By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
Each week, our MUSE Food Editor Katie blogs about all things vegetarian.
My dad and I have a lot in common. We both love to ski, write, read and travel, but when it comes to food, we differ sharply. Although my mom can take meat or leave it, my dad is a devoted carnivore, who loves a good piece of steak: medium-rare, pink on the inside and at least a solid 12 oz.
As a child, the first restaurant I remember going to was Cliff’s Country Inn, famous for its 20 oz. prime rib special. To this day, when my family goes out to dinner, more often than not we end up at a steak house—leaving me, the 20-year-old vegetarian, having to order off the kids’ menu, settle with a salad, or end up with a side dish of macaroni and cheese.
Accordingly, my relationship with steak houses has been lukewarm at best. So, when my best friend asked me to accompany her to the Yard House, a Fenway restaurant known for its steak, ribs, wings and burgers, for her roommate’s birthday party, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to whatever dismal side dish I presumed I would end up with.
That is, until I opened the menu.
Walking into the Yard House, the place certainly didn’t strike me as a vegetarian-friendly establishment. Although it’s recognized primarily as a restaurant, it’s also a sports bar: loud, dark and, during baseball season, packed with Red Sox fans eager for a bite to eat and a beer to drink after the game ends. I expected to see typical pub fare, so you can imagine my surprise when I opened the menu to find an entire section devoted to vegetarians.
The Yard House’s vegetarian menu surely beats anything you would find in the average eatery on Boylston Street or down Newbury. Forget salad, pasta or tofu; the Yard House offers a diverse selection of entrees made with their trademark “gardein” protein, which the menu describes as a “chicken or beef substitute made from soy, wheat, pea proteins, vegetables and ancient grains.”
There are 13 items on the gardein menu, and any one of the restaurant’s nine burger creations can be made with gardein as a substitute for the beef patty. From a “chicken” avocado sandwich, béarnaise “beef” sliders, spicy thai “chicken” pizza, and boneless “chicken” wings, the Yard House’s meat-free options are entrees that, as a vegetarian, I never imagined I’d get to try. Although the Yard House’s gardein options aren’t vegan-friendly, the menu does give vegetarians the valuable opportunity to try herbivore-versions of entrees that are traditionally reserved for omnivores only.
I’m certainly not used to having so many options to choose from, as I usually end up briefly “debating” between a restaurant’s two or three vegetarian options. Having over twenty choices to choose from was indeed a nice change. After some deliberation, I decided on the Spicy Chicken Sandwich, which included a slice of “chicken” grilled with blackening spices, cheddar, jack, cabbage and Cajun aioli on cheese flatbread.
When my entrée finally came out, it looked so much like an authentic chicken sandwich that I had to ask the waitress twice if it was the vegetarian version. Even my roommate, an omnivore, doubted that it wasn’t real meat. Fortunately, the server confirmed that it was indeed gardein, but from any onlooker’s perspective, it sure looked like a “real” chicken sandwich.
It tasted like one, too. The Yard House definitely got the flavor and texture of the “chicken” right. It was grilled to perfection, tender but not too chewy, and lightly marinated with a blend of spices that complemented the flavor without overwhelming the entire dish. The cheddar and jack added more substance to the sandwich, harmonizing with the Cajun aioli, which added a kick to round out the flavor of the gardein “chicken.”
Although the cheese flat bread that completed the sandwich wasn’t as appetizing as I expected, the side salad was fresh, with crisp Romaine lettuce and a variety of colorful vegetables, dressed in a delicious house balsamic that actually had me wondering just how good the Yard House’s salad options might be.
In the end, though, I’m glad I went with the gardein. I have a feeling the Yard House’s vegetarian entrees might be so spot-on so as to sway the most die-hard meat-eaters. Next time my parents in Boston, the Yard House will be on our itinerary, as it can serve as a compromise between meat-eaters and vegetarians, in which neither party loses out. In fact, I think my dad—who loves his prime rub—might even be convinced.