Vermont’s best veggie option


courtesty of Pingala Cafe

Tyler Sullivan, owner of PIngala Cafe

Nestled among the buildings that line the Winooski river in Winooski, sits Pingala Cafe and Eatery in the Old Mill building, just next to Laughing River Yoga. Pingala, known for its all plant-based menu, has the best vegetarian and vegan options in the state of Vermont.

The entrance is an old wooden wrap-around porch that has seating for both local businesses. As I push through the barn-style doors, the room opens up to reveal a large upcycled family table, as well as a bar and small nooks alongside big bay windows.

To the right of the entrance is a huge painted mural featuring bright hues of orange, red, and green that depicts a Vermont fall landscape done by local artist Tara Gorea, a Johnson State College alumna. The mural leads straight to the counter, where I can place my order and see what the sampling of the baked goods is for the day.

Behind the counter is usually café owner Tyler Sullivan, a tall and lean man adorned with tattoos and a mop of brown curls. “Hi, what can I get for you?” asks Sullivan to my partner and me.

I order the E.L.T— eggplant, lettuce and tomato— for $8.00, which is hands-down my favorite sandwich, while my partner orders the Grilled Cheesiness for the same price.

After perching at a side nook that is close to the drinks (water is on the house), I have a short wait of about 10 minutes to look at the beautiful scenery outside until my order is on the table.

In front of me awaits my beloved: perfectly toasted Italian bread with a little tooth-pick holding together caramelized onions, crispy eggplant, tomato, mixed greens, and dill tahini sauce. A small bed of greens with tahini and a house-made dill pickle lie next to the sandwich.

With the first bite I am soothed by the soft crunch of the bread, and then the crispy, smoky, and bitter taste of the eggplant “bacon.” Mimicking bacon in its rich and crispy taste, it soothes my desire for slightly greasy “unhealthiness.” Tahini, a sauce made from sesame seeds, is light and creamy and almost looks like a thin mayo. Sweet and nutty, with a hint of dill, it pairs well with both the veggies and the tart taste of the eggplant.

I look over as my partner is devouring the Grilled Cheesiness. This sandwich is also made with toasted Italian bread, but it includes basil-kale pesto, tomato, and cheddar-style cashew cheese. Having had this dish as well, I understand why she is devouring it. The basil-kale pesto is especially good, as the kale adds the intensive spinach-like taste that works well with tomato. Cashew cheese, an adaptation made for vegans and people who have dairy intolerance, is orange and stringy just as cheddar shreds would be. Cashew cheese, like other non-dairy cheese types, is a bit thicker and more granulated than the smoothness of dairy cheese.

After the sandwich, I move swiftly to the side salad and pickle. Like any home-made pickle, it is crisp, and a beautiful light green with strong notes of dill, which brings me back to my kitchen at home where I can vegetables during the summer. The salad is lightly tossed with tahini, although it could have used more.

After four p.m., the space tends to fill up with people getting out of yoga classes, as well as people who are ready for live music. Music, is always held on weekend evenings and is played either inside or on the porch depending on the weather. Wi-Fi, as well as books, is provided for those who like to come in just to relax.

Pingala has appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and also a full kid’s menu and a breakfast menu. Loose leaf tea, coffee, and popular sodas and seltzers are offered alongside complimentary water. There is also a smoothie menu and craft beers on tap.

Pingala offers smoothie and juice options that range from juice made from the Vermont Juice Company to house-made smoothies. Smoothie options are abundant and range from the Green is Good, to the Pick-Me-Up which is Iced coffee, banana, cacao, maple syrup, and soy milk.

The breakfast menu has every staple you could want: waffles, toast, rancheros, benedict, scrambles, etc. For appetizers you can order spring rolls, loaded nachos, dumplings, or broccoli bites. There are five salad options, and eight sandwich options including the E.L.T and the Grilled Cheesiness. Other sandwich options include veggie burgers, wraps, and paninis.

The menu does not exceed $10.00, and therefore makes dining out affordable and easy. Sandwiches range from $6-10, while drinks range from $2-10.

Before wrapping up my hundredth time eating at Pingala, I head over to the guest book, where I dutifully scribe. I have written in this book on numerous dates, adventures, and crummy days, and it is truly a unique experience to read encounters from people who have visited Vermont and little ‘Brooklyn’, otherwise known as Winooski.

I wave to Sullivan and exit the porch to sit on the bank of the river, only to realize I should go back in for a peanut butter cookie.