Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: Strong Hearts Cafe

Name: Strong Hearts Cafe
Address: 719 E Genesee St Syracuse, NY
Neighborhood: Near Eastside
Menu: View Menu
Cuisine: Vegan, Cafe
Restaurant Hours: Monday 8 AM - 6 PM, Tuesday to Thursday 8 AM - 12 AM, Friday 8 AM - 2 AM, Saturday 10 AM - 2 AM, Sunday 10 AM - 12 AM
Parking: On-Street
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Take-Out: Yes
Delivery: No

For the record, I am not Vegan. I love chicken. And cheese. And shrimp. There are just too many foods out there that I would never want to not eat ever again. However, I do respect the choice and the right to do so. To each his own, as they say. While I've known about Veganism for a while, my first true experience with it wasn't until last year with a piece of wedding cake. I suppose up until then, I had always thought that Vegans would never be able to eat certain things. The little things. Like ice cream or buttered popcorn. But that's not the case at all. You can essentially make and eat a lot of really creative things within Veganism that are not only good, but good for you and everything around you. Personally, I understand the logic, but I suppose I just haven't been interested in making any kind of self-fulfilling or moral jump to Veganism. But who knows where the road leads. Right now, I like steak too much to be able to give it up forever.

At any rate, Strong Hearts would be my first real run-in with a Vegan restaurant. The location is nice: right in the up-and-coming-soon-to-be-connective-corridor East Genesee Street district. The building itself looks like an old-school library or school. Through the entrance, you'll see a massage studio on your left and Strong Hearts on the right. Go right (unless you're feeling up for a massage).

The interior is colorful, cozy, and hip (almost what you'd expect from your cliche, collegetown coffee house or cafe of sorts) complete with indie music on the speakers, organic hoodies for sale hanging from the ceiling, and Vegan cookbooks and local Veganism happenings along the front counter. It's a cool and laid-back kind of vibe inside and took me back a little bit to my college years in Ithaca.

The menu is really nice here. When available, Strong Hearts uses fresh, organic and local produce and it's really cool to see what kind of foods are on the menu: breakfast (like tofu scrambles, sausages, pancakes, and waffles) which is served all day, sandwiches, salads, coffees, teas, and milkshakes. The milkshake menu is really creative with a lot of fun and interesting names and combinations of flavors going on.

The order...

Small Chicken Caesar Salad: $3.50
BLT: $5.50
John Brown Deluxe Milkshake: $5
Total Money Spent with Tax & Tip: $18.50

So I had actually asked for the "Citrus Salad" and was brought a "Chicken Caesar Salad" (does Citrus sound anything like Chicken Caesar?). I'm kind of a wimp when it comes to re-ordering so I decided not to make a big deal about it. More often than not I always order a Caesar salad if given the option anyways, so I figured I'd try it out. The salad was sub-par though and the layering was a bit strange as well. It was essentially a small bowl of lettuce, with a few cherry tomatoes, covered in a huge layer of faux-chicken. I wasn't too keen on the imitation chicken either. For what it's worth, it was my first experience with anything of the sort so maybe it's just a matter of getting used to it, but it's an odd texture and consistency to get used to (I'm assuming it was some concoction of tofu or soy). The croutons were really good - crunchy and soft and I believe they are made from the same bread that they use on their sandwiches. The dressing was nice, almost like a Thai peanut sauce. It was a bit nutty. Overall though, nothing really resembled that this was a chicken Caesar salad to me - it was missing a white-esque dressing and something cheese-like to act as the Parmesan. They probably could have gotten away with some of the similar ingredients that are in their BLT (vegan cheese and a vegan mayo - maybe mixed with lemon juice?). The rest of the ingredients tasted fresh, so I wouldn't rule out any of their other salads, I just wouldn't order this again.

The BLT was really good - crispy soy bacon, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, vegan mayo and Teese vegan cheese on grilled white bread. Everything was fresh and I was really surprised with how similar the soy bacon was to real bacon. It was not as greasy and a bit less chewy than real bacon, but you could have fooled me. It was a good sandwich. I'd get it again. My only small issue was that it seemed like it should've had a garnish of some kind.

Pictured above is the John Brown Deluxe Milkshake (with Oreos and cream).

OMG. So tasty. Not only was this the best non-milkshake that I've ever had, but it was also the best milkshake that I've ever had. I mean, I'm sure if you add Oreo cookies to anything, it will taste better, but this milkshake was awesome. Sweet, creamy, sugary and absolutely delicious. I can't believe somebody can make a shake this good without a dairy product.

Other notes about Strong Hearts....

- Friday nights are pizza night (from 6 PM to 2 AM)

- They offer free Wi-Fi

- All of the take-out food packaging is 100% biodegradable and compostable

I feel like it's tough to make an objective review of a Vegan eatery by someone who is a non-Vegan. The food was good and the milkshake was amazing, but some of it (most notably the meat) tasted off. I suppose anything that's made to act like real meat isn't going to taste the same in some way. And I'm sure that's the non-Vegan voice in me. The food combinations and menu offerings are very creative, original, and in some cases, superb. And I can understand how Vegan restaurants might have a finite audience to cater towards, as it can be an uphill battle for them to broaden their audience. I suppose if I was Vegan, I would rate this place higher and come here more often - seeing as how there are currently very little Vegan options in Syracuse. Objectively speaking, it was a good meal and better than what I had expected. Though I'm not a 100% convert quite yet, you can label me convinced that Vegan meals are almost deceivingly good. I would return for a milkshake (without a doubt) and to test out pizza night or maybe some breakfast options. All and all, I liked it here. It's a smart place with a good vibe that serves convincingly tasty offerings.

My rating of Strong Hearts Cafe:

Your rating of Strong Hearts Cafe:

1 comment:

Owen O'Neill said...

Good review. It jibs with my experience there and they are open late - a real plus as there are so few places open after 10 PM that are worth going to. I went with a small group of friends after a show at Syracuse Stage and in general we were pleased.

The "BLT" was a hit... the milkshakes very well received (too sweet for my taste but that's what Toffuti ice cream does to a non-dairy "milkshake"). We did find service to be remarkably slow considering that we were almost the only people in the place but it was friendly and pleasant.

On a side note: I think places like this would benefit more from using recipes that highlight and focus on dishes and entrees that show the best characteristics of non-meat products rather than using "fake meat".