Hours: Monday through Saturday, noon to 8 p.m.
Atmosphere: Religious vegetarian.
Price range: Items a' la carte from 30 cents to 90 cents; $3.99 for the complete dinner.
Credit cards: None.
Special facilities: On-street parking; accessible to patrons in wheelchairs.
Except for the sitar and the Indian deity in the window, the interior of Govinda's looked from the sidewalk like an ordinary American cafe. A lone waiter stood wiping a long counter top in a room furnished with tables in brown-and-white-checked vinyl.
Yet once inside, we noticed he had a shaved head. And what had appeared to be a salad bar instead displayed magazines published by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly known as the Hare Krishna.
One pamphlet explained that Govinda's was the World Center of the Committee for Urban Spiritual Development, a committee dedicated to the establishment of vegetarian restaurants in inner-city areas and to the promotion of mantra meditation and bhakti yoga.
Recipes and menus, it went on to say, came from standard yoga manuals and provided sound nutrition as well as spiritual satisfaction. Moreover, in order to emphasize the non-material aims of the committee, these restaurants always featured substantial meals for a nominal fee.
On the evening of our visit, the food proved to be abundant, nourishing and physically, if not spiritually, satisfying. It also was cheap: the complete dinner cost $3.99.
The youngsters, however, were not as enthusiastic as the adults. They balked at the iced peppermint tea (45 cents) and frowned on the soup, an earthy cream of potato ennobled by a bouquet of vegetables and hot spices (60 cents). They also had reservations about the vegetable medley, a moist mixture of onion, green pepper, squash, chickpeas, tomatoes and beans (90 cents).
But all liked the crunchy cauliflower fritter (45 cents), the saffron rice (45 cents), the buttered slices of dense, homemade whole-wheat bread (30 cents), and the halvah, a sweetish pudding made from farina and marbled with veins of strawberry jam.
Indeed, we would have thoroughly enjoyed our meal had it not been for the restaurant's oppressive silence. Between the face of Swami Prabhupada, ISKCON's founder, dominating the room from a poster and the similarly inward gaze of the young counter man, we felt unwelcome. He seemed to be so intent on Krishna that he was oblivious of us.
It was therefore with relief that we paid the bill, $30.17 for seven, and stepped out onto Eighth Street.