Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Veggie Burgers at Veggie Bar

Lelia Jane's: (Lincoln Park) Chicago
1008 W. Armitage Ave.

I raced home on my bicycle, popped an espresso filled chocolate in my mouth and started writing about Lelia Jane's -a bar with all vegetarian bar food. My pal Dan and I had been bicycling about looking at the dramatic changes to the South of Amitage corridor that Susan Chandler described in her October 8, 2006 article in the Chicago Tribune. We thought, we haven't been to Lelia Jane's in a while; why don't we stop in? Maybe five minutes after we got there and made ourselves very comfortable, we realized they hadn't opened. Still, they took care of us very well.

Dan and I each ordered an avocado veggie burger that they served on bread from Signature Breads (5806 N. Milwaukee, Chicago). A lemon, basil and olive oil sauce made them brilliant. Later the owner, Gregg Wynne, sat down with us. Gregg cuts their fries (that came with our burgers) with a knife, or a blade as he said, and fries them in a mix of canola and olive oils. "I usually buy everything fresh," Gregg told Dan and I. He goes to Stanley's Fruits and Vegetables and other local shops.

I remembered my last Lelia Jane's visit. A friend and I had ordered, but the cook (the owner's lady, Christa) wasn't in yet. Apparently, Christa was stuck in traffic. Later after we had our food, Christa took some time with us and told that they make their hummus from scratch -not from canned chickpeas but dried ones with lemon, pepper, basil and olive oil. She told me they're tastier that way. You can also get vegan pizza, garlic and olive oil flatbread or a veggie sandwich. Christa and Gregg look very fitting together, both relaxed, slender and seemingly very into food.

Gregg told me how he cooked Ethiopian (lentils, zucchini, squash and fresh green beans with "quartered up garlic cloves") at home with Christa, "it's so easy to make. Just look online." Dan and I got excited about it, and Dan reminded me that we have to try a Nigerian place we've heard of, Vee Vee's. I took napkins to jot down more quotes. Gregg is working at home on his injera (spongy Ethiopian bread used to scoop up food), using nutmeg and allspice to darken it, and soda water so it bubbles. He reminded me to use ingredients "as fresh as possible."

I think Dan and I both relate to freshness. Dan told me of his guacamole makings this morning for breakfast on a veggie patty with toast. He told me, "You know when you open up an avocado and it's perfect? It's not too early or too late." Three avocados later, he had his breakfast.

Dan I had sat down in the little round table in the front at the window. Dan had taken a spot on the long booth upholstered with dark curly lines along the window. A colorized episode of Casper The Friendly Ghost from 1947 had projected on a screen on the sidewall absorbed us. Gregg told us, "it's good to play when the Jazz Cats are playing." Casper cuddled a little bird, then took off flying with it -injured with a sling on his wing- as a passenger. Dan appreciatively mentioned that the episode is very pro-animal, then told me, "I could sit here and watch this all night and I'd be happy." And that was before we saw a zebra and an elephant come on. Dan excited, "It has animals in it." We both love our animal friends. Then, as somehow I remembered seeing in my childhood, Casper tied a knot in the elephant's trunk. The elephant exhaled in to its trunk as it filled into a balloon that lifted the elephant into the sky for a reason that might have been apparent had I not been taking so many notes.

Even when Casper is not playing, Lelia Jane's feels great. The dim lighting, large medieval-looking chandelier, DJ table and hanging bicycling jerseys chill the place out and give a scene of the owner's taste. A reggae song with lyrics "time is the master" had played, starting like a Pink Floyd cover. Depeche Mode came on, too. It was a great and total mix up. Thinking about the atmosphere, Dan told Gregg, "you nailed it here." Gregg talked a bit about freestyling on track bikes -Chicago Free Ride stuff, he told me; and how he rode a 1971 Schwinn Paramount, a nice old race bike. (I've heard you may bring your bicycle in to Lelia Jane's when it's not jammed). Dan told me that Lelia Jane's reminds him of a place called The Comet in Cincinnati known for their veggie burrito. And that if I check out The Comet, I've got to check out Cincinnati's glorious Findlay Market dating from 1852 and "Ohio's oldest surviving municipal market house."

Gregg put his hair up as Dan put on his winter head wrap to leave, tied in a knot at the top looking like it was hiding a ball of hair like Gregg had up. I asked Gregg if the popcorn is vegan (they have a machine full of it by the bar at the back). Just olive oil and kosher salt he told me. "I love it," I said; and he told me, "it's easier."


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