Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vegan Vittles

That was the hammer on my food story a week ago. Today's New Era will feature Da Vinci Little Italian Restaurant, but I'll wait until it's published before I blog, so as not to scoop myself. :-) So for today, let's talk about The Little Teapot Cafe in Bradford Square:
I had the "Chick" Tetrazzini with a side of peas, fresh all-grain bread and some kind of soy butter.

Here's the story I wrote for the New Era:
Vegan vittles

The Little Teapot Cafe serves up veggie versions of homestyle classics
By Emily Parrino, Special to the New Era
Published: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 1:35 PM CDT
Barbara Neher opened the oven and pulled out pale loaves of all-grain bread. The 72-year-old great-grandma flicked the crusty tops, hoping to hear a hollow sound. Dissatisfied with the response, she shoved them back into the oven.

The galley kitchen where Neher and her husband, Jack, prepared the day’s blue plate special was full of the yeasty aroma that greets customers at The Little Teapot Café, which opened last month at Bradford Square.

The quilt-festooned décor, the spindly furniture, calico cloth napkins and the heady smells from the kitchen conjure up feelings of comfort and coziness. Teapot’s menu includes a daily blue plate special and homey items like potato salad, muffins and chili.

“We get more people coming in who say, ‘I just feel like I’ve gone to my grandmother’s house,’” Neher said of the Teapot’s charm.

But this isn’t your grandma’s cooking.

Every dish the Nehers serve is vegan; free of meat, eggs, and dairy ingredients. Breads are cooked from scratch with an emphasis on whole grains. Baked goods use raw, organic sugar and flaxseed gel in place of eggs.

“They’re all dishes you’re familiar with, but vegan,” Neher explained.

Dishes like “Chick” Salad Sandwiches and Garden Patch Burgers, modeled after familiar comfort foods, are designed to be low-fat and low-cal. To add protein and meatiness, Teapot dishes rely on soy and wheat protein.

And Neher’s spice rack spans one wall of the kitchen.

“I’ve had vegan dishes before that were just blah,” she said with a frown.

“Like sticks and twigs,” her husband chimed in.

“But I like color,” Neher said. “I’m big on flavor.”

At the height of the lunch hour Monday, only a few customers wandered in.

“Two taco salads,” said the Nerher’s daughter, Teresa Ingle, who works as a waitress at the Teapot.

Barbara Neher arranged corn chips, vegetarian chili, fresh vegetables and vegetarian “cheeze” shreds on mis-matched China.

In a town where many restaurant are shuttered before reaching one year in business, the Nehers were prepared to labor long. They see their café as a mission to improve the health of the city rather than a money-making venture.

“We knew there wasn’t any vegetarian restaurants in town and we figured it’d be slow for people to come in,” Nerher explained. “Business has been slow, but we’re not real disappointed on that.This is a self-supporting ministry. The Lord is our partner. Everybody that works here is a volunteer.”

The Nehers are devout in their faith, but say they use the restaurant to spread a message of healthy eating, not religious beliefs.

“We’re concerned about the health of our area,” Neher said. “A lot of people would like to be healthy, but they don’t know how.”

Adjacent to the dining room, the Nehers have set up rows of student desks and a book display with healthy cookbooks.

“We have free health classes, but you have to buy the textbook,” Jack Neher said.

Classes take place at 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and the next session begins Oct. 20, he added.

“We want to teach them what power you have on your plate!”

For Ingle, that power allowed her to drop 100 pounds and control her diabetes.

“We also give out recipes,” she said. “We’re wanting people to eat healthier so we share.”

Her mother said the changes her family has made have had great rewards, and that she hopes the café could help people ease into a new lifestyle.

“There’s fanatics everywhere you go,” Barbara. “We try not to be that way. We believe any step toward a plant-based diet is great.”

Neher is no stranger to championing causes. In 2004, she, her husband and Ingle founded the It’s My Very Own: Bags of Love program to provide blankets and toiletries for children who have recently been move to foster care.

With The Little Teapot Café, the Nehers hope to continue their family tradition of ministering to people in a way that conforts them.

“My philosphy is that I don’t want to make people uncomfortable…You don’t have to worry when you come in here,” Barbara said. “It’s all healthy and it’s all low-cal.”

Emily Parrino can be reached at 270-887-3237 or

1 comment:

ExpressYourself said...

Beautiful! Looks very yummy!