Fresh, local vegetables are the focus of the menu at Little Eater. Cara Mangini, owner and author of the award-winning cookbook, The Vegetable Butcher, takes healthy eating to a new level. Mangini and her team have created a neighborhood restaurant that is simple and clean, as well as warm and inviting. The goal is to provide produce inspired food.
Location: 4215 N. High Street, Columbus, Ohio, in the Clintonville neighborhood.
There is also a food stand in the North Market, 59 Spruce Street, in the Short North neighborhood of Columbus.
Menu: Mangini’s goal is to make vegetables the most significant part of the plate. Little Eater is a vegetarian restaurant. You will find no meat on the menu. But that doesn’t mean carnivores won’t be satisfied with a delicious vegetable-based meal.
The core of the menu is served in scoops. You might recognize them as salads, or they might seem like casseroles. The secret is a blend of vegetables, nuts, grains, and sometimes a little something sweet like a currant or dried cranberry, and perhaps a tiny bit of cheese. A light, flavorful dressing brings the ingredients together.
Fresh, locally sourced seasonal ingredients mean the menu won’t always be the same. I like this idea in a neighborhood restaurant, both for the health benefits of changing the diet seasonally, and because it gives the locals new reasons to continue to frequent a familiar place.
Counter service provides the opportunity to see what you are ordering before you commit. The menu gives the diner a mouth-watering description of the offerings, but a glass case displays the choices, making a strong visual impact to guide the right decision.
During my visit I tried two scoops. Kale is a staple for me, so I enjoyed the kale with red onion, spelt, dried cranberries, walnuts, and thyme in a citrus vinaigrette.
You don’t often see celery as the main ingredient, but I chose a celery-centric dish for my second scoop. While celery was listed as the main vegetable ingredient, the combination of cherry and grape tomatoes, red onion, cranberry, garbanzo beans, basil, asiago and parmesan cheeses tossed in a sherry vinaigrette was hearty and filling.
I just had to try the vegan chocolate chip cookie, to see if it was possible to make a delicious cookie without butter and eggs. Mission accomplished. It was yummy, and I didn’t miss the butter or the eggs. A member of the kitchen crew even confessed he thought the vegan chocolate chippers were better than the traditional chocolate chip cookies. I didn’t try the traditional cookies, but I believe he might be right.
A small selection of soups, salads, and sandwiches grace the menu, for those looking for a more traditional lunch or light supper. On the summer day I visited, the soup options included a black bean chili, carrot ginger, or tomato fennel. The sandwiches combine house-made or local artisan-crafted breads with interesting combinations of vegetables. The avocado and beet sandwich caught my eye. The egg salad was also a popular choice.
Fresh, local eggs come center stage in a variety of quiches, frittatas, crostatas and strata. Paired with one of the scoops, this is a delicious, balanced meal.
If just vegetables don’t satisfy, the savory bread and sweet dessert options do more than just act as a filler. A Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuit, Everything Spice Pretzel Twist, Corn Bread with whipped honey butter, or a Swiss Chard Crostata are all out of the ordinary choices that seem as if they could be a feature on their own, and not just an accompaniment. The desserts even pack a little veggie punch with options like Avocado Fudge Cake and a Parsnip Ginger Cupcake.
Wine and beer are served. A Peach Bellini was the specialty of the day, made with a local peach puree.
This is also easy food to take out. The variety of options means you can enjoy lunch and take something completely different home for dinner. Most of the offerings can be served cold, hot or at room temperature, so everything tastes just as good later.
Thoughts: I often wish a restaurant would give me half the portion at half the price. We all know that American restaurant portions are more than one serving, and our “bigger is better” mentality is killing us. I clean my plate because often I am spending for one restaurant meal what a week’s worth of groceries would cost at home. Little Eater solves this dilemma by serving in “scoops.” At $4 per scoop, the diner can choose their portion size based on their appetite and budget. As the name suggests, the little eater can enjoy a delicious restaurant meal without over-indulging. On the other hand, the heartier eater can add another scoop or supplement with a savory biscuit, muffin or bread for a more substantial meal.
One of the advantages of a vegetarian lunch is feeling satisfied and energized, and not like you want to go take an afternoon nap. The combinations of flavors provide satiety without feeling overstuffed.
The restaurant is open and casual, with outdoor street side seating available in good weather. This is an easy place to walk into alone, and it is also a great place to meet a group. The counter service lends itself well to groups where individual checks are desired.
This concept makes me want to return more often, because the food nurtures my desire for good health, and doesn’t break the budget. This is food for every day living, not just for a special occasion.
Price Range: Breakfast $2-10. Lunch/Dinner $4-15. Desserts $2-10.
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