CHICAGO (WLS) -- There are few restaurants in Chicago dedicated exclusively to vegans. The problem, up until recently, has been a lack of imagination on menus. You can only eat so many salads and black bean burgers. But our Hungry Hound says a restaurant on the North Shore - open only since January - has put together a creative menu with several delicious options, and you'll never miss the meat.
The birth of Spirit Elephant in downtown Winnetka earlier this year signaled a personal goal for the owner C.D Young. Young to spread the good word, beyond her blog.
"It was born of a passion for plant-based food and plant-based eating. It made me feel so good, physically," Young said.
"Someone told me the other day she brought her father in kicking and screaming, and now he's bringing the daughter in all the time. It is not twigs and branches and greens, at all," she said.
That's because the kitchen does the hard work of sourcing produce and coming up with creative ways to make it delicious.
"Our whole goal is to make food that is good. Not just plant-based food that's good but good food," said Dan Myers, the general manager.
"So we've got some Impossible meat that we doctor-up and do our own things - we have burgers - we have a meatloaf that's really fantastic," he said.
A great starter is the cauli-wings.
"We wanted something that mimicked a traditional chicken wing, obviously cauliflower is the route a lot of people go. Our battering with that is a little bit special because it is gluten-free," said Myers.
First, a dredge in chickpea flour, then a liquid one with the addition of soda water and spices; finally, a thicker rice flour-panko breadcrumb-chickpea dredge. Into the fryer for a minute or two, then tossed with one of five sauces - the Buffalo is great - along with sesame seeds, carrots, celery and ranch. The Forbidden Rice Bowl features black rice with a
vibrant assortment of fruits and vegetables, plus blackened tofu.
"Cauliflower, some confit tomatoes. Coconut flakes, mango, some avocado. It's a really good, decadent way to eat your veggies and feel really satisfied," he said.
You'll never miss the chicken in the yellow coconut curry bowl, as it contains plenty of fortifying vegetables, plus a heady, lemongrass tinged curry.
"We still get that creaminess, that good, rich flavor. You're gonna get broccolini, you're gonna get cipollini onions, you're gonna get mushrooms," said Myers.
And since they're tuned into the seasons, dishes are changing all of the time.
"Our new salad we're doing is a sweet potato and Japanese purple yam. We love to play with the colors, the beauty that food comes - what nature produces for us," he said.
The real hidden gem here is the patio, which they plan to keep going as long as the weather holds out. They've got a couple of portable heaters on standby, so you can eat your plants while you sit among them.
They also have brunch on the weekends, and while they do also have vegan-friendly desserts, there's also a Graeter's Ice Cream shop just up the street for the serious ice cream fans.
924 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka