For the second installment of The Veggie-Vegan Project, my previous compatriots, Paul and Eric, suggested we convene for dinner at a recent addition to the Cleveland scene, Flaming Ice Cube restaurant. This location opened up only midway through 2010, with the original being located in Boardman, Ohio. As Paul works in downtown Cleveland, this has been a lunch go-to spot for him ever since it opened and as far as he knew, it was one of the only 100% vegan restaurants that was in the area. In a rather odd twist, Akron actually has two vegan restaurants that I can think of off the top of my head: the obviously much more famous Vegiterranean, but also a newer addition, Mrs. Julie's Kitchen. Clearly both will be fodder for future stops on this project.
Flaming Ice Cube was located at 140 Public Square, Cleveland, OH 44114 and can be reached at 216-263-1111. Parking was wherever you could find it. My dining companion Edsel and I ended up parking in the lot next to the Marriott and walking to Public Square. What I would advise you against doing, gentle reader, is not using Google Maps to help you find the restaurant. We tried this last night and it had us simply circumnavigating the block where the Key Bank building stood. The restaurant was actually directly south of the large monument on the square and just east of Tower City.
Here was a photograph of the front of the store:
Once inside, Edsel and I joined Paul and Eric at a four top near the front door. While it was busy, it wasn't crazy, even for a Friday night at 7:00 PM. As I would surmise that most of their traffic probably arrives during the business day, it didn't surprise me that the restaurant wasn't packed. After seating ourselves, I began the process of photographing the menu:
In addition to the menu, there was also a daily specials board which listed the sides and soups for the day. I was so intrigued by one of the soups listed, a Stuffed Pepper soup, that I had to order a bowl in order to satisfy my curiosity:
Here was a closer look at the soup:
I had assumed that the soup would be similar to the meat-laden version sans ground meat. When I went to taste it, I was happy to discover that not only were the flavors pretty much spot on compared to the version with which I am familiar, but there was a texture in the soup that very much resembled ground meat. Had I not known that this was a vegan version, I would've simply assumed that it had ground meat in it. The seasonings were expertly done and there was a subtle, yet welcome, kick from the addition of cayenne chili. The soup was definitely hearty and filling and the only real criticism I had was that some of the rice grains weren't fully cooked and as such were just a tiny bit crunchy.
The menu was broken down into salads, sandwiches, panini, wraps and burgers, and while I would normally order a "plain" burger to test out the mettle of the kitchen crew, tonight I decided to order one of the veggie burgers, the Pizza Burger. Each burger came with one of Flaming Ice Cube's homemade sides; I choose the Sweet and White Potato Salad:
The homemade veggie burger patty had been griddled and topped with dairy and soy-free cheese, faux pepperoni and each bun half had been toasted and coated with the from-scratch marinara. Here was a side shot of the assembled burger:
Eaten as a whole, this was a fairly tasty and definitely filling burger. Unlike the soup, I could tell that I was eating a veggie patty and not a meat patty because the texture was a bit looser. Not that the patty crumbled (as has happened with other veggie patties I've had in the past), but had I been blindfolded and someone put this in front of me, I could've picked out that it wasn't a beef patty. The marinara sauce added a nice sweetness and acidity. The faux pepperoni had just a bit of spiciness to them, but it lacked the chewiness that I've come to appreciate from the real deal. The only disappointing part of this sandwich was the bun, as it just wasn't sturdy enough and kind of fell apart as I progressed through the sandwich.
After tasting my sandwich, I turned my attention to the small black cup of potato salad:
For the second time during tonight's dinner, I was again stymied at how delicious and non-stereotypically vegan this tasted. The potatoes were cooked to the perfect texture, being both creamy and tender and the mustard-vegan mayonnaise dressing made for a nicely dressed side. As I rolled the flavors around in my mouth, I also began picking up hints of clove, and Edsel suggested that the chopped pickles that had been incorporated into the potato salad might have been brined using cloves. In all, this was a very tasty side that I would have no qualms ordering again.
Because my sandwich only came with one side dish, I decided to order an extra cup of the other homemade side for tonight, a Black Bean and Corn Salsa:
In addition to the usual suspects of tomatoes, garlic, cilantro and lime juice, the black beans and sweet corn were joined by a bit of earthy cumin. The salsa hit all the right notes on my palate, but conceptually as a dish, it felt a little weird eating this with a fork; freshly fried corn chips would have made this a real winner.
With the main portion of dinner now complete, we now turned our attention to the dessert offerings. While Paul and Eric opted to split one of the Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bars, Edsel and I decided to split a slice of their walnut encrusted Carrot Cake:
First, what I liked. The sweetness was controlled. The flavor was decent. The faux cream cheese frosting complimented the cake well. Second, what I didn't like. The cake itself was very dense. While there was some hint of traditional carrot cake spices, it wasn't strong enough (i.e. cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.). By examining the cake, it was obvious that there was carrot in it, but no real carrot flavor came through in the finished product. Of all the problems, the biggest was probably the density issue. Solve that and the others would simply be minor quibbles.
In the spirit of sharing, Paul cut off a small piece of his Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Bar for me to taste:
In addition to the chocolate and peanut butter, vegan marshmallows and a crunchy cereal were used to create this homage to a dressed up Rice Krispies treat. It was chewy without hurting my teeth and the prominent flavors of the main ingredients worked well together. I am particularly glad that chocolate is not verboten to vegans as that might very well just be a deal breaker for me.
Since I decided to put the piece of carrot cake on my check, with tax and tip my grand total came to slightly over $20. My sandwich with one side, however, was a very affordable $7. Having dined at the Flaming Ice Cube tonight, I can definitely see why Paul goes here quite often to pick up lunch and return to his office. For vegans looking for another dining option and for non-vegans who just like to shake things up a little, the Flaming Ice Cube restaurant offers a tasty and diverse assortment of menu options that will please your taste buds and your wallet. I definitely recommend that you give them a try.