It’s like fate keeps conspiring to get me to eat out in Robinson area. First it was the Bocktown Beer and Grill, a neighborhood bar in an area filled out with suburban chains. Now it’s Loving Hut, perhaps the oddest restaurant to ever occupy a storefront between the main Robinson shopping area and the still fairly new Settlers Ridge.
Loving Hut is an international chain of vegan restaurants. Not vegetarian. Not vegan-friendly. Not just “green” or eco-conscious or focused on “healthy-eating.” Vegan. 100% without animal products. It’s one thing to have those two or three local eateries which cater to veg folks, but it’s another thing entirely to have an international chain of hundreds of restaurants, a kind of globe-spanning vegan McDonalds. And now we have one, tucked away about a mile up the road from Settler’s Ridge, a little zen hideaway in the middle of a territory dominated by burgers, fried cheese sticks, and other various offerings of places like TGI Fridays.
The first thing you notice upon entering Loving Hut is peacefulness. No noisy din from the kitchen, no blaring overhead soundtrack, no laughing and chatting staff. It’s not uneasy or unsettling, just very, very calming. The booths and tables are white, the walls are soothing colors of tan and taupe. The decor is mostly to the tune of inspiring messages on the wall and picture boxes. There are two TV screens showing “Supreme Master Ching TV” but because no sound comes from them, it’s easy to forget about them all together.
Me and Wes were immediately seated in a booth against the far wall and presented with our menus. The Loving Hut menu is thick and picture-oriented. Everything has a picture, even the one-sheet with the day’s specials. Everything is bright and cheerful, but not obnoxiously, just… like if everything was dipped in a little bit of sunshine.
We were very quickly persuaded to try one of the specialty beverages. On a suggestion from our waitress, Wes went for the Mango Tango, a fresh and frosty blend of juice and ice. I needed my mid-evening caffeine fix, so I went for the Iced Cappuccino, which came to me creamy and sweet, but not as sickly sweet as the version of this beverage you would get at Starbucks. Both drinks lacked that syrupy quality that these sort of cocktail-like offerings at other places carry in massive quantity. I immediately wanted another drink after I finished my first one.
The menu was all affordably priced (although our drinks were a tad expensive) so we added a starter to our meal, going for the crispy rolls, which came stuffed with sprouts, carrots, mushrooms, vermicelli noodles, and what looked and tasted like soy ham. The sweet and sour dipping sauce was pleasant, although a little thin, but the crispy rolls were near perfect in texture – fried to a crispness on the outside, but underneath the crunch was a fine textural mix of ingredients. The soy ham offered a nice salty counterpoint to the milder veggies and noodles in the mix, and all elements worked especially well with the dipping sauce. I just wish it had been a little more substantial.
Wes has had his fair share of veggie and black bean burgers in the past, so he decided to add the restaurants Loving Hut Burger to his experience list. Instead of a patty made out of a general mash of ingredients, the Loving Burger is a soy protein patty served with lettuce, tomato, and onion and accompanied by crinkle-cut fries. He thought it was okay, if a little hard to manage. Pulling out the long strands of onion with each bite kept compromising the structural integrity of the burger. Also, Wes would have preferred a more straightforward veggie burger instead of the soy protetin, which he finds spongey. I had a bite and really liked the flavor, a light and slightly sweet Teriyaki, but I could see where he was coming from. Because it had a uniform texture within the patty, there wasn’t much texture to be had to the actual burger. The toppings were a nice contrast, but the patty fell just a little short. Still, it had a lot of flavor. It reminded both of us of a chicken patty sandwich, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I was having a really hard time making a decision, but I was delightfully satisfied by the Lucky Lemon Grass, a crispy-skinned faux-chicken served with brown rice. The dry spice to this dish was excellent. It had a little heat, it had a little salt, but there was no heavy sauce. There was the perfect amount of dry seasonings and just a little oiliness to give the brown rice a boost of flavor. Each bite of soy protein was crunchy then tender, lacking the spongey-ness that can inflict even thoroughly- fried faux meats. I ate every bite and considered getting more to take home for lunch the next day.
Our experience at Loving Hut was quiet, peaceful, and completely delicious. At just over $30 for the two of us (including our drinks), I’d say we more than got a bargain for the quality and quantity of the food we were served. As for the snickering gossip about the restaurant being tied to a cult, I can’t really weigh in with an educated opinion. Aside from the muted television screens, there was a small bookshelf in the front entrance that contained reading materials and general information about eco causes. There was no oppressive preaching from the staff, no handouts forced on us as we left. Quite the contrary, actually. Wes was curious about Supreme Master Ching, but had to ask several questions before being shown the bookshelf of information materials. They’re not exactly beating you over the head with propaganda.
I expected to be a little unsettled, but instead I was pleasantly soothed by the dining experience. I have no doubt that the food from Loving Hut could convince a large number of people to try an alternative from a meat-heavy diet. Hopefully it can reach that audience in Robinson area while still attracting the veg-friendly folks from the city. At a good twenty minutes from where I live, I can’t say that I will be a regular visitor, but I know I will jump at the next chance I get to make a visit.