Ethos Vegan Kitchen, a consistent go-to place for those who follow a strict vegan diet, has settled nicely into its new location in Winter Park, and quality home-style fare is still the mainstay of the menu created by husband-and-wife team Kelly and Laina Shockley.
Ethos opened in 2007 on Lake Ivanhoe near downtown Orlando. The restaurant was a rare outpost with an all-vegan menu, which means that dishes are made without meat, dairy, eggs or other animal derivatives or byproducts, including honey.
The Shockleys had a loyal following, but parking was always a challenge on the eclectic stretch of Orange Avenue known for its antiques shops. The move to Winter Park, near Rollins College, solved the parking problem, and the location that fronts bustling Fairbanks Avenue has given Ethos more visibility.
First-timers might think the menu has been augmented with non-vegan items, but rest assured that the all-American hamburger, sausage rolls and meatballs listed don't have a shred of animal protein.
Other dish names make it clear that this is vegan country. For example, "chickun" is not a typo for a type of poultry but a form of simulated vegetable proteins. Wheat-based seitan can be a master of meat disguise when cooked, and Tofurky is a mock meat blend of tofu and wheat gluten molded into meatlike parts.
These meat alternatives are created with vegetable proteins such as soy and pea powders and bean curd. In the case of the faux chicken, the products are amazingly close in texture and taste to the real deal.
We started with an Ethos favorite, the Healthy Trio ($6.95), a platter of tangy black-and-green olive tapenade, thick house-made hummus and chunky tomato-mango salsa served with toasted sourdough bread, blue corn tortilla chips and crisp carrot and celery sticks. My only quibble: The hummus was dry and lacked any notes of lemon.
For entrees, pumpkin seed pesto penne ($10.95, add $2.50 with seitan or chickun) was comfort-food good. The pasta was tossed in a creamy sauce with tomatoes and zucchini. The seeds added an earthy seasonal note.
The chickun marsala ($11.50) was not as elegant in texture as I have had in Italian restaurants, but it was darn good. It was served on spaghetti, and the wine sauce, button mushrooms and fake fowl melded nicely. (Tip: A dish like this is a good starter for vegan neophytes. The sauce fools the eye by covering up the protein's imitation-meat appearance, letting you taste without culinary prejudice.)
Our bay cakes ($13.95), a vegan variation on the crab-cake theme, were pumped with mashed chickpeas, chopped celery, Old Bay seasoning and herbs. A spicy remoulade sauce came on the side, along with fluffy basmati rice and tender spears of asparagus.
A recurring theme was a timid use of salt, which is a wonderful flavoring when used judiciously. There are shakers on the table so that guests can season to taste.
Good vegetarian food is not difficult to find in Central Florida, but that is not the case for vegan fare. Thankfully, a few places like Ethos Vegan Kitchen persevere.
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The Dish on dining
Ethos Vegan Kitchen
Where: 601-B S. New York Ave., Winter Park (at Fairbanks Avenue).
When: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. (On weekends, brunch menu available 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and regular menu noon-11 p.m.)
How much: Brunch, $5.95-$8.95; lunch and dinner, $3.95-$13.95.
Beverages: Beer, soft drinks, wine.
Wines by the glass: From $4.
Extras: Takeout, catering, children's menu, free wi-fi.
Noise level: Moderate buzz.
Wheelchair access: Easy.
Credit: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa.
Online: Ethosvegankitchen.com and Facebook.
Dining on a budget
No worries here. There's nothing on the menu over $15.