If your idea of vegetarian food starts with bean sprouts and ends with carob brownies, you have yet to discover two fairly recent additions to Washington's admittedly few meatless eateries. One touts a multi-ethnic theme; the other is distinctly Indian.
Both are modestly priced carryouts that also offer catering services:
Yours Naturally Health Food Store & Soul Vegetarian Deli, 1256 Eighth St. NW, 898-1910. Open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Prices $1.50 to $5.75. Cash only.
From the outside, Yours Naturally looks more like someone's home than a carryout -- the entrance is preceded by a brick sidewalk, flanked by grass and ringed by a fence.
Inside, though, it is a cheerful if spartan space, stocked with a small supply of health-related provisions and literature; while you're waiting in line (there are ledges for eating, but no stools), you might consider studying the reflexology chart on the wall.
The menu is short and subject to daily changes: five sandwiches, two soups, some fried vegetable baskets and a few desserts, ranging from coconut cake to apple pie.
Despite its name, the deli has little in the way of soul food, save for a tangy-sweet barbecue sandwich (made with whole-wheat gluten, according to the proprietor) and some leaden corn bread that no self-respecting southerner would recognize.
Sweet potato pie was listed on the menu, but it was unavailable when I stopped by.
Aside from the barbecue, one of the more convincing meatless, nondairy, preservative-free sandwiches is the gyro, which translates here into warm pita bread stuffed with thyme- and basil-seasoned strips of baked gluten, some chopped onion and a creamy sauce similar to Thousand Island dressing. Hardly authentic, it was nevertheless as filling as any of its meat-based cousins.
The dense lentil "handburger" lacks the juiciness of a hamburger made from ground beef, although I enjoyed its subtle nuttiness.
As one might expect of a health-food purveyor, the sandwiches are served on whole-wheat bread, garnished with lettuce, ripe tomato slices and onion.
There is also a sausage-shaped "wheat furter" that comes slathered with ketchup and mustard. It strongly resembles its distant relation, the hot dog, and is surprisingly juicy, if not exactly the stuff of ballpark nostalgia.
The vegetarian baskets include lightly breaded and nicely fried servings of cauliflower, mushrooms, tofu and potatoes, which taste a bit better than the standard noshes served around town but, being fried, don't fare very well in the transport home.
Madras, 3506 Connecticut Ave. NW, 966-2541. Open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Appetizers cost $1 to $1.50, entrees $2.50 to $5. Cash only.
Low prices and reliably filling food are two of Madras' best assets. This is homey Indian-vegetarian fare, most of which is cooked to order.
Indeed, part of the fun in visiting Madras, a small, low-ceilinged box of a carryout, is watching the cooks behind the counter prepare the large, rolled pancakes known as masala dosas.
Among the kitchen's best efforts, these thick crepes can then be stuffed with a choice of fillings ranging from a faintly curry-scented potato-and-onion combination to a more aggressively seasoned mix of carrot bits, corn and peas.
The more satisfying entrees include a mildly hot and spice-perfumed dish of upama, made with cream of wheat, and the vegetable biriani, which features saffron rice infused with almonds and diced vegetables, served with the cracker-like papad and raita, that refreshing accompaniment of yogurt and cucumber.
The soups tend to be faint and skimpy broths, the breads merely adequate versions of India's tempting arrays.
And I'd skip the supersweet desserts -- in one case, a brick of coconut and sugar -- in favor of a yogurt drink, perhaps the fruity mango lassi.
Such quibbles aside, the price is right and the service is congenial.
As I waited for a dinner order, I was treated by the owner to an Indian-style lagniappe -- a deep-fried fritter of spinach and onions in chickpea batter.
While it was perhaps the least special of Madras' offerings, it made for a more satisfied patron.Tom Sietsema is on the staff of The Washington Post Food section.