Not So Starving Artists: A Visit to Land of Kush by Rebecca Juliette
You know how they say that you should never go to the grocery store when you are hungry? Well, you shouldn’t try to write a food review when you are starving, either. The last five minutes of my life have been spent mentally devouring the Land of Kush’s online menu… reading and rereading item descriptions while putting together the perfect plate. I can visualize myself at the counter right at this very moment and hear my vegetarian mouth saying words like “ribs” and “crabcake.”
Nothing makes the heart of a non-meat eater race more than a menu where you can eat Every. Damn. Thing. Dining out is different when you don’t dig on swine. My menu scan is usually pretty quick and to the point. Find the vegetarian option. Order that.
But at Land of Kush, located at the cusp of Mount Vernon and the Bromo Arts District, the menu is something to savor in and of itself. Everything is vegan. Their specialty is vegan soul food served up to “feed your spirit.” I can attest to having a very full spirit and stomach after my recent visit.
On a cold, rainy December Saturday night, I convinced my carnivorous companion to accompany me to the corner of Eutaw and MLK. He did what I usually do before heading somewhere that I’m not sure about the cuisine. He pre-ate. I, on the other hand, arrived with an empty stomach and an intimate knowledge of the menu from the hours I’d spent studying it online.
Outside was dark and dreary, inside was a soul food shangri-la. Femi Kuti was on the stereo. Singles, couples, and families were tucking-in to their tofu and veggies and I was eager to do the same.
I stepped up to the counter and ordered the Special Combo Platter that I’d been salivating about all day: one entree, two sides/salads, and a drink for $12.99. For my first sample of the Kush Special Combo, I wanted to keep it classic and classy. Ribs, collards, mac and cheese. To drink, a ginger spice brewed fresh in house.
And then I spontaneously binge ordered, you know…for my friend. I had to do it because it was Saturday and on the weekends only there are some special offerings – namely among them crab cakes. I’ve tried and failed to veggetize the crab cake at home and had also sampled many not so savory efforts when eating out. Could these crab cakes get me my Maryland card back?
Because it is no fun to eat alone, I also ordered my friend the sesame spinach ($4.49 as a side) and a Piña Colada’s Dream smoothie ($5.99 for 16oz.). All together, meal came to $30.46. And thankfully it also came with a take-home container.
We sat and sipped our drinks while waiting for the food to come out. The smoothie was smooth indeed. Soothing and not too sweet but more like a banana shake than a coconut colada. The ginger spice was also quite refreshing and I sipped lightly to save it as a complement to the meal. It was the perfect balance of sweet and spice without being too much of either good thing.
The meal took a little longer to come out then I expected but it was a fairly lively night. Once it arrived it was all I could do to delay dining in order to get a few fully intact food photos.
The ribs were more like a beef stew, not like the riblet I had imagined. Seitan swam around in a sea of potatoes, zucchini, carrots, and peppers. The sauce was sweet and sticky like brown bbq gravy. It was warm, satisfying bowl of non-meat.
On the side, the collards were sweet and tender with onions and red pepper cooked in. But they were probably also my least favorite of the meal. Most of the flavor came from what tasted like liquid smoke, which is an understandable substitute to the usual pork, just a little heavy. It’s plate partner, the mac and cheese, was a standout that even Mr. Meat enjoyed. Creamy and without the strange aftertaste that many vegan “cheese” foods leave behind, it clung to the pillowy pasta and could totally pass under the dairy radar.
Across the table, the crab cakes looked too tempting to resist so I dug-in to those as well. It was hard for me to pick a favorite, but I’d have to give it to the crab cakes on the night. They were fried just right. The outside was crisp yet easily gave way to reveal a flaky, creamy interior that had a texture and taste that was reminiscent of the real thing. The crab “meat” was marinated in a mustardy concoction that added just the right amount of zing to the subtle flavor.
And the very unassuming sesame spinach, just spinach smothered in sesames and sesame oil, was the right pick alongside the crab cakes. The spinach was bright green and super fresh. Served raw, not cooked, the greens seemed like they had just been gathered from the garden. The accompanying sesame bath was mellow and added both a nutty taste and crunch.
Even though he wasn’t hungry, I did convince my skeptical friend to at least try a bite of everything. He was sold on the mac and cheese but a little hung up on plants masquerading as meat. However, he did agree that everything was tasty and it wouldn’t take any arm twisting to get him to go back…if only for that mac and cheese.
The portions are so sizeable at Land of Kush that a normal person could easily get two meals out of their one order. Or one person like myself could somehow force themselves to stop eating and have enough leftovers for two more meals at home. For me, this makes the $30 price of the meal easy to swallow.
As we were wrapping up, we had a minute to thank Chef Gregory for his fine meatless mains. He and his team of health conscious, pro-plant people have created a community center that manages to capture the heart of soul food cooking without the necessity of capturing any animals to do so.
Land of Kush is open for dining-in or carry-out 7 days a week. Friday-Sunday they offer some special menu items: crab cakes, spinach lasagne, and drummies (which sound like chicken nuggets on a stick and are what I have ordered with my imagination today on my couch). They even have a special Customer Appreciation Sunday Brunch complete with vegan, gluten-free blueberry pancakes and choice 2 other options for $9.99.
The extensive and all-vegan all-day-and-all-of-the-night menu includes entrees, wraps, salads, sides, desserts, drinks, and smoothies. They even cater, which is reason enough for me to throw myself a party.
To borrow a phrase from Me’shell Ndegéocello – Land of Kush, I dig you like an old soul record.
Author Rebecca Juliette used to hide chicken nuggets up her sleeve when she worked at the Roy Rogers drive-through and was one Wendy’s Junior Bacon Cheeseburger away from early onset atherosclerosis. But she changed her ways and has been a vegetarian for close to two decades.