Heeding seitan’s call at Whole Earth Organic Lounge
By Rachel Birdsell
TFW Contributing Writer
Restaurant: Whole Earth Organic Lounge
40 E. Center St. Fayetteville
I’ve recently had vegetarians tell me that they read “Eat It,” even though I talk about eating meat, which I’m sure would be the equivalent of me reading about someone eating sushi.
So, in honor of my vegetarian readers, I decided to go be a vegetarian for a day (or at least 30 minutes) and go to Whole Earth for their organic, vegan buffet. I realize that this is my second buffet review in a row, and I apologize for that. I typically refuse to even eat at a buffet because, more often than not, the food is all the same color, and buffet restaurants tend to smell like an elementary school cafeteria — a concoction of sweat, playground equipment and spitballs.
Food for Thought
The buffet spread at Whole Earth was thus: Heavenly Coleslaw, Return of Mack and Crack, Spicy Firehouse vegetarian chili, vegetable parmesan over herbed couscous, lentil curry bombay, seasoned brown rice, lemon pepper carrots and green beans, barbecue seitan with caramelized green beans, baby leaf salad with assorted dressing.
I tried a little of everything.
The coleslaw was wonderful and unlike your average coleslaw. This one had a completely different flavor, one that I can’t quite place, but it was definitely tasty.
The macaroni and cheese was good, but since the menu is nondairy it meant that the cheese wasn’t really cheese. It was fake cheese. I’m sure there’s a more gentle term than “fake cheese,” but I don’t know what it is. And even though the menu boasts that the mac and cheese has crack in it, I’m pretty sure it really isn’t seasoned with actual crack.
The chili was very, very good, and had I not already piled my plate with the entire buffet, I could have eaten a lot more of it. It was spicy, and the normal meat found in chili wasn’t missed at all.
So far, being a vegetarian wasn’t so bad. But, when I got to the couscous, there was a problem. Not for the lack of meat, but rather for the lack of any kind of dairy product in the parmesan. It was the texture more than the taste that got me. It was kind of spongy and made my teeth squeaky. Not a good feeling.
The rice was rice, and I didn’t really notice any seasoning in it. The carrots and green beans were excellent and were cooked and seasoned to perfection.
Now for the seitan…
I only heard about seitan in the past month or so. I was thrilled to discover that it’s pronounced say-tan with the emphasis on the first syllable. The result is that it sounds like you’re saying “Satan” with a really strong Southern accent. How cool is it to be able to say that you ate barbecued Satan?
When I tried the seitan at Whole Earth I was alarmed. It has the texture and look of meat. I immediately grabbed my phone and looked up exactly what seitan is. I was worried that maybe it was a variety of feral cat and that vegetarians didn’t consider feral cat to be meat. I was relieved to find that seitan is actually made from wheat gluten. I’m not sure who discovered wheat gluten could be coaxed into something that looks like meat, but I’d bet it was an accident.
Even after learning that seitan wasn’t made from a feline, it still was rather strange to eat: It’s that much like meat, people! If I didn’t know it wasn’t meat, I’d swear it was. It was kind of like if you ate a piece of apple pie and then had someone tell you it was really made from sea anemones. It just doesn’t seem possible.
But, back to the seitan at Whole Earth. It was smothered in barbecue sauce that was very thick and though I would have preferred more spice, it was pretty good. I was still utterly amazed by the seitan, though. Probably not enough to eat it at home, but I think everyone should try it at least once.
The salad was fresh and was indeed made from baby greens. There was a plethora of dressing to choose from. In this instance, a plethora = about 12.
Whole Earth has a selection of organic sodas and also organic beer and wine. I’d never even heard of organic wine until Whole Earth opened. It’s intriguing to me, though. Of course, I’m intrigued by any wine that costs more than $5 a bottle.
Atmosphere: 3.9 sporks the size of Mammoth Cave
The place is cavernous. It’s very open, and with its high ceiling, I was tempted to shout “Hello” because I know it would have echoed.
The colors of the décor are rich, and the wooden floors were begging me to tap dance on them. However, I didn’t have my tap shoes with me, which was fortunate for the other patrons because my tap dancing can best be described as “awkward.”
Although I would have preferred more flair in the décor, I totally dug the atmosphere of Whole Earth. It was very relaxed, and it is definitely working its way towards feeling like a neighborhood hangout.
Food: 4.2 sporks that look like Satan’s pitchfork
I liked everything on the menu except for the nondairy cheese. I like my cheese to have been in at least a two-foot radius of the udders of a cow or goat before it’s declared cheese. Everything else was very good. The entrees were obviously made from fresh ingredients, and I must tip my hat to the chef. The only other thing that bothered me was that the menu stated that at least 75 percent of the menu was organic. Where does that leave the other 25 percent?
Staff: 4.4 sporks with little peace signs on the handles.
I sat at the bar, and there was only one staff member working in the dining room when I was there. I didn’t catch her name, but she was very gracious and was just a very peaceful person.
Dollars spent: The lunch buffet is $6.95 and runs 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. It’s hard to beat $6.95 for a lunch that not only tastes good but is also good for you.
Chance of returning: The siren song of the organic wine will most certainly lure me back to Whole Earth.
They also have events going on that sound pretty interesting. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:30 a.m. and on Saturday at 9:30 a.m., they offer Soul Rhythms — music and movement for body, mind and spirit.
On Monday nights, Angelo Yao teaches a West African drum and dance class. Angelo also leads the drum circles in Eureka Springs, and he’s fantastic.
And at 9 p.m., Whole Earth magically turns into a nightclub! On Friday, Sept. 24, they’ll be hosting Equinox dance trance and dub. Here’s how they describe it on their website: “In celebration of the Equinox the night before, we are going to party to pounding beats like our ancestors used to do and spend the first night after the Autumnal Equinox dancing our asses off!”
I don’t know about you, but I could stand to lose some ass.
All in all, my venture as a vegetarian was good, and I could totally see myself turning to the vegetarian lifestyle if it wasn’t for that whole “not eating meat” thing.