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Vegetarian diner food reaches for the stars

Veggie Galaxy serves vegetarian dishes in classic diner style. Entrees include baked mac with ricotta and cheddar sauce and a panko crust (below left). The Kendall Square burger (below right) comes with a choice of black bean or mushroom chickpea patty. Veggie Galaxy serves vegetarian dishes in classic diner style. Entrees include baked mac with ricotta and cheddar sauce and a panko crust (below left). The Kendall Square burger (below right) comes with a choice of black bean or mushroom chickpea patty. (PHOTOS BY JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)
By Jialu Chen
Globe Correspondent / October 12, 2011

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VEGGIE GALAXY 450 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-497-1513. All major cards. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Breakfast $4.50-$9.25. Lunch $5.75-$9.95. Dinner $8.95-$11.95. Dessert $2-$7.50.

Hours Daily 7 a.m.- 3 p.m., 5-10 p.m.

Liquor Wine and beer.

May we suggest Open-faced seitan sandwich, baked mac, sweet potato mash, grilled cheese sandwich, cream of tomato soup, Kendall Square burger, Boston cream pie.

You would expect Adam Penn, 49, the owner of two vegetarian restaurants - Veggie Planet in Harvard Square and the new, diner-style Veggie Galaxy in Central Square - to be pretty passionate about vegetarianism. But he says something else is even more important. “I feel like the vegetarian-vegan aspect of it is just secondary. Really it’s about great food.’’

It’s precisely this attitude that makes his restaurants so appealing. Who wants to miss the meat they could have eaten? At Veggie Galaxy, meat is like a long-forgotten summer fling.

Dinner entrees are served after 5 p.m., but they steal the spotlight and our hearts. My boyfriend is a little grumpy at the thought of a vegetarian restaurant, but his face lights up in surprise and pleasure when he bites into the open-faced seitan sandwich ($10.95). The seitan (wheat gluten) is thinly sliced and grilled so that its texture resembles gyro, placed atop rainbow chard, caramelized onions, and two slices of toasted bread, and slathered with red wine gravy and baked beans. With a hearty, meaty flavor, it is quite the man sandwich.

I fall for baked mac ($8.95). Creamy ricotta and cheddar sauce envelop soft macaroni; the top has a layer of light and crispy panko. You can add roasted eggplant, leek, and peas ($2 each), well worth it. We both love the side of sweet potato mash ($3), which is thick and pleasantly mushy, with a hint of cinnamon.

Sandwiches, burgers, soups and salads are offered at lunch and dinner. The grilled cheese ($6.95, on rye, sourdough, or wheat) with Vermont cheddar and slices of tomato goes perfectly with its longtime mate, tomato soup ($2.95 and $4.50), each spoonful sweet, vinegary, peppery, and creamy. French fries ($3) are a disappointment. They look beautiful with a sprinkle of parsley and a dollop of homemade ketchup but are consistently not crisp.

Of the four burger selections, each named after a square in Cambridge, the Kendall Square ($9.50) is the best. Roasted red pepper puree, roasted garlic mayo, a choice of chipotle black bean patty or mushroom chickpea patty, and two enormous beer-battered onion rings more than an inch thick, make the burger an adventure to eat. The black bean patty doesn’t come close to tasting like ground beef, but it is satisfyingly savory and filling. You can also create your own burger from a selection of 24 toppings ($9.25 for three, 50 cents for each additional), including corn apple salsa, Brussels sprouts, and seitan chorizo.

Like at any good diner, breakfast is served all day, and all the staples are there: eggs ($4.50 for one with toast and home fries, $5.95 for two), French toast ($6.25), pancakes ($6.75), omelets ($8.50-$9.25 with toast and home fries, or build your own starting at $8.50, same options as burger toppings), and even eggs Benedict ($8.25). Also offered are a few accommodations for vegans: tofu eggs (25 cents extra each), tofu omelet (50 cents extra), soy butter, and house-made vegan cheese.

Veggie Galaxy’s pastry chef, Lesli Turock, is neither vegetarian nor vegan, but likes the challenge of whipping up desserts that are. Dissatisfied with traditional vegan substitutes, she invented her own. Try her Boston cream pie ($5.25) which has a frosty, thick center.

Sitting in Veggie Galaxy feels like being in a healthier, greener Johnny Rockets - a long serving counter, red vinyl stools, and deep booths. “I love diners,’’ says Penn. “When I think of diners, I think of places where everybody can feel welcome and where everybody is welcome.’’

Jialu Chen can be reached at jialu.chen@gmail.com.

VEGGIE GALAXY 450 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-497-1513. All major cards. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Breakfast $4.50-$9.25. Lunch $5.75-$9.95. Dinner $8.95-$11.95. Dessert $2-$7.50.

Hours Daily 7 a.m.- 3 p.m., 5-10 p.m.

Liquor Wine and beer.

May we suggest Open-faced seitan sandwich, baked mac, sweet potato mash, grilled cheese sandwich, cream of tomato soup, Kendall Square burger, Boston cream pie.

Ratings

  • 4 Stars Extraordinary
  • 3 Stars Excellent
  • 2 Stars Good
  • 1 Star Fair
  • No Stars Poor