Several years ago, there was no way I’d step into a restaurant featuring only vegetarian and vegan food. In all honesty, my antipathy for those who didn’t savor a great cut of beef was equally matched toward me by those who harvested only vegetables for meals. Now I know the wonder and excitement of a Lancaster County farm share. I savor the discovery of vegetables new to my palate. I know what to do with celery root and how to pronounce jicama. Things have changed, so I was excited to walk into Root, Lancaster’s premiere veggie-forward eatery.
“We are definitely not about preaching to people about our diets. This isn’t a soapbox,” says restauranteur Rob Garpstas. I talked to him an hour before doors opened for a weekday service; he was working a tomato sauce with an immersion blender while we talked. “We want to cater to meat lovers as well. We want to put stuff on our menu they would find on any other restaurant menu; we want a wide variety for everyone to try.”
Looking at the menu, I spotted dishes like mushroom tacos with chimichurri sauce, stuffed shell, and a beet burger with habanero ketchup.
“When people think vegetarian or vegan, they often think a lot of salads, tofu and stuff,” says Garpstas.
The “stuff” he was referring to are meat substitutes like seitan—a.k.a. high protein wheat gluten—which are made in house at Root. And don’t let me misrepresent the menu, Root does offer salads and tofu. I am one of those meat lovers Garpstas mentioned, so I was here for the steak—the portabella steak.
The priced-proportionately ($9) sized ’shroom arrived in front of me on a square, cobalt blue dish. The aroma immediately captured my attention. What was this marinade? So, I tasted. It was floral, but not overpowering, slightly tangy and rich enough to allow a mushroom to be labeled a steak. It was perfectly seasoned. After my meal, Garpstas let me know the marinade was comprised of soy-based (not anchovy) Worcestershire sauce, agave nectar, salt and pepper. The steak sat next to a serving of perfectly cooked roasted tomato and spinach risotto, which was accompanied by a side of fresh, slightly smoky, asparagus dusted with lemon zest.
I really liked this dish, and not just because it’s tasty and vegetarian. There was a high level of execution, which elevated the entree; it’s obvious Garpstas is no newbie to the restaurant scene. I learned he opened his first restaurant in 1999 and was the original owner of the once popular 915 Café. As well as Root, he also operates Barfly’s, a pizza and whiskey joint in Baltimore. After starting out with pub grub, Garpstas became a vegan in 2010. The Lancaster resident saw a national and local need for restaurants catering to vegetarian and vegan diets and decided to open Root in December 2015. So far, good!
223 W. Walnut St., Lancaster; 717 826-9130
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