It's tough being a vegan at most Baltimore restaurants. Often, you're relegated to a one- or two-item corner of the menu.
Gregory Brown opened The Land of Kush at 840 N. Eutaw St., because, a vegan himself, he wanted a place where his culinary compatriots could eat without worry. The whole menu is theirs. But unlike a lot of omnivore establishments, he doesn't neglect his nontarget market — in this case, meat-eaters.
Well, carnivores, think barbecued ribs, curried chicken, turkey and gravy, and sweet 'n' sour seitan. You might be pleasantly surprised.
12:12 p.m. We were welcomed into The Land of Kush by bright swaths of primary red and blue, clean surfaces and a counterperson exuding dignity and congeniality. Warmth all around. For the vegan-curious, a portion of counter is given over to vegan literature, luring the reader with the benefits of veganism. It is the only proselytizing you'll find here.
But the menu — Whoa. Ribs? Chicken?
Well, make that curried "chick-un." The ribs and chicken are tofu, the turkey and seitan are … seitan, aka wheat gluten (if that helps). Kush is taking a bit of a risk here with ultra-orthodox vegans who might feel the point of not eating meat is mocked by mock poultry and pork. But there is a reason for the risk and I think it's smart.
12:14 p.m. We order and pay. The Kush menu makes it easy: It offers six salads, five sides and four entrees. A platter gives you an entree and two sides for $9.99. We order a curry chick-un and the Kush barbecue ribs. Our sides are candied yams, rice and beans, and collard greens. Yes, there's some Southern and some soul going on here, another nice touch.
12:19 p.m. Whether you order to go or to eat on premises, your platter fare comes in a clear plastic carry-out container; unless you've skipped a few meals, you'll need it, because you'll have leftovers.
Our no-doubt-about-it fave was the ribs. Kush presses the tofu to remove water and firm up the consistency of the soy. Some of the thinner pieces of the ribs were remarkably consistent with the texture of long-fired meat. Others were simply firm. But the sauce, thick, growly, peppery and clingy, made this an instant winner.
The curry sauce also made the chicken dish, but when wouldn't it? What impressed with this dish is the daringly chickenlike consistency of the tofu. It looks, feels and tastes remarkably close to the real deal. After a few chews, it was clearly tofu if you were paying attention, but the curry's piquant flare tended to draw all the focus.
The sides were another story. Kush uses agave as sweetener. The yams pulsed with it, and if you're averse to agave, that might present a problem. I liked them. My dining companion didn't. But my friend loved the collard greens for the same reason I didn't: more than a tad on the bitter side.
On the rice and beans, we both agreed: Unquestionably, the rice was undercooked. The dish was also uncharacteristically dry. Neither of us could recall another time where we had rice and beans devoid of any sort of sauce. There was a saving grace: Mix the rice and beans with the barbecue or curry sauces, and you're back to magic time … except for the undercooked part.
12:41 p.m. We're full and have more than a snack left in our clear plastic containers. The owner/chef stops by and we chat. Yes, he gets that the ribs, chick-un and turkey may irk the strictest cohort of veganism. But he wants a place where the vegan and omnivore can break gluten together, and he knows it isn't easy to get a meat-eater to check out vegan land. It's a smart risk.
12:46 p.m. We leave The Land of Kush but continued to talk about it for days after. Neither of us is a vegan and we both liked it and feel like we now have a place where we can take a work crew to lunch where no one gets left out. Will it work for all our colleagues? Don't know. But like the folks at The Land of Kush, we think it's worth a try.
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The Land of Kush
Where: 840 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore
Contact: 410-225-5874, facebook.com/TheLandofKush
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Lunch entrées: $4.99-$9.99
Food: 3 stars
Service: 3 stars
Atmosphere: 3 stars
[Key: Outstanding: 4 stars; Good: 3 stars; Fair or Uneven: 2 stars; Poor: 1 star]
Dining time: 34 minutes