THE VEGETARIAN CUSTOMER BASE - TAKING THEM SERIOUSLY (published in 2011 - please check restaurants for updates)

By Judith Lerner [For more articles by Judith Lerner, link here.]

   A January, 2011 column by The 413 columnist Sean McHugh in The Berkshire Eagle, lamented the difficulty vegetarians have getting the expected good, fun dining-out experience Berkshire carnivores can usually look forward to. A feature addressing where Berkshire vegetarians and vegans can get a creative meal is clearly timely. This subject has been on my radar for half a dozen years and the pickings have been getting better over time.

   "I would think, from a marketing point of view, people would offer vegetarian items as well [as animal foods] to appeal to everyone," Aura Weiss, the savvy and caring chef and owner of homey and imaginative Café Revacommented.

    One morning, a server graciously explained Café Reva would be happy to substitute any menu item.

   "Here everything is made to order," Aura said.

   "I always have at least one vegan soup. We always have almond butter and peanut butter and Nutella in the house and I will have Silk organic soy milk and tofu next week."

Barry Garton, chef and owner of Café BrewHaHa has always catered to Berkshire vegetarians, first at his Great Barrington City Front Café in Great Barrington  the in 1980s, later at Miss Adams Diner which he and his wife Nancy brought back to life. His food is also both accessibly homey and creatively up-to-date.

   He is well known for the muffins he makes and the other baked goods Nancy Garton makes. BrewHaHa serves both vegetarian Gardenburgers and vegan Boca Burgers and offers soy sausage and grilled tofu options. They offer half a dozen vegetarian sandwiches and vegan wraps.

   "A predominance of our customers are vegetarian and vegan. Our menu is geared toward that. We cater toward vegetarian and vegan, more so than any other restaurant," Barry noted.

   He said 70 to 80 percent of his customers are vegetarians or vegans.

   When he started both City Front and Miss Adams, neither Great Barrington nor Adams were the stylish enclaves they have become. Yet, he said, "That's my sort of focus, although not exclusively, ever since the City Front."

   "I had a natural food background when I opened City Front. It was just a shot in the dark since I had no restaurant experience. It was very home grown food which we are thinking of bringing back in the West End Market."

   The Gartons bought the building in 2006 and renovated it. They are planning to move in once the economy strengthens.

   "Pretty much any dietary restriction anyone has we can handle. We've never had anyone go away," chef/baker/owner David Barile of popular On A Roll Café said.

   Besides the housemade granola and fruit on On a Roll's breakfast menu, for vegans, David will make his sweet potato and caramelized onion hash without bacon and will serve his lunch black bean and sweet potato burrito on request.

   Both David's breakfast and lunch menus have interesting vegetarian choices and his lunch menu has some nice vegan options including housemade falafal, that black bean/sweet potato burrito, an eggplant wrap, polenta or sweet potato fries, vegetable spring rolls and a choice of toppings for individual pizzas.

   There are certain places where vegetarian and vegan food is the total or main focus. The cafeteria at Kripaluand Kushi Institute both offer many choices. While Kushi is exclusively vegan and macrobiotic, offering a single fish choice at Friday dinner only, Kripalu offers simple vegan, a range of vegetarian and even a small choice of meat options.

   Restaurants from cultures which include vegetarian and/or vegan eating within their traditional cuisines such as Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican and Spanish tapas bars, offer wide choices as a matter of course. Some of the good ones here are Aegean Breeze, Amazing Pavilion, Aroma, Athena's, Berger's Specialty Foods at Guido's Fresh Marketplace, Bizen, Bombay Grill, East, Effendi's Oasis, Flavours, Gringo's Firehouse, House of India, Jae's Spice, Koii, Mission, Naji's, Nejaime's Wine Cellars, Pancho's, Panda Garden, Panda House, Pho Sai Gon, Rouge, Shiro, Siam Square, Sushi Thai Garden, ViVa and Xicohtencatl.

   Natural food cafes such as those at Berkshire Co-op Market and Wild Oats, Berkshires Green and Hawthorne Valley Farm Store Café all have interesting, tasty and well-made food for vegetarians and vegans.

   All three Baba Louie's have choices for vegetarians and vegans on a par with their carnivore offerings. Their soups are always vegan. And all the Hot Harry's have many choices.

   Our Daily Bread Bakery serves a totally vegetarian lunch menu.

   Chefs Bjorn Somlo of Nudel and Brian Alberg at the Red Lion are both meat lovers, but they serve their vegetarian customers interesting dishes beyond the ordinary.

   Bjorn might serve cream of celery root soup with truffle and goat cheese or whey-braised mushrooms with Brussels sprouts polenta and blue cheese or saffron dumplings with crimini mushrooms brown butter barley and sage.

   Brian is active in Berkshire Grown and has brought Red Lion a sustainable menu across the board including into the Lion's Den most recently. He raises his own pigs and said, "I'm a big meat eater and you know how big I am on pork products but my philosophy is that a [vegetarian or vegan] customer in our dining room is entitled to have as good an experience as any other customer."

   To that end his current menu offers roasted mushroom and goat cheese tart, shiitake mushroom turnovers, roasted leek risotto, curried couscous and smoked almonds with mushrooms greens and raisins or eggplant rollatini with Swiss chard fresh mozzarella and smoked tomato sauce.

   Perigee owner Dawn LaRochelle was herself a vegetarian at one time and learned to cook as a result. 
   "I always knew that when I had my restaurant," she said, "I would make it a place where vegetarians didn't feel like second-class citizens." 
   She changes the vegetarian options every season, offering tempting appetizers and entrées like the recent twisted spanakopita menu entry with portabella mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, baby spinach and feta cheese layered into filo sheets and sauced with roasted red peppers. 

   Chef/owner Franck Tessier of Chez Nous said he sees more and more vegetarians and vegans eating at his restaurant. He makes his risotto with a vegan stock and always has at least two vegetarian dishes on his menu.

   "We have to adapt to the times," Franck explained. "Eighty percent of my customers don't make any requests. Satisfying the requests of the other 20 percent is my challenge. We have to rise to the challenge. If I were to be annoyed to serve vegetarians I would have to close," he went on with a laugh.

   "I serve seasonal French food — ratatouille in the summer when I can get zucchini and eggplant from local farmers; asparagus in April, May and June; potage St. Germain (cream of fresh green pea, lettuce and mint soup) in the spring."

   Jae's Spice offers so many other choices among their sushi, appetizers, salads, noodles and rice that it is a disappointment that only one of their 32 entrée offerings is vegetarian.

   At many restaurant pubs and taverns around the county, while vegetarians can often order fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, potato skins with cheese and broccoli, garlic bread, a cheese quesadilla, butternut or tomato-basil bisque, green salad, cole slaw, tomato-mozzarella caprese salad, spinach or Caesar or Greek salad hold the meat or fish, a cheese sandwich, a hummus sandwich with roasted red pepper and or avocado and alfalfa sprouts, a veggie or a portabella wrap, mac and cheese, eggplant parmesan, portabella mushrooms over pasta, a dish of grilled vegetables, pasta Alfredo or marinara or with pesto, vegetarian fillings in omelets and toppings on pizzas, many chefs do not entice vegetarian customers with their most creative dishes.

   More than a few Berkshire restaurateurs expressed annoyance at the need to serve vegetarian food and vegetarians at all. One said they don't get very many vegetarians. Another explained that French food is meat-based.

   But meat-eaters might pass up steak or shish kebab for an exciting vegetarian dish such as tamarind eggplant (crispy eggplant, chickpeas, onions, yogurt served with mint and tamarind chutney) at Bombay Grill or Café Revaor On a Roll or Naji's falafal.

   It's exciting that Brulée's has a 4-entrée vegetarian selection while Brix, around the corner, offers none but will make up a vegetable plate from whatever sides they have at a given time in their kitchen. Bizalion's, another French eatery known for their charcuterie (preserved meats) also specializes in another French treat, fondues; they even have a make at home 3-cheese Alpine fondue to-go, complete with cast iron fondue pot, recipe and instructions.

   Shots, the new little Lenox corner café, has a banana and Nutella panini and serves queso fresco, avocado, tortilla chips and eggs as part of their breakfast menu.

   The Golden Eagle includes a veggies, brown rice and oats sandwich, a vegan chicken sandwich and a broccoli, tomato and Swiss melt all on whole wheat bread among their lunch sandwiches.

   The very local-catering Locker Room Sports Pub includes pasta primavera in garlic & white wine sauce with a salad on their regular menu. Mazzeo's always has grilled polenta with grilled portabellas, sundried tomatoes and gorgonzola as well as escarole with white beans in extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

   Old Country Buffet has an extensive salad bar which includes chick peas, kidney beans, sunflower seeds, cottage cheese, grated cheddar and lots of vegetable, greens and fruit choices. They have a taco bar at lunch and always have over half a dozen vegetable choices, some pastas and rices.

   While they do not list any vegetarian or vegan sandwiches or burgers, Crown Plaza's One West offers dishes like polenta with gorgonzola & mushroom ragout or vegetarian stir-fry with sticky rice & sesame seeds.

   The question, "What do you have that's vegetarian (or vegan) friendly?" will either elicit satisfying understanding and a list of choices or it will be the moment for the diner to educate the server. When the server suggests a vegan (who does not eat milk or eggs) have pancakes or French toast for breakfast, that is an educating moment. When she or he pauses then says, "We have bread," it's time for a vegetarian or vegan diner to ask for owner or chef. Many restaurateurs are happy to turn any of their dishes into vegetarian or vegan-worthy fare.

   The following is not a definitive list but is a place to start looking for restaurants and other food establishments serving vegetarian and vegan food worth going out for.

AEGEAN BREEZE 327 Stockbridge Road/Route 7 Great Barrington (413) 528-4001 Greek

The medzede (small dishes) are worth a vegetarian's visit: tzatziki/yogurt-cucumber-garlic dip, hummus, melitzana/roasted eggplant pate, feta ktipiti/feta and hot pepper spread, falafel, sganaki/fried sheep cheese, fries, gigandes/lima beans, baked feta, skordalia/potatoes, roasted red peppers, fried eggplant and zucchini chips, spanikopita, traditional salads.

AMAZING PAVILION 26 Dunham Mall Pittsfield (413) 448-2647/2648 Chinese and Japanese

Chinese: soups and appetizers: hot and sour soup, bean curd with vegetable soup, vegetable egg roll, scallion pancake, fried or steamed vegetable dumpling, fried Chinese bread, cold noodles with hot sesame sauce, brown rice; Chinese main courses: General Tso's tofu, broccoli with garlic sauce, bean curd Szechuan style, bean curd homestyle, mixed vegetables, sautéed Chinese vegetables, eggplant with garlic sauce, eggplant with black bean sauce, sautéed stringbeans, vegetarian beef with garlic sauce, vegetarian beef with vegetables, vegetarian pork with black pepper sauce, vegetarian chicken with broccoli, sautéed vegetarian sausage, vegetable chow mein, vegetable chow fun, vegetable fried rice, vegetable egg foo yung, vegetable lo mein, vegetable moo shu, steamed broccoli, steamed bean curd and broccoli, steamed mixed vegetables. Japanese: miso soup, seaweed salad; sushi rolls: asparagus, avocado, cucumber, cucumber avocado, egg cake, pickle, seaweed salad, tofu skin; tofu or vegetable teriyaki, vegetable tempura.

AROMA RESTAURANT 485 Main Street/Route 7 Great Barrington (413) 528-3116 or (413) 528-3992

Indian and Pakistani Many vegetarian and vegan soups, appetizers, breads, rices, entrees.

ATHENA'S 30 Housatonic Street/Route 20 Lee (413) 243-1223

Italian and Greek Appetizers, pizza, entrées including stuffed grape leaves and pasta with vegetables, olive oil, garlic, herbs and white wine.

BABA LOUIE'S WOOD FIRED ORGANIC SOURDOUGH PIZZA 386 Main Street/Routes 7 & 23 Great Barrington (413) 528-8100 34 Depot Street Pittsfield (413) 499-2400

Organic whole wheat or spelt crust pizzas; vegan soups, salads, pasta.

BAGELS TOO 166 North Street Pittsfield (413) 499-0119

Vegan soup, Morningstar vegetarian black bean burgers, many cream cheese choices.

BASCOM LODGE Mount Greylock Adams (413) 743-1591

Seasonal vegetarian and vegan dinners on request; simple soup, salad, sandwich lunch choices.

BERGER'S SPECIALTY FOODS 1020 South Street/Route 7 Pittsfield (413) 442-1898

Vegetarian and vegan items to-go including Lebanese specialties like walnut/sweet pepper or zaatar pie.

BERKSHIRE CO-OP MARKET 42 Bridge Street Great Barrington (413) 528-9697

Natural foods. Soups, sandwiches, hot bar such as vegan ravioli or lemony bulgur with beans and walnuts, salad bar, grab & go; much organic.

BIZALION'S FINE FOOD South Main Street/Route 7 Great Barrington (413) 644-9988

Provençal/French Cheese fondue, salads, baguette sandwiches, tartines, pastries, tapanade.

BIZEN JAPANESE RESTAURANT & SUSHI BAR 17 Railroad Street Great Barrington (413) 528-4343

Japanese/macrobiotic Many grilled robata dishes, sushi rolls/maki, tempura, rice dishes, noodles; much organic.

BOMBAY BAR & GRILL 435 Laurel Street/Route 20 Lee (413) 243-6731

Regional (including South) Indian Soups, starters, salads, breads, condiments, rices, tandoori, vegetarian and vegan entrees.

BRULÉE'S 41 North Street Pittsfield (413) 443-0500

Mediterranean Appetizers such as cheese fondue, salads, entrées such as eggplant roulade and wild mushroom risotto; veggie burger.

CAFÉ BREWHAHA 20 Marshall Street North Adams (413) 664-2020

House baked muffins and pastries, salads, wraps, sandwich veggie sausage, tofu, Boca Burgers, Gardenburgers; many vegetarian and vegan items.

CHEF'S HAT 905 Simonds Road/Route 7 Williamstown (413) 458-5120

Homestyle breakfast, lunch, dinner; turnips, turnip muffins.

CHEZ NOUS 150 Main Street/Route 20 Lee (413) 243-6397

French Salads, risotto, soufflés, housemade pasta.

CHOPSTICKS 412 Main Street/Route 2 Williamstown (413) 458-5750 Chinese, Korean,

Japanese Vegetarian choices such as dumplings and sushi.

CLAIRE'S CAFÉ IN BERKSHIRES GREEN GROCER 42 Park Street #2 Lee (413) 243-1775

Natural food. Soups, many lunch sandwiches, mostly organic.

DESPERADO'S FRESH MEXICAN GRILLE 246 Main Street/Route 2 in the Colonial Shopping Plaza Williamstown (413) 458-2100


DREAM AWAY LODGE County Road Becket (413) 623-8725

Good appetizers, pizza, some entrees.

EAST 305 Stockbridge Road/Route 7 Great Barrington (413) 528-8850

Chinese and Sushi bar. Chinese dishes such as crispy tofu with baby bok choy, moo shu vegetables. Miso soup, salads, sushi rolls.

EFFENDI'S OASIS 1206 North Street Pittsfield (413) 442-4300

Lebanese and International Appetizers, salads, rice.

FLAVOURS 75 North Street/entrance on McKay Street Pittsfield (413) 443-3188

Malaysian, Asian and International Extensive uncommon choices: soups, salads, appetizers, curried dishes, glass noodles, sticky rice.

GREAT BARRINGTON BAGEL COMPANY 777 South Main Street/Route 7 Great Barrington (413) 528-9055 Bakery and Jewish deli; vegetarian choices, some vegan.

GRINGO'S FIREHOUSE 47 Park Street/Route 8 Adams (413) 743-2700

Mexican. Build-your-own nacho bar; 9 vegetarian filling choices for burritos, enchiladas, tacos.

HARNEY & SONS 1 Railroad Plaza Millerton, NY (888) 427-6398

Teas, pastries, lunch Entrées, sandwiches, soups, pastries.

HAWTHORNE VALLEY FARM STORE 327 Route 21C Harlemville, New York (518) 672-7500 x2 then again x2

Natural, organic, bio-dynamic fresh choices.

HOT HARRY'S 37 North Street (413) 448-6155 724 Tyler Street (413) 448-2220 Pittsfield Mexican

Tofu, vegetables, beans, cheese, eggs; burritos, fajitas, nachos, quesadillas, tacos.

HOUSE OF INDIA 261 North Street Pittsfield (413) 443-3282 Northern Indian; some Southern and Tandoori

JAE'S SPICE 297 North Street Pittsfield (413) 443-1234

Pan-Asian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and American Soups, sushi, flatbreads, salads, tempura, noodles, rice.

KOII 300 State Road/Route 23 Great Barrington (413) 528-5678

Mandarin, Szechwan and other provincial Chinese Extensive choices.

KRIPALU 183 West Street/Route 183 Lenox(413) 448-3400

Natural food Extensive breakfast, lunch, dinner buffet including simple vegan, vegetarian; breads, baked goods, soups, beans, grains, salads, entrees.

KUSHI INSTITUTE 198 Leland Road Becket (413) 623-5741

Macrobiotic Breakfast, lunch, dinner buffet by reservation.

LOCAL 111 111 Main Street Philmont, N.Y. (518) 672-7801

Farm-to-table. Many interesting vegetarian choices like polenta with squash, greens, white beans, pecorino, walnuts and herbs.

MANNA DEW 54 Main Street Millerton, NY (518) 789-3570

Interesting choices like curried tofu-vegetable stir-fry with coconut basmati rice or truffled mushroom or butternut risotto.

MARTIN'S 49 Railroad Street Great Barrington (413) 528-5455 breakfast & lunch

Always a vegan and a vegetarian lunch special like bean and vegetable stew with brown rice or quinoa; scrambled tofu with soy and vegetables; grits.

MAZZEO'S 1015 South Street/Routes 7 & 20 Pittsfield (413) 448-2095

Italian, French and International Vegetarian-friendly appetizers and housemade pastas.

MISSION 438 North Street Pittsfield no telephone

Tapas, small plates, lunch and brunch Interesting vegan and vegetarian choices like 3 cheeses with fig compote and curried walnuts or sweet potato croquette or paella verdura.

NAJI'S MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE 405 Stockbridge Road/Route 7 Great Barrington (413) 528-5540

Lebanese Mezze such as baba ganoush, fried halloumi cheese, panini, wraps, entrees.

NEJAIME' WINE CELLARS 444 Pittsfield Road/Route 7, Lenox (413) 448-2274, (800) 946-3988 60 Main Street, Lenox Village (413) 637-2221, (800) 946-3978 3 Elm Street, Stockbridge (413) 298-3454, (800) 946-3987

Lebanese International cheeses; ethnic specialties.

NUDEL 37 Church Street Lenox (413) 551-7183

Pasta, grain and farm-to-table Original creations like broccoli brie and potato soup, split pea hummus with ricotta tahini and toasts or linguini with truffled rutabaga cream pecorino and pumpkin seed pesto.

OLD COUNTRY BUFFET 555 Hubbard Avenue in Berkshire Crossing Shopping Center Pittsfield (413) 499-5795

Mainstream buffet Extensive salad and taco bars, fresh and frozen vegetables, pasta, rice, beans sometimes.

ON A ROLL CAFÉ 75 North Street suite #140 Pittsfield (413) 236-5671

Interesting breakfast and lunch choices like sweet potato-caramelized onion hash, eggs Florentine, creative salad, personal pizzas, falafel.

ONE WEST AT THE CROWN PLAZA HOTEL 1 West Street at the corner of South Street Pittsfield (413) 499-2000

Salads, polenta with gorgonzola & mushroom ragout, vegetarian stir-fry with sticky rice & sesame seeds.

OUR DAILY BREAD BAKERY 54 Main Street Chatham, NY (518) 392-9852

Bakery with all-vegetarian lunch.

PANCHO'S MEXICAN RESTAURANT 154 North Street Pittsfield (413) 358-4801


PANDA GARDEN 96 Main Street/Route 20 Lee (413) 243-9188

Chinese Vegetarian choices including dumplings, broccoli in brown sauce, Szechuan bean curd and broccoli or bean curd with garlic sauce.

PANDA HOUSE 506 Pittsfield Road/Route 7 Lenox (413) 499-0660 Mandarin, Szechwan and other provincial Chinese Extensive choices.

PERIGREE 1575 Pleasant Street/Route 102 South Lee (413) 394-4047

Interesting vegetarian and vegan appetizers and entrees on menu and as specials, change seasonally; zucchini ribbon rolls stuffed with chevre, arugula and mint, tied with chive ribbons with herb-infused olive oil and balsamic demi-glace; vegan sweet potato-black bean cakes; stuffed acorn squash with quinoa, chickepeas, roasted sweet potato, roasted beets, cremini mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, toasted walnuts, dried cherries and honeyed goat cheese; Indonesian gado gado with broccoli, bean sprouts, fried tofu, hard cooked egg in peanut sauce; vegan jambalaya.

PHO SAI GON 5 Railroad Street Lee (413) 243-6388 Vietnamese Summer rolls, spring rolls, tofu salad, soup, noodles, tofu.

RED LION 30 Main Street Stockbridge (413) 298-5545 Interesting vegetarian and vegan choices like roasted mushroom and goat cheese tart, curried couscous and smoked almonds with mushrooms greens and raisins and vegan sandwich of eggplant, hummus, avocado and greens on Berkshire Mountain Bakery sunny flax bread in Lion's Den.

ROUGE RESTAURANT 30 Center Street West Stockbridge (413) 232-4111

French-inspired and tapas Extensive tapas choices like roasted garlic, goat gouda in tomato sauce, French beans and onions, shiitake spring roll or apple/brie croquettes with walnuts.

SAMEL'S DELI 115 Elm Street Pittsfield (413) 442-5927 or 445-2804

Jewish-style deli with breakfast and extensive salad choices Black bean and Boca burgers available; tofu or portabella protein for create-your-own salads; fresh fruit with cottage cheese or yogurt and granola; egg salad; cheeses; hummus; 2 out of 25 sandwiches are veggie with cheese.

SHIRO 105 Stockbridge Road/Route 7 Great Barrington (413) 528-1898 48 North St. Pittsfield (413) 236-8111

Japanese Vegan-suitable sushi, soups, salads, hibachi (in-house Great Barrington only).

SHOTS CAFÉ 27 Housatonic Street at the corner of Church Street Lenox (413) 637-1055

Breakfast-lunch bakery with vegetarian options including queso fresco avocado chips and eggs and a banana and Nutella panini.

SIAM SQUARE 290 Main Street/Routes 7 and 23 Great Barrington (413) 644-9119

Thai Vegetarian and vegan dishes; soy can be substituted for fish sauce; appetizers, salads, rices, curries.

SPICE ROOT 23 Spring Street Williamstown (413) 458-5200

Indian Vegetarian and vegan specialties.

SUSHI THAI GARDEN 27 Spring Street Williamstown (413) 458-0004 Japanese and Thai Extensive vegan appetizers, seaweed salad, soups, sushi, rice and noodles including vegetarian Pad Thai, curries, entrees and unusual desserts.

THE GOLDEN EAGLE RESTAURANT 1935 Mohawk Trail/Route 2 Clarksburg (413) 663-9834

Vegetarian lunch sandwiches.

THE GUTHRIE CENTER 4 Van Deusenville Road at the corner of Division Street Great Barrington (413) 528-1955

Free vegetarian-friendly community lunch every Wednesday 12 p.m.

THE LOCKER ROOM SPORTS PUB 232 Main Street Lee (413) 243-2662

Salads including Mediterranean with pistachios and raisins; pasta primavera in white wine sauce; munchies.

VIVA 14 Glendale Road/Route 183 Glendale (413) 298-4433

Spanish Extensive vegan and vegetarian tapas, vegetable paella; interesting dishes like Galician salad of Romaine apples, cabrales cheese, raisins and pine nuts or poached egg over asparagus on greens with piquillo peppers & truffle oil.

WILD OATS MARKET 320 Main Street/Route 2 Williamstown (413) 458-8060

Natural foods Many vegan and vegetarian choices: hot bar, cold bar, eat-in, grab & go, much organic; interesting items like vegan curried cream of vegetable soup, kale & artichoke soup, edamame & black-eyed pea succotash or Kung Pow tofu.

XICOHTENCATL 50 Stockbridge Road/Route 7 Great Barrington (413) 528-2002

Mexican. Extensive vegetarian, like cheese, epazote and guacamole quesadilla; some vegan like shiitake crêpes with chipotle.