Vegetarian dining in the Third Ward
Tucked in the first floor of the Third Ward’s Artasia Gallery – inconspicuously located, but worth seeking out – is a tea house & café offering vegetarian soups, salads and sandwiches with many vegan and gluten-free options. No stranger to natural, veg-friendly food, Jen Nowicki, who helped start the Riverwest Co-Op, opened Verduras in early August, offering a menu filled with fresh, homemade, healthy meals that prove cutting out meat doesn’t mean sacrificing taste.
I visited on the seven-week anniversary of its opening and was greeted by Jen, who provided quick, friendly service. After ordering at the counter, I grabbed a Yerba Mate Shade Grown Tea ($2) and found a table near the window. There were roughly 12 tables in the café, and the space was impeccably clean, yet warm and inviting. Artwork lined the walls and intricate tea sets nestled in a rich, wooden armoire served as additional decor.
Soon after ordering, the Gypsy Vegetable Soup was brought out ($3.50 or $2.95 with a sandwich or salad, bowl for $4.50). Broth-based with sweet potatoes, tomatoes, chickpeas and onions, the soup was flavorful without being overbearing. The sweet potatoes were perfectly cooked, and they did not skimp on the vegetables. It was a hearty, satisfying soup that could have easily been a meal in the larger size. In addition to this soup, a permanent option on the menu, other homemade soups are featured each week, including at least one vegan option.
For a salad, I chose the Spinach & Grapefruit ($7.95), a refreshing palette cleanser after the rich, aromatic soup. The salad was simple; only spinach, roasted almonds and grapefruit with a honey-lime vinaigrette dressing, served with a small piece of sourdough bread. The dressing – made from scratch, as all their dressings are – was a surprisingly nice pairing, offering a citrusy complement to the grapefruit without being too acidic. All the salads have the option of being wrapped in a tortilla or stuffed in a pita for an extra dollar, which struck me as one of those ideas I’m surprised I haven’t heard before or ever thought of myself.
Next was the showstopper, the Almond Butter & Banana Sandwich ($4.95). I’m convinced this sandwich could cure any bad day, bad mood, bad anything. Although not the healthiest option on the menu, I might just require this sandwich on a weekly basis. Again, a simple concept: homemade almond butter (homemade! – that’s what sold me) and bananas on your choice of bread (my choice: multi-grain sourdough), served with grapes. I tried to save some to take home for later, but I just couldn’t. Other sandwiches on the menu were more savory and vegetable-heavy (Verduras does mean vegetables in Spanish, after all), which I will certainly be back to try.
On my way out, I grabbed a Nutella Shortbread Cookie ($1) to take home. Two shortbread cookies sandwiched a layer of the chocolate-hazelnut spread. The cookies were just flaky and rich enough, but I could have used a little more Nutella (a meaningless criticism, really, since I’d probably say the same about a bowl of Nutella). Although there were no vegan sweets at the time, I learned they would soon be expanding more into vegan desserts, starting with a vegan cupcake trio, as if I didn’t have enough reason to come back already.
Verduras Tea House & Cafe
181 N. Broadway
Hours: Tuesday & Wednesday 7 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursday & Friday 7 a.m.– 7 p.m., Saturday & Sunday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., closed Monday.