Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dining Out: Loving Hut

Sous Chef Brian and I have a pretty bad habit.  When we go grocery shopping, we often pick up lunch as well.  As though we don't have bags full of food we can make ourselves.   I mean really, there's no excuse.   

There was a 6-month stretch where nearly every Sunday we'd go to Whole Foods and then get Banh Mi Chay samiches, go home, eat, put away groceries, cook.  Now that our favorite samich place is gone, there's a bit more variety.   We tend to eat something halfway healthy, by which I mean, not a hamburger, probably because we're aware of the cart full of vaguely healthy stuff we're not eating.   

So this weekend, standing in line at the grocery store, we started talking about lunch.  Sous Chef Brian suggested Maoz, and I said, yeah that or maybe Loving Hut*.  And for the 14th time, Brian said, "What's Loving Hut?"  And for the 14th time, exasperated, I said, "It's the new-ish vegan fast food place just down the street."  But I mean, I can understand the confusion.  There's a lot of things that Loving Hut might be on South Street.  It's just 3 blocks away from this place, the highlight of every class trip to Philadelphia. 

So we go to Loving Hut.  And we order.  He picks the Soy Protein Vegan Burger (whole wheat bread, soy protein, onion, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, special sauce), and I go with the Loving Hut Sandwich (toasted bread with soy protein, lettuce, cilantro, special sauce), and we get an order of Avocado Summer Rolls (avocado, rice paper, tofu, rice noodle, jicama, carrot, lettuce).   And we sit and wait.

In the moment, I was distracted by the menus and printed items that had the awkward syntax of non-native English... it's totally normal at my corner Chinese restaurant, but this place is a chain, you'd think there'd be someone reading this stuff.  

"We devote to providing people nutritional, tasty, and reasonable price vegan dishes."  

"Our food does not limit to certain style..."  

"We use ingredients of high quality, such as organic vegetables and other stuffs whenever it is possible."

So, in the 15 minutes while our lunch is being made, I'm reading the literature, and looking at the photos of famous vegetarians and vegans on the wall.  Sous Chef Brian is distracted by the TV, which would happen in any restaurant, so I didn't pay much attention at first. 

As far as I picked up on it, the TV was tuned to English-language foreign news.  Every sentence that appeared was translated into 10 languages, leaving little room for images.  The gist of the story was "war is bad," and it was listing off wars throughout history and the losses suffered (lives, economic losses, etc).   I was more wrapped up in the phrase, "Come to Experience Vegan Diet Fashion" and was surprised when Sous Chef Brian handed me his phone.  He had Googled the TV channel that was on, and found this Boing Boing article.  Which includes the line, "...the cult behind it operates a chain of vegan restaurants."

Oh, ok.  Cult food for lunch. 

Of course, when I got home I did some hardcore Googling.  It's some sort of Buddhism with an emphasis on sales(?).  They sell dog beds and hair extensions and books and jewelry and vegan food.  And I should have known.  I am certain that I read Mac and Cheese's review of it a year ago.   Somehow, though, the cult thing slipped my mind.  How does that happen?

The food?  It's vegan fast food.  I took a bite of my sandwich, which I was pretty sure was seitan (though I know it's described as "soy protein"), and my only response was "tangy," as it was doused in "special sauce" which seemed McDonaldsesque.  

Lettuce, soy protein, cilantro, special sauce. 

He took a bite of his, and as he handed it to me in trade for mine said, "Yeah, mine's tangy too."  His burger was the same thing as my sandwich, but with different veg. 

Seriously, this was the best angle. 

The summer rolls were fresh and bright, but there was something that seemed a lot like mint going on in there, and I'm familiar enough with all the named ingredients to be confused.  If not for that flavor, they would have been my favorite of the three dishes.

There were more, when we started.  Also, yes, that's the wrist strap for the camera
They came with a decent ginger sauce.  Thick and flavorful. I love ginger sauce.

We spent $19 for two sandwiches and the rolls (50 cent charge per item for take out).  At first, we both said we'd go back, but I'm not really sure why.  (This was before we'd done most of the Googling - I probably don't want to support your sales-oriented cult).  My sandwich was better than his burger, but that's just because it had cilantro on it. 

Sure, the word "cult" is off-putting, but I should add that just because I may not want to support this doesn't mean it's a bad thing, I just haven't done enough research.  They operate no-kill animal shelters and advocate for veganism; and hey, they're woman-led.  Also, they feature "breatharianism," you know, living off breath.  No food.  That's crappy restaurant marketing. 

*Maybe it's just my perspective, but Loving Hut sounds less like a restaurant and more like a place like this.  But perhaps I'm just being reminded of Lewis Black's description of the rooms as "fuck huts." I can't find a video, but here's a transcript, look to 38:48.  

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