Fire & Spice: Flavorful Vegan, Friendly Vibe

As we opened the door to Fire & Spice Vegan Restaurant, we were greeted with Marley jamming over a speakerand the question: "For here or to go?"

We were staying, so we were told to pick any seat in the house from the few tables covered with green tablecloths. The walls are painted yellow and Rastafarian pictures and colorful drawings hang on the walls.

This was our first vegan dining experience, and we were a bit nervous we'd stick out like sore thumbs, but when the waitress found out it was our first visit she was excited and helped us naviagte the menu of all-vegan and sometimes gluten-free offerings.

We started with a specialty drink, one cucumber ginger and one hibiscus ginger at $2.50 a piece. The cucumber was a bit thick but refreshing. The ginger flavor was strong but didn't overpower the cucumber. The hibiscus came out a rich purple color and had a bit of a flowery taste.

We started with two potato samosas for $3 and the chutney dipping sauce. The waitress let us know it would be just a bit longer because she was waiting to serve us a fresh batch of chutney. The samosa wasn't overly crispy or too hot inside, and the sweet chutney is not to be missed.

For lunch the options are medium plates, which includes three menu items for $8.95; or large plates with five items for $10.95. It was our first time, and we were in it to win it, so we both got a large plate. Between the two of us we were able to sample the Rasta pasta, Ital stew, tofu scramble, chole, African potatoes, pomegranate tempeh, barbecue tofu and steamed wilted greens.

Items like the Rasta pasta filled with spices and peppers and tofu scramble offered a little bit of heat, where as the African potatoes, sweet potatoes simmered in pineapple juice, were almost dessert-like.

We both aren't usually fans of tofu or tempeh, but both were flavorful and well-cooked.

We couldn't leave without getting one of the cupcakes we had been eyeing. I ordered the gluten-free cherry vanilla that had cherries in the batter and a rich frosting, and my friend got the lemon cupcake. We were told the secret to the creamy, flavorful frosting was shortening. Cupcakes are $3.50.

The total bill came to $39.24, and we were surprisinlgy satisified with our first all-vegan meal. If you opt for table service, just make sure you aren't in a hurry. But it was a relaxed lunch experience, with many people coming in and out for takeout.

>>Fire & Spice Vegan Restaurant, 248 Sisson Ave., Hartford, is open Monday noon to 9 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Information: 888-367-7970 and firenspiceveganrestaurant.com.