Vegetarian/Vegan in Orlando

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    For decades, the cafeteria at Florida Hospital Orlando has been a secret arsenal for vegetarians, vegans, the healthy-minded and the broke. The operation is wrapped in the traditions of the hospital system's founding Seventh-day Adventist Church ' a diet free of meat and caffeine being one of those traditions ' but the cafeteria is loaded with meaty and meatless options, most at cheap prices.

    What's always been missing is atmosphere ' the room is pleasant but nothing fancy, though mounted TV screens and fresh tabletop flowers soften the institutional vibe. Still, the panoramic view at the hospital's new Lakeside Café blows away the competition. Sitting at an outdoor table on the terrace, looking out to the east across Lake Estelle, you can see the tree-filled back side of Loch Haven Park and bustling Mills Avenue off in the distance. There's plenty of climate-controlled space inside, as well.

    Inside the café itself, there are a handful of stations where food is ordered and prepared before visitors head for the cashier. The smoothies (blended from scratch, not a mix) were worth the visit alone; my refreshing carrot concoction with ginger root and banana was not too sweet and served slightly chilled ($4.99). At the colorful salad station, the crunchy Thai version with peanut sauce (and more ginger) burst with flavor; a full plate ($4.99) could be a whole meal and the half-plate ($2.99) of any variety (Greek, house, make-your-own) is a steal.

    Paninis ($4.99) seem to be favorites at the sandwich station, which had ample contemporary selections but didn't forget to include a simple chicken salad on an oatmeal bun ($3.99). There are more gourmet options at the flatbread station, and they cooked my choice of cheese and roasted garlic ($5.99) in minutes. Pesto, roasted red pepper and marinara sauces were stocked at the cooked-to-order pasta station. The chocolate cake ($1.89) at the bakery was a little dry, and though I wanted a latte, I passed on the Starbucks in canisters. But the small raspberry sherbet gelato ($2), one of a dozen or so flavors, was berry- rich in taste.

    'Be veg. Go green. Save the planet.â?� These words appear everywhere you turn at the Loving Hut, the tiny temple of veganism that recently materialized on Colonial Drive. The smiling Hut-dwellers have transformed the dark, cave-like spot that formerly housed Tay Do into a serene space lined with mirrors and flat-screen TVs and filled to overflowing with bright white modern tables and chairs.

    Every visit ' even for takeout ' begins with a complimentary bowl of delicate clear miso soup. While sipping, contemplate the frustratingly uninformative menu and try to decide between Jolly Rice and Saintly Stir-fry. Fear not; it's all delicious, especially to those already versed in the chewy delights of TVP. Noble Rice, a generous timbale topped with black sesame seeds, is served with a toothsome curry-sauced cutlet. Seven Sea Delight is a pile of seaweed-spiked ravioli-like items, crisp outside and tender inside. Heavenly Salad has the perfect sweet-sour tang for summer refreshing; pho and bun hue are serviceable interpretations. Western favorites are convincing as well: The club sandwich is a tall, messy 'mayoâ?�-and-pickle'laden treat.

    About those flat-screens â?¦ they're tuned at all times to 'Supreme Master TV,â?� the international outreach channel of a certain Supreme Master Ching Hai. Her picture is everywhere, too, on books, bumper stickers and fridge magnets. It's a little eerie, but the message is so benevolent that it's hard to be too weirded out by it: vegetarianism, animal rights, saving the polar ice caps ' wait, they also espouse eliminating alcohol. Now that is dangerous thinking.

    ' Jessica Bryce Young



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