Garden party 

Vegan soul food near downtown, but it's al fresco only.

OUTDOOR SEATING: One picnic table.
  • OUTDOOR SEATING: One picnic table.
Two things you need to know about From the Garden right off the bat: Not even the greens have pork fat in them, and unless you want to sit outside, plan to order carryout. Neither of those facts seem to be hurting the place: We heard good things about From the Garden before we tried it, and on both our visits a steady stream of customers came in and out while we waited for our food. From the Garden is a vegan soul food restaurant, which, odd as it sounds, means there’s plenty on the menu that’s familiar to even die-hard carnivores. Chef Genahtiyah Kitchen, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Ahmeekhai, learned to cook at her grandmother’s side and also worked for the world’s largest vegan restaurant chain (who knew there was such a thing?) before moving to Little Rock a few months ago. She also teaches vegan cooking classes at Wild Oats Market. The restaurant occupies a tiny building at the corner of 18th and Izard, one block south of Wright Street and formerly home to the Izard Dinette. The door leads to a small air-conditioned space for customers to peruse the menu and wait; Ahmeekhai takes orders through a window. Our group of five, meat-eaters all, was able to sample most of the menu. Four of us ordered dinner plates — entrees with two vegetables and bread. We hadn’t gotten the word that From the Garden was a strictly take-out operation, though, so we carried our plates out to the lone picnic table behind the building. (Genahtiyah Kitchen said she and her husband plan to add more tables and a juice bar outside eventually.) The TVP (textured vegetable protein, a meat substitute) stew, served over brown rice, was our first experience with faux meat, and we were pleasantly surprised. The TVP gave the stew a subtle meaty flavor, which balanced well with the simple stew’s other ingredients, potatoes and carrots. For sides we had yams — prepared dessert-sweet, the way we like them — and yellow squash sauteed with sweet onions. The squash was particularly good. We liked the yams as well, but missed the butter we’re used to tasting in them. We followed the recommendation of another in our group and chose the corn pone over the roll — and were glad we did. Others in our group ordered the barbecue tofu, black-eyed pea patties and country fried seitan steak (another meat substitute), with sides of greens and zucchini sticks in addition to more yams and squash. Only the black-eyed pea eater was unhappy, and that, he acknowledged, was because he just couldn’t live without bacon grease in his greens and meat at the bottom of his pool of gravy. The tofu eater confirmed what’s universally known about tofu — it tastes like whatever you cook it in or ladle over it. You could do worse, then, than barbecue. We shared three dessert choices: sweet potato pie, carrot cake and carob cake. All were good, although the sweet potato pie seemed to be made from the same basic recipe as the yams side. The carrot cake was very moist and had a great flavor, although the icing — primarily powdered sugar — was so sweet we scraped it off and just ate the cake. The carob cake wasn’t quite chocolate, but it was close. From the Garden’s menu also includes two kinds of burgers (garden and seitan) and four sandwiches, including the “carrot tuna” — carrot salad seasoned with kelp and served on a pita. On a return trip, we tried the fajitas: sauteed onions, bell peppers and mushrooms wrapped in what looked like whole-wheat fajitas, with vegan cheese. Steak fajitas are a particular favorite of ours, and mushrooms are not, so we were surprised how little we missed the meat. The marinade had a good, strong flavor, although we can’t say the same for the vegan cheese — and if there’d been any sour cream on hand, we have to confess we would have made good use of it. We also ordered a side of onion rings, which the menu says are hand-battered and cooked to order. The breading was nice and light, and fortunately, ketchup is vegan. From the Garden 1820 S. Izard St. 374-8494 Quick bite Whatever you order, get a side of corn pone to go with it. And don’t skip dessert, especially if they’re serving carrot cake. Hours 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 3 p.m. Sunday. Closed Saturday. Other information Inexpensive prices. Accepts no credit cards. Offers no alcohol.

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