiny chocolate chips were begging me to sample them, but I was in such an I-need-a-meal mode that I decided to wait on the sweets.
Though I wasn't craving meat at all, once I talked with the chef about the vegan Polish sausage, I decided to give it a go. All that sauerkraut has to be good for my immune system, right? I plopped down at a sunlit corner table and read the paper while the chef whipped up my tea-drinking neighbor's tofu scramble. Yum! When his meal came out, it was piping hot and looked so delicious and healthy. Anyone who can make a good-looking meal out of tofu and veggie sausage is a winner in my book.
A few minutes later, my lunch rolled out. I was so moved to see that every little thing I look for in a meal had already been thought of and well executed. The huge loaf of bread that my sausage was tucked into was lightly toasted and buttered, while the pickles were chopped small, just the way I like them. The vegan Polish was cooked to perfection and the sauerkraut was just sour enough.
The whole shebang had been doused with the exact right amount of yellow mustard and there were tiny peppers hanging out on top of the kraut. A small side salad was lounged next to my dog and since the restaurant is 99 percent organic, all of my veggies were in a slightly different league than standard cafe grub.
The dish was massive and I knew I'd never be able to consume the whole thing. But, of course, I somehow managed to slam that whole dog down in a matter of minutes. I haven't felt that much peace and harmony since I ate almost the entire menu of sweets at Sweet Mandy B's a few months back.
The Final Rave: Every Tuesday night, the cafe offers a two-hour vegetarian cooking class for $15 bones. That's a steal if I've ever seen one.
Keep It Going:
Do it: Tribal Belly Dance
Attached to the cafe is I.M.U. (Inner Metamorphosis University). You might consider taking one of its belly dancing classes to work off all the food you're sure to consume at the cafe (at least they're good calories, though).
Drink it: Fresh Choice
CBS calls them "The Best Smoothies in Chicago," and their veggie subs aren't too shabby either.
Eat it: Hot Doug's
This uber-popular hot dog haunt has a pretty decent veggie dog, but the real killer here is the duck fat French fries. Now those are something to write home about.
Get crazy with it: Cousin's Incredible Vitality
Everyone is jumping on the raw food craze, and after finally indulging in a few raw dishes in Bali, I can see what all the talk is about. This is one of the few places in Chicago offering up this type of "live" food, and there's not a trace of meat to be found.