Review: Shree Indian Vegetarian Restaurant

Shree Indian Vegetarian Lunch BuffetWhenever David and I drive to Chicago, we arrive famished. Thinking that it is only about 4 hours away, we usually eat a light breakfast and head out the door. With Chicago restaurants on the brain, we don’t want to dawdle with lunch anywhere else. But of course, there are inevitably gas stops, traffic, and hotel check-ins, until we’re finally eating at 3 pm and ravenous.

Luckily, I have a plan of action for all future Chicago trips, and that answer is Shree Restaurant in Westmont, Illinois. It’s an Indian vegetarian restaurant, focusing on both southern and northern Indian dishes.  It’s about 20 miles from downtown, which means we’ll be eating at least 40 minutes earlier. Even better, the food there is fantastic.

Shree Vegetarian Restaurant Westmont, IllinoisStuck in the middle of a mini mall, from the outside it’s very unassuming. You’d never guess the complexity of flavors awaiting inside. We visited a couple of times while we were in Illinois recently – first for lunch.

When we walked in, they had a buffet set up. We perused the buffet and noticed the signs with names of all of the dishes. It is a vegetarian restaurant, not vegan, and the signs didn’t indicate which dishes were vegan and which were not. Because of that, we figured we’d order off the menu instead but were told that it’s buffet-only at lunch.

Shree Indian Vegetarian Restaurant BuffetI told the server that we were vegan and would like to know which dishes on the buffet line were animal product-free. He brought the manager over to help us, and the manager walked us through the line, pointing out which items had dairy in them. There were still plenty of vegan items on the buffet line. So David and I grabbed plates and started dishing up chana masala, uthappam, rice, and more. The bread on the buffet was naan, which isn’t vegan, and so they brought us hot poori, straight from the fryer, puffy and gorgeous.

Shree Indian Vegetarian Restaurant Lunch BuffetMany times at buffets, the food is a bit more bland to accommodate a variety of palates. However, the food at this buffet still had plenty of flavor and spice, and everything was piping hot. The restaurant was busy with lots of families, and you could tell that it’s a popular lunch spot.

The next time we visited was for dinner. We started with an appetizer of vegetable cutlets made with potatoes and peas, lightly rolled in flour, fried, and served with cilantro chutney & tamarind sauce. The cutlets were crisp on the outside, but soft and dense on the inside.

Shree Indian Vegetarian Vegetable CutletsFor our main dishes, I was having a hard time deciding between masala dosa, one of my all-time favorite dishes, and chana bhatura, which I’d never tried before. The manager was working as our waiter, and he told us that people drive in from the city for the chana bhatura. Clearly, that was the one to get. He said it was typically made with dairy ingredients but that they could make it vegan. (From looking at recipes online, it seems that bhatura is generally not vegan. The bread seemed to be the same as we had at lunch, and so it seems like they gave us poori instead.)

Chana Bhatura Shree Vegetarian Indian

Chana Bhatura Shree Indian VegetarianThe chickpeas were dark in color, a grayish black, and were served with two puffy, fried pieces of bread. The manager told us that the chickpeas are just regular chickpeas but that they are soaked and cooked with awala (also called amla), otherwise known as Indian gooseberries. He said that in Bangladesh, where he is from, women and children love to eat them, but that they are very tart and sour. They lay the berries in the sun to dry, and they are then used for their homeopathic properties and for cooking. He said that they are especially good for digestion, which can be handy when a person’s diet includes a lot of beans and lentils.

The chickpeas had a rich, earthiness about them that can only be described as umami. They had a deep undertone of a flavor like brown lentils. We stuffed our bread with the chickpeas, and I could easily see why someone would drive in from the city for this dish. It reminded me of eating in New York City and how somehow everything there, even something as simple as a bagel, just seems to taste better. You wouldn’t think that a person could be blown away by chickpeas, but this dish managed it.

After our discussion, the manager brought out a little bowl of amla for us to try. They were dried with salt, and he said that they buy them either salted or unsalted, and then just adjust the salt in their recipes accordingly. The amla was astringent, dry, and left a kind of waxy coating in the mouth. I’m eager to buy some for myself, so that I can try making a similar chickpea dish at home.

Coconut Curry Shree Indian Vegetarian RestaurantWe also ordered Navratan Kuruma, vegetables cooked in a coconut sauce. Again, this typically comes with dairy-based yogurt in it as well, but they omitted it for us. This creamy and rich dish was delicious. Although, it had a hard time competing with the chana bhatura, which had set the bar very high.

After our lovely dinner, I’ll definitely be counting the miles as we edge closer and closer on our next trip to the Chicago area. The service could not have been friendlier, especially from the manager, who made us feel so welcome and shared a lot of really fun and interesting insights about the dishes we were eating.

Congratulations to Kylie, who won the Oloves giveaway!  Remember, there’s still time to enter the giveaway for a copy of The Great Vegan Pumpkin eBook.  

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Upton’s Breakroom in Chicago

Upton's Breakroom ChicagoI’ve written about my love for Upton’s Naturals bacon seitan before, and I’ve enjoyed their other seitan stylings, which are terrific on pizzas, sandwiches, and in tacos. So when I heard that Upton’s was opening a small vegan café called Upton’s Breakroom adjacent to their new seitan-making facility in Chicago, I was eager to visit. I sent a message to them on Facebook a few days before my birthday trip to the area and was informed that my timing couldn’t have been better. They opened that very week, just a couple of days before my husband and I were heading to the Windy City.

Upton's BreakroomOnce we got to Upton’s Breakroom, we were a bit confused if we were in the right location, because the place was so new there were no signs on the building or door. However, through the window I saw a stack of pamphlets on the topic of vegetarianism and knew we were in the right place.  On one side of the building there are floor to ceiling windows, and we could see their moustache-emblazoned icon proudly decorating the wall like their own version of T.J. Eckleburg.

The vibe of the eatery is clean and very casual with just 3 or 4 tables for dining in. Their small menu features their signature seitan in various flavors, in addition to one tempeh sandwich. Customers order at the counter, and then foil-wrapped sandwiches are brought to the table.

Upton's pastrami sandwichWe placed our orders and then squeezed into the last open table while we waited for our sandwiches. In no time at all, they were brought to the table, hot and freshly prepared. Because my sauerkraut cravings cannot be dampened, I ordered their Pastrami Sandwich. It’s made with their housemade pastrami seitan, which is not available in stores (just by wholesale), spicy mustard and sauerkraut, and served on marble rye. The peppery and salty seitan sandwich was tangy and filling.

Upton's BLTIf there’s anyone who loves Upton’s bacon seitan more than I do, it’s my husband, David. He ordered the BLT and added avocado for two dollars more. The smoky BLT is made with the usual lettuce and tomato and is typically served with housemade mayo as well. However, since David is not a mayonnaise fan, he ordered it without. I liked David’s sandwich even more than my own and found myself wishing I’d added avocado to my pastrami sandwich as well, because as we all know, avocado makes everything better.

The next time I visit Upton’s Breakroom, I’d like to try their fried bacon mac, which is their housemade macaroni and cheese fried on the grill with bacon seitan. The person who was seated next to me was eating a small bowl of it, and it looked very inviting.

If you should find yourself in Chicago looking for a quick, tasty, and inexpensive lunch option, Upton’s Breakroom is worth checking out!

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