While winter weather bites into my home state, I was able to escape last week and head to the warm, enveloping arms of Orlando, Florida. With temperatures in the eighties, I was feeling like I’d traveled in time to spring with sundresses, tank tops, and sandals. As if the sunny weather and beautiful beaches weren’t reason enough to envy the Floridians, they also have an ample amount of delicious vegan options. Not the least of which is the all-vegan restaurant, Ethos Vegan Kitchen, in Winter Park. The interior has a sleek but casual look with a long bar serving wine and beer, including some organic varieties.
The first night that my husband and I got into town, we headed to Ethos for dinner to celebrate our entrée into the world of R&R. We ordered a bottle of organic Tempranillo and garlic knots to start. They have a large oven for making pizzas and calzones (more on those later), and the same dough is used for their garlic knot appetizer ($3.95). It’s served with melted vegan butter, and all of the knots are brushed with garlic butter and sprinkled with vegan parmesan. When they arrived at the table, they were steaming hot, wonderfully soft, and melt in your mouth delicious. I tried to slow myself with plans of “not ruining my appetite,” but those knots went down too easily.
For dinner, I ordered the Bay Cakes ($13.95), which are made with chickpeas. Old Bay Seasoning always entices me, and it didn’t let me down this time. The cakes have a dense, cakey texture and crisp exterior that’s like a cross between falafel and a veggie burger. It’s dotted with celery and fresh herbs and served with wonderfully creamy remoulade. It came with the vegetable of the day, asparagus, and plain white Basmati rice. I would have preferred brown rice and/or some spices on it, and so next time I’d probably ask for more vegetables or mashed potatoes as a side.
My husband had the pecan encrusted eggplant ($12.95), which was topped in a red wine sauce. The rich wine reduction elevated the dish to something special with its notes of umami and depth. It was served with asparagus, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Instead of being completely smooth, the mashed potatoes had chunks of potatoes that were not fully blended, making it a dish with contrasting textures and reminiscent of the kind of mashed potatoes Grandma used to make.
While we were there, we noticed that they serve brunch from 9 to 3 on Saturdays and Sundays, and so we headed back on the weekend to take advantage of their brunch menu. Staying true to the revelatory vacation vibe, David ordered the mimosa with orange juice ($3.50). They also offer it with cranberry or apple juice, but when in Florida, orange seemed appropriate.
Upon our server’s suggestion, I ordered the breakfast burrito ($7.95). She said that’s her favorite of their brunch items, because they include a bit of everything. I’m glad I took her advice, because I was loving every bite of the burrito filled with a tofu scramble, home fries, veggie sausage, and then topped in their sausage gravy. I normally opt for a whole wheat tortilla, but this tortilla was so fresh, soft, and pillowy, I had no regrets.
David had the tofu scramble ($7.50), which came with a choice of sides. He chose the sausage patties. He was hoping the scramble would have more in the way of vegetables in it, but he really liked the flavors.
On our last night in Florida, we headed to Ethos one more time for dinner. I was having the toughest time deciding between their calzones and their Philly cheesesteak made with seitan called What’s the Dilly, Philly. I’d heard rave reviews about both of them, but after watching calzones and pizzas getting removed from the fiery oven, I had to go with the calzone ($10.95).
There’s a large array of toppings from which to choose, and I sided on artichokes, garlic, and Gardein (which they have listed on the menu as chickun). In addition to those fillings, the calzone was stuffed with marinara and plant-based mozzarella. (It seemed like Daiya, but I didn’t ask.) After baking, the calzone is brushed with garlic butter and served with a side of marinara. I will be dreaming about that calzone for months to come. It was huge, crisp on the outside and soft as a cloud on the inside. Stuffed with fillings, I loved making the perfect bite and dunking it into the side of marinara.
My husband also opted for an Italian dish, choosing a ten-inch pizza ($10.95). For toppings he went with garlic, tomatoes, mushrooms, and pepperoni. (It seemed like the Yves brand of pepperoni, but I didn’t ask to find out for sure.) Typically, it comes with vegan cheese, but David requested that it come without it. Diners can choose between pesto or standard marinara for the sauce. He savored every bite, and his only complaint was that he would have preferred the pepperoni was sautéed first to get a crispier texture. (That’s what we do at home, and it makes a big difference.)
I can’t tell you how much I wish that we had an Ethos location in my town. It’s the kind of place where a vegan could easily bring relatives and kids with no worries that they’d be happy with their dinners. Comforting and familiar, it truly is food anyone would love. The atmosphere is inviting without being stuffy, and our server at brunch was particularly gracious, giving us lots of tips for our beach plans later that day. The prices are very fair, they are open late, and if I lived in town, it’s definitely a place I’d be visiting regularly. I’ll be back, Ethos. Save a Philly for me!