Hearts of palm "crab cake" made from roasted red… (Nate Pesce / Baltimore Sun…)
In the food world, the battle between serious carnivores and vegetarians is a famous one, with meat-eaters often claiming that without meat, food simply can’t be that tasty.
Clarksville restaurant Great Sage, which this year celebrates a decade of vegan, organic cookery, proves that even without meat, a meal can be hearty, satisfying and, yes, delicious. Though sometimes the restaurant’s laid-back vibe veers into just-plain-slow territory, overall, dinner at Great Sage could win over even the most die-hard meat lover.
During a recent visit, we started with a round of impressive cocktails, including spiked blueberry lemonade and the Southern Harvest, a tart mix of grapefruit juice, vodka and grenadine. Both were well-balanced, fresh and very tasty. We especially liked the addition of fresh blueberries in the lemonade; it was a good reminder that even cocktails come from the earth.
With the drinks, we noshed on a pretty plate of Tuscan white bean hummus, flavored with rosemary and lemon and served with marinated artichoke hearts, sundried tomato tapenade, roasted garlic and, for dipping, long slices of cucumber and crisp grilled flatbread. The hummus was full of flavor, and the contrast among cool cucumber, tangy artichokes and crunchy bread was equally appealing.
With its bright colors and harmonizing flavors, the hummus was a good appetizer; on its own, it would even make a hearty entrée.
The hearts of palm “crab cake” was fun on several levels. The cake, made with hearts of palm mixed with roasted red peppers and caramelized onion, had a texture surprisingly similar to real crab. The hearts of palm was both chunked and shredded, mimicking a mixture of backfin and lump crabmeat.
The flavor, however, was all hearts of palm – briny and tangy instead of sweet like crab. But it was great, especially paired with a sweet-pea-and-roasted-corn succotash. On top, a shower of shredded kale tossed with a mild basil-caper rémoulade added crunch and creaminess to the plate.
The menu recommended pairing the hearts of palm cake with a glass of Perlage pinot grigio; we were glad we took the suggestion. The wine’s bright citrus flavors complemented the sweet succotash and kale without competing with the hearts of palm.
An entrée of grilled local mushrooms and squash, paired with a shredded potato rosti, heirloom tomato salsa and a smear of liquefied parsley garlic, was not such an unequivocal success.
The tomatoes and parsley garlic were fresh, bright and beautiful — an impressive show of local products — but a few of the mushrooms were overcooked and bitter. The potato rosti, a Swiss shredded-potato cake similar to hash browns, was cooked nicely, but it lacked zing. We thought it might benefit from something sweet, like caramelized onions or, given its similarity to potato latkes, even applesauce.
The meal got back on track with dessert, which included a lovely, dense lava cake and tart blueberry turnovers in crispy phyllo dough. Both came with scoops of creamy coconut-milk ice cream, which cut the lava cake’s richness and balanced the blueberry’s acidity.
The Great Sage staff appeared to work together during our meal; anyone who walked by our table checked in to make sure we were happy and helped. The people were friendly and welcoming, but the overall pace of the meal was somewhat sluggish. Our appetizer arrived speedily, but entrées and drinks from the bar took longer than we expected, crossing over from leisurely pacing to slow.
But after the meal, in our memories, those timing issues faded to the background. With friendly faces all around and an explosion of color and flavor on our plates and in our glasses, we went home sated and happy.
At a glance
The vibe: Great Sage hums with laid-back buzz, especially on Thursday evenings, when local musicians play in the front of the space. Warm colors and earthy artwork underscore the restaurant’s environmentally conscious mission and friendly atmosphere.
You’ll fit in wearing: Casual dress. Diners in sandals and T-shirts are just as comfortable as those in dresses and slacks.
Don’t miss: Great Sage’s “crab cake” is made with shredded hearts of palm, roasted red peppers and caramelized onions. The cake’s tangy brininess doesn’t taste like crab — but it does have great flavor. Paired with sweet-corn-and-green-pea succotash and shredded kale dressed with mild basil-caper remoulade, the dish is a showstopper.
Best for kids: The Great Sage children’s menu includes vegan versions of standard kid favorites, like macaroni and “cheese” made with brown rice pasta and soy cheese.
Reservations: Accepted for parties of five
Price range: Starters and salads $4.50-$13; entrées $16-$18