It is Saturday, 21 May 2011, and according to some false prophet the world is supposed to come to an end. Or rather God’s chosen will be pulled up to heaven while the rest of us continue walking the earth with or without purpose until the world ends in fire. I cannot say that I had any time for some nonsense manufactured by a clergy clown. I have an appetite that I must keep satisfied and the weather in Chicago had warmed up enough to not have me wishing for temperatures warmer than 47 degrees. So I got up early, dressed, and headed out to get my fill before the midday crowd gathered in the streets in search of destinations for culinary satisfaction.
My intent was not to go to an ethnic restaurant, but to try something different nevertheless. My first choice was to sample food at a breakfast and brunch spot not too far from a coffee-house that I like to frequent. There was a crowd. There were people waiting outside because of the tide of people going in. And I should have known that would possibly have been the case because it was so nice outside — minus the passing London mist. But across the street from the breakfast cafe was a restaurant that had come highly recommended to me by a few friends who knew that I was become more of a vegetarian: Karyn’s Cooked at 738 N. Wells Street. There was no crowd at Karyn’s Cooked and rather than giving my name at the breakfast eatery and waiting, I exercised Plan B and crossed the road to see what was on the bill of far at the vegetarian cafe.
With quite a few seats for diners, Karyn’s Cooked is a spacious cafe that can pack rather fast. Low turnover. Lots of smiling faces, and not due to pleasantries, but because of food happiness, I had an idea of why my friends had recommended the place well in advance of getting food. By the time I sat, my appetite alarm was clanging out of control and I ordered like a man who was treating his appetite alarm like it was disturbing the whole neighbourhood. I ordered potato soup, bruschetta, lasagna, and a banana smoothie. After handing the menu to the server, I smiled my thin smile as I realized that I had not rushed out of the condo and forgotten my camera.
The potato soup was — How do I describe it? — damn good! Usually potato soup has some kind of broth added to it to thin it. This soup was chunky, lumpy, hearty, and had a nice share of peas and corn in it. This is how I like my potato soup. Wait. This is how I would like to have my potato soup from this day forward because it is the first time I have had it with such thickness and taste. The soup came with cornbread. The best cornbread I had my grandmother used to make. Most cornbread I have had has the consistency of a cake and the sugar to match. Not at Karyn’s Cooked. Coarse but still a little moist, it was a great complement to the soup. And if the server had asked me how I liked the soup and bread and I had responded that it was not good, he would have called me a pathological liar after seeing the soup gobbled to completion and only a few crumbs on the cornbread on the plate.
As for the bruschetta, you have heard — or rather read — it from me first. It is the best in the world. Some Italian is flailing his or her arms and using a lot of censored words as a rebuttal to my comment. Fresh tomatoes. Cilantro. Grilled bread. Virgin olive oil. I have had tomatoes on toast. I have also had beans on toast, a staple among us Brits, but tomatoes that explode in your mouth and cilantro mixed with olive oil to give you spasms resting on grilled bread is a magical moment that not even a false prophet can deny. Oh my God! And I am not using God’s name in vain here. I get a pleasure smile just thinking about that bruschetta, which means that I will probably go back to Karyn’s Cooked in a few days. When the bruschetta had come to the table, my banana smoothie came with it. Gluttony. Sin. Rapture and I mean the satisfying kind of rapture. Clearly, there were real bananas in that smoothie, not some banana flavouring. I dealt with the urge to want to do jazz hands and break out into song while eating the bruschetta and drinking the smoothie.
When the lasagna came to the table looking rather decorated, I said to myself that the presentation must be the highlight. Then I took my first bite. Yes, there were jazz hands and random humming. And I had opted to sit at the window. Note to self: Do not sit at the window of any restaurant where there is a possibility that the food will invoke sighs of intense happiness and great appreciation for the food. Layered with ricotta cheese and spinach, I must have looked like the poster child for a Karyn’s Cooked commercial. I do not need ground beef in my sauce. I do not require sausage in my lasagna. Give me more classic vegetarian lasagna from Karyn’s Cooked. This whole vegetarian thing gets easier with restaurants that add bursts to flavours and make vegetables appealing to the palate. I thought I was already in heaven — not because of the rapture — after doing all but licking the plate with the bruschetta, but the lasagna was enough to present the feeling thoroughly.
Great food. Low price. What a combination. As of typing this journal entry, the world did not come to an end and people are still around. I do secretly wish my neighbours above me would go away so that I can have a long stretch of peace without them running back and forth across the floor over my head. But if you have a taste for some vegetarian food or you want to take some friends to a vegetarian eatery, add Karyn’s Cooked to your list. And you have to order the bruschetta.