Tiny Yabba Pot is a vegan success in Charles Village

Expanding beyond its Rastafarian origins

Eats: dining reviews, Hot Stuff

May 06, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At the Yabba Pot, a tiny vegan restaurant in Charles Village, customers bop their heads to reggae music as they wait by the takeout counter for their food. Posters tout the benefits of vegetarian eating and living in harmony with nature. Vegetarian cookbooks, organic body lotions and CDs of reggae music are for sale.

This is more than a place to get food. It's a state of mind.

Skai Davis, who owns the restaurant with Addison Frett, said a yabba pot is a clay cooking pot commonly used by Rastafarians. Though she learned about food from Rasta culture, she said, she now considers herself "more universal" than Rastafarian.

Her menu reflects that.

The choices, written on a chalkboard behind the colorfully painted takeout counter, change daily but draw from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the American South. Frequently featured items include macaroni and cheese, teriyaki tofu wraps, veggie burgers, burritos and chili. Patrons can order platters with two, three or four items.

A "root and fruits" bar mixes smoothies and herbal teas, including a sorrel tea made from a hibiscuslike flower found in Jamaica. The drink is a beautiful magenta, nicely sweetened, with a refreshing flavor I can only describe as both grassy and tart.

Vegan food uses no meat, fish, chicken, eggs or dairy products. Basically, if it came from an animal, it's not allowed.

The food at Yabba Pot relies heavily on beans, tofu, vegetables, brown rice and lots of creative spicing. The result is very tasty, but I happen to like this kind of food. Obviously, Yabba Pot is not intended for eaters who think no meal is complete without a giant slab of protein.

It's easy to try a lot of things at Yabba Pot, and that's exactly what I did. The African spinach stew was seasoned with a tomato-peanut sauce that provided a mellow heat. Scrambled tofu was peppery and sprightly, and the tofu, though crumbly, was not dry. The spicy chili was dominated by beans that retained their firmness, held together by a thin tomato base. And fried plantains, one of my favorite items, were just right, sweet and soft, glazed with a subtle caramel coating.

Much of the food is heartier than one might expect. A large samosa with a tender crust was filled with a chunky, spicy potato filling. The burrito was really a spinach tortilla stuffed with a tasty and filling mix of brown rice, black-bean salsa, vegetarian refried beans, tomatoes, sprouts and cucumbers. My only complaint here was that one of the tomato slices was green.

I also tried the coconut creme pie, one of several desserts that Yabba Pot brings in from local vegetarian bakeries. It wasn't bad, but the rolled-oat crust was very chewy, and I would have liked a larger layer of the sweet, creamy filling, which was made with tofu.

Davis noted that vegan cooking has become easier in recent years because of all the tofu items on the market. Many of her recipes start with tofu "shrimp" or "ribs" that she buys from a New York wholesaler. She also sells these items frozen for customers to take home.

Customers order at the counter and then can take their food to one of four cheerfully painted two-seater round tables or outside to a single table with a rainbow-colored sun umbrella. It's strictly a paper-plate, plastic-utensil situation, and the indoor tables are not large enough for true comfort. Perhaps because of the space limitations, much of the business is take-out.

But the restaurant has been so successful in its first year that it is undergoing an expansion. The space next door has been purchased, and the wall will be knocked out, creating enough room for an additional 10 tables and a separate room for private parties, Davis said.

Davis started a vegan catering business, Empress Catering, two years ago. She said she's been pleasantly surprised at the interest in vegan food. "I had no idea," she said.

Yabba Pot

Where: 2433 St. Paul St.

Call: 410-662-8638 (TOFU)

Open: Daily except Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Credit cards: All major

Prices: $1.50-$8

Food: ***

Service: ** 1/2

Atmosphere: ***

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