Vegan Ease: Trying to ease the mind of vegans and omnivores alike in Champaign-Urbana

As a vegan, people always ask me if I’ve eaten at The Red Herring and, until now, I always had to regretfully say no. Their hours of operation never seemed to correspond with my hours of hunger/availability. Not anymore! With their newly added dinner hours of 5-8p.m., Monday through Friday, I can guarantee I’ll be there two or more times a week.

Tucked in the basement of the Channing-Murray building, The Red Herring is a non-profit vegetarian restaurant serving made-from-scratch fare that will please veg-heads and omnivores alike. With its eclectic décor and casual atmosphere, it feels like sitting down at a friend’s house — a friend who is about to feed you some amazing food.

The menu is simple, but diverse, with unique sandwiches, soups, salads and specials. The special of the night (which my cousin, Katie, ordered) was a cashew-gravy served over your choice of rice or quinoa mashed potatoes. It came with a generous side salad and a thick slab of golden cornbread. Fantastic!

As for me, I started with a bowl of the soup du jour: curried lentil soup. Delicious! For anyone who lives under the notion that soup’s not a meal, they haven’t eaten at The Red Herring. Served with your choice of cornbread or chunk of wheat English muffin bread, this “starter” nearly had me finished. But not quite. 

After much debate, I went for the BBQ seitan sandwich. For those of you who just said, “huh?” seitan is also known as “wheat meat.” It’s a great protein source made from vital wheat gluten with a thick texture, similar to that of meat. The sandwich consisted of strips of seitan that had been simmered in a ginger soy sauce broth and then smothered in their own delicious barbecue sauce. It was all served on toasted bread with vegan mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion and placed atop a bed of tortilla chips. It was divine. For someone who is used to being that person who always orders the black bean burger at every restaurant they go to, let me tell you how amazing it was to order and devour this sandwich!

Always able to cram a bit more food into my stomach, I hungrily added a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie (still vegan) to my order. These $0.50 cookies (available in other varieties like ginger snap and good old fashioned chocolate chip) are perfectly sized to be the cherry on top of a filling and soul-satisfying meal.

So get over there! With super reasonably priced items there is no reason you have to microwave another overpriced tofu teriyaki bowl tonight. But wait, there’s more! Even if you can’t fork over roughly $8 to $10 for a meal, you can donate an hour of your time there and get a meal for free! (LB)

I'm not a vegan, but if you or one of your loved ones is a vegan then you know that it can be challenging to go out. Even in Champaign-Urbana, a town with so much to offer, the number of vegan options seems a bit underwhelming. I’ve been slowly cutting things out of my diet, partially out of curiosity and partially because I just feel better by doing so. Dairy kills me so it was an easy first choice. I love cheese, but I don’t really miss it. The hardest part is just getting around everything that has it. So I adjust and start taking things away from the typical menu items. But I didn’t have to do that at The Red Herring—and that feels like a relief.

I chose to start with the vegan chili: tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, corn, black beans, herbs and spices. It was the right amount of spice for me (not too much) and, by the time I had finished my bowl and cornbread, I wondered what I was going to do with my sandwich. It was a bargain for the $3 it cost me to add it on to my dinner order. The cornbread alone was probably worth the three bucks. It was truly the best cornbread I’ve ever had. It was moist and dense, like a cake. I hate when cornbread is so dry that it crumbles everywhere and dries out your mouth. I didn’t need to dip or spread anything on this bread. I could have eaten a whole loaf of it and not taken a drink of my water.

The falafel sandwich was made with garbanzo beans, cilantro, onion, garlic and spices, and served in a pita with lettuce, tomato, onion and cucumber and a choice of sauce. I went with the creamy and delicious almond pesto sauce, which I also appreciated aesthetically. Everything about the sandwich was fresh and I felt good eating it. The falafel was tender with a slightly crunchy outside and I decided that it was better than any falafel sandwich I could remember having.

I ate a lot of food—for around $9—and then decided that I had to see if I could choose something small and simple for dessert. The cookies they offered were a perfect choice to cap it all off, although I did wish that I had gone with one of the chocolate chip cookie options. Instead, I went with the ginger snap. It was a little too hard but still tasted excellent—I’m just not a huge fan of gingery foods. At the end of the meal I was satisfied, relaxed, and not apprehensive about the bill. My only anxious thought was, “How soon can I get back here this week?”

So, whether you’re omnivore, vegetarian, vegan or whatever, be sure to try out the dinner offerings at The Red Herring. It’s sure to quickly become my new favorite place to eat in town. For more information, including lunch hours, address and contact information, please check out The Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant on facebook. (JS)

 

All photos by Liz Benoit, Katie Johnson and Jeremiah Stanley