The house that Roots built


Vegetarian-friendly Organic Roots serves fantastic salads but dubious pizza

When Organic Roots opened a couple of years ago, Edmonton’s population
of vegetarians, vegans and organic-food proponents were delighted. Although
there are certainly restaurants amenable to those averse to meat and milk
products (Padmandi, High Level Diner, Café Mosaics and Max’s
Light Cuisine, for instance), variety is always a good thing, especially
since in most other restaurants, we’re limited to those three pitiful
entrées listed under the “vegetarian” heading in the menu.
(And this frequently means that any beef in the meal got there entirely by
accident, or that the chef’s soup base has been so expertly spiced that
“you really won’t taste the chicken.”) Moreover, no
restaurant in town was devoted to sourcing only organic ingredients.

Figuring that a meal begins with appetizers, we head for the soup and salad
corner. It takes a while to hail a worker from the preparation area, but once
we appear on the radar, we order a bowl of borscht with a spelt breadstick
and a knob of herb butter ($4.25) and a large salad ($6.99) to share. The
salad is offered as a combination of three types, arranged in heaping vegetal
thirds on the plate. We go for the Greek, the Rainbow Coleslaw and the
“Sea Veggie.” The latter just might be my favourite salad ever:
grated carrots, some kind of seaweed and bean spouts all marinated in a tasty
vinaigrette. The sprouted beans lend a nutty, slightly bitter flavour to the
mix, as well as a curious crunchiness.

Dashing my fork through a cube of goat feta cheese and red pepper, I quickly
decide I like the Greek salad too. This version, consisting of three colours
of peppers, cucumbers and smooth, firm feta has a light dressing that allows
the salad to succeed on the taste of the vegetables. We both like the
coleslaw too, composed as it is of finely grated carrots, red cabbage and
maybe apples. I guess apples because of the sweet aftertaste, unlike most
coleslaws that scream “vinegary roughage” to me. My dining
partner speaks his mind at this point. “It’s not real
coleslaw,” he declares. He used to live in the South where, apparently,
all the real coleslaw resides. “It is pretty good, though.”

According to this half-Croatian “Texan,” however, the borscht is
the real deal. The chunks of beet and onion in a dark red stock don’t
impress me much, however. Like the salads, though, the soup’s appeal
seems entirely derived from its main ingredients. Vegan save for a dollop of
organic sour cream, the soup’s flavour lacks subtlety and any
outstanding savour. The idea may be to charm those with sensitive stomachs,
but at this point, we’re wondering where they hide the salt and pepper

Meanwhile, I’m sipping on a “Very Berry Lassi” ($4) from
the juice bar. Blueberries, bananas and apple juice blended with (soy) yogurt
and honey serve to spoil my appetite for the entrée to come. In
hindsight, I should have stopped here. The salads have been gorgeous and the
lassi is a perfect accompaniment. A bit of protein, some fruits, and
it’s so smooth and not too sweet.

For the main course, I am tempted by the veggie burger, the Organic Tahini
Miso Rice Bowl (steamed vegetables on rice with tofu and tahini miso
dressing) and the pizza. Given that my company is ordering the buffalo
burger, he suggests that I try the latter. The buffalo burger ($7.99) on a
sesame-spelt bun comes with a serving of “root vegetables” and
arrives just as I’m scraping up the last of the coleslaw. The
vegetables are all tubers (beet, sweet potato and potatoes) that have been
roasted with fresh dill. They’re nicely cooked, crispy on the outside
and creamy on the inside, but the dill is hard to taste and again, the side
turns out to be somewhat bland. My fellow diner says the burger itself is
“nicely prepared”; having never eaten buffalo before, he finds
the meat “has a stronger flavour than ordinary beef.”

The pizza arrives. I chose the caramelized onion pizza on a spelt thin-crust
with vegan cheese ($8.99). Hemp seeds are sprinkled over the edge of the
crust—a nice touch, I think. The “cheese,” however, is
perplexing: it looks like someone has spiraled Cheez Whiz over the surface of
the pizza. Composed of creamed cashews and nutritional yeast, this faux
fromage doesn’t taste anything like what its appearance would suggest.
It’s a little sweet, a little gummy, and would probably work on a
different dish.

For nearly nine dollars, I admit my expectations for a small personal pizza
are somewhat deflated. The caramelized onions are delicious and generously
distributed over the crust, but the green, yellow and red peppers are raw.
Really, they should be roasted; it’s hard to appreciate the texture of
the onions when I’m crunching on fresh vegetables. There’s some
raw spinach underneath too, which makes me wonder who conceived this recipe.
I’m well accustomed to weird culinary combinations for health’s
sake, and weird combinations that are normal in a country halfway around the
world, but this is neither. Dining companion comments: “It resembles a
pizza only in being round and kind of flat.”

We take our passports up to the till and drop about $40 for the feast
(including coffee and strudel for dessert). That’s not bad for a dinner
out, given that we’re both full, have easily exceeded our recommended
servings of fruits and vegetables for the day, and that everything we ate was
certified organic. Friends have commented to me before that the cuisine at
Organic Roots is somewhat hit-or-miss; after this experience, I’m
inclined to concur. The salad and juice bars serve up wonders, but next time,
I think I’ll skip the pizza. V

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