27 September 2013

The best vegetarian restaurant in Fort Collins

Tasty Harmony  is the whole package: located in a dressed-up old storefront, serving things like cashew cheese and fried seitan with gravy and mashed potatoes, and a wait staff that is heavily tattooed and pierced. The bartender even has white dreadlocks.  There is everything in the world to poke fun at here, if you're into rolling your eyes at the hippy-dippy college town stereotypes.  And who isn't?  It's fun. Here's why you should go here:

1. The food is incredible.  More details on our specific meals below, but the short-hand is that ingredients are local and organic whenever possible, plates are beautifully rendered, flavors and combinations are creative and delicious, and there is an amazing amount of time and care represented in a lot of these dishes.  That seitan?  Made in-house.  Cashew cheese and three kinds of raw hummus?  That requires special equipment and a lot of care to make properly. The house-made BBQ sauce is like none I've ever had (and better than any I've ever had), and TH is quite possibly the only place in northern Colorado where you can try jackfruit, the newest super food for vegans.  They go the extra mile--and then some--in the kitchen.

2. The drinks are incredible.  Beers are carefully chosen from the long list of possible suitors brewed in Fort Collins and surrounding towns, and they seem to keep only the best on tap.  Whole meal smoothies and shakes are the real deal--not only are they delicious, but they are packed with actual healthy goodness, like chia seeds, flax oil, and raw honey. These are not sugary shakes disguised as health food; these are honest-to-goodness health tonics packed with fruits, milks, natural protein, and nuts and seeds that will provide healthy fuel for hours.

3.  The wait staff is respectful, patient, and knowledgeable about everything that goes on in the kitchen. Ask them anything about cooking process, ingredients, flavors, and they will answer as if they have made it themselves.  And to prove how appreciative they are of first-time vegetarian diners, they have a page of terms explaining some of the more exotic ingredients and cooking processes on their menu.  It's not condescending, and there's no air of superiority.  They just know their stuff. And they always seem to be available when you need them without hovering at the table.  They leave you alone until you want their attention.

4. Meals are moderately priced by normal standards, but when you think about the price of individual ingredients and the labor-intensive nature of many of their menu items, you are actually getting an incredible deal on your food. You could easily spend $10 on a sandwich made with white bread and cold cuts at a coffee shop, but here you'll get a garlic grilled hoagie roll, homemade raw hummus, cashew cheese, grilled onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts and fresh basil for the same amount.  Oh , and a side of your choice.  Want some Southern cooked greens with that sandwich?  Good luck ordering it at Panera.  

So, let's talk details.  I had the BBQ pulled jackfruit sandwich because I was  curious to try jackfruit, finally.  I've heard about it so many times but have never been able to find it in my local stores, and quite frankly, I wouldn't know what to do with it if I did.  So, I let Tasty Harmony do the work for me.  I wasn't expecting to like this sandwich, however, because I never like anyone's BBQ sauce.  It's like a liquid candy bar: too much brown sugar and molasses, not enough salty or sour elements. But this homemade sauce was surprising: thick and very smokey, there was only a twinge of sweetness provided by the tomato paste in it.  It was salty, earthy, slightly sweet, and tangy all at once.  I actually loved it.  The fresh tomato slices and coleslaw on the sandwich was just right--very North Carolinian.  And the jackfruit itself had a tender texture and was an appropriate carrier for the sauce (it had a mildly vegetal flavor to it, but mostly it just tasted like the sauce).  The roll was an ordinary kaiser roll that had seen better days, and the side of greens I ordered were completely unseasoned, but the shaker of black and white sesame seeds and salt did the trick.  If I got it again, I think I'd ask for some mustard to put on the greens.  

We also tried the whimsically named "Kentucky Fried Freedom" plate, which had batter-fried, house made seitan cutlets served with mashed potatoes, seasoned greens, black-eyed peas, and vegan gravy.  Everything was spectacular.  The seitan really did mimic chicken pretty successfully, the gravy was nicely salty and flavorful, the potatoes were hand-mashed, and the greens and beans were both seasoned nicely.  The beans had a great al dente bite to them which seems impossible to achieve when you merely open a can.  And the greens in both of our dishes were clearly freshly cooked--still bright green and firm, these were definitely not fished out of a vat of day-old slop.  

Besides the ubiquitous half sandwich / cup of soup deal, I also love that you can choose from a long list of mock meats, vegetables, grains, and beans to make your own "Daily Plate".  It seems like the perfect way to sample everything you're curious about.  

Tasty Harmony is right around the corner from everything else you've already noticed in Old Town Fort Collins--the sports bars, dressed up pizza places, and yet another bar boasting local brews on tap.  But this place offers a truly unique dining experience and an honestly healthy alternative to the typical dining out experience in a laid-back, friendly atmosphere. I cannot recommend it highly enough.