Life on the Veg: Veggie Stack at Memphis Soul Cafe

The biggest grievance vegetarians have while dining out is most likely going to be lack of selection. Most restaurants think they've got all their bases covered by keeping a few boxes of frozen garden patties in stock and a few salads on the menu. At first glance, Memphis Soul Cafe's menu seems to be the perfect example of such a cop out. That is, until you ask for the specials.

The Veggie Stack at Memphis Soul Cafe in Costa Mesa is a chef's special usually only offered during dinner. Since it's not on the regular menu, the Veggie Stack can easily be missed unless you inquire with your server about possible vegetarian alternatives. If you waltz in during lunch like I did, you can probably still get your hands on the Veggie Stack if your server's feeling good enough to lobby the chef.

The dish is made with seasonal vegetables and is subject to change depending on what ingredients are available at the time. Regardless, the general composition remains the same, along with its Southwestern-style seasonings

This month, the Veggie Stack's main ingredients are artichokes and heirloom tomatoes. The stack is built on top of a foundation of potato mash and held in
place on either side with a vertically split, long-stemmed artichoke heart. The centerpiece is composed of an heirloom tomato cut into thick slabs and alternately layered with slices of rich mozzarella cheese. All the vegetables used are lightly stewed in seasoned artichoke stock, which gives them a tender consistency and amazing flavor.

Accented with chives, cilantro, and sauteed onions, the Veggie Stack is subtly spicy and bold in flavor. The tomatoes add a zesty overtone, while the rich artichoke-based vegetable stock penetrates deep into the vegetables, to give every bite a taste worth savoring. Mild mozzarella smooths the initial tang from the heirloom tomatoes and a few tender leaves are left on the artichoke heart to give utmost satisfaction by having something substantial to chew.

The Veggie Stack is well worth its $12 tag, being big enough to fill you up without having to order an appetizer. It's also quite healthy and sure as hell beats having to eat another veggie burger while your friends are stuffing their faces with shrimp po' boys and gumbo.

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