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Dallas: Kalachandji's Still Attracts Rave Reviews

By: for The Dallas Observer (USA) on March 21, 2009
Being vegan is supposed to do lots of lovely spiritual and gastrointestinal things to you. You're supposed to feel lighter and healthier, for one. And your bowels work better (if "better" can be defined as "with alarming frequency"). A less-publicized side effect of veganism, however, is the constant urban foraging.

Since going vegan, I've been reduced to two options when it comes to eating out. The first involves asking way too many questions about ingredients ("You're sure this isn't made with eggs, cheese, butter or, say, a T-bone?") and then cobbling together side orders of French fries and no-cheese-no-dressing salads at restaurants where "vegan" is either a dirty word or a foreign one. The other option is simply to trick my friends into accompanying me to my favorite vegetarian haunts.

Unfortunately, trickery is not my strong suit, and even before I could get my avid meat-eater of a boyfriend safely into the car, he made the unfortunate discovery that "brunch" at the Spiral Diner in Oak Cliff really meant "vegan brunch."

He gave me a look. I tried to sell him on the all-you-can-eat pancakes.

"Vegan pancakes," he replied bitterly.

In the end, we went anyway, and in spite of a healthy stack of pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and scrambled tofu he admitted wasn't bad, we were hungry again by six. So hungry, in fact, that I was able to cajole him into our second veg-head restaurant of the day: Kalachandji's Restaurant and Palace, in East Dallas (5430 Gurley Ave. 214-821-1048).

It's already well-known (and highly regarded by many). Here Hare Krishna devotees worship in a temple full of gilded statues and cascading flowers. Aromas of incense and Indian food mingle in the air, and piles of shoes fill the hall outside the temple's main room while their owners play tambourines and chant. Sundays are special occasions at Kalachandji's--the "Love Feast Festival," in fact--and the temple was packed more full than I'd ever seen it.

But if your hunger exceeds your need for spiritual fulfillment, you can skip the temple and go straight to the cafeteria-style buffet line next to a tree-covered patio with fountains and hanging gardens. It's quiet, and the people-watching can be good. (A note, though: In accordance with Hare Krishna beliefs, Kalachandji's doesn't serve alcohol.)

Here's how it works: Grab a tray, fill it up. Simple--and there's always an extensive salad bar, several kinds of bread, soup (usually lentil or split pea), and a host of Indian specialties. Then find a cozy nook. Eat, listen to the burbling fountains and peaceful music, and discuss the meaning of life.

Or college basketball.

Everything's laid-back here, and it's so vegetarian-friendly that even the most food-scrutinizing, cheese-demonizing vegan can relax and dig into just about everything. Of the eleven entrée options--which on Sunday included vegetable curry, peas with paneer cheese, spinach enchiladas, refried beans, Spanish rice, and the ever-sublime vegetable pakora--nine were dairy-free, and a large menu nearby alerted vegans to those that weren't.

When you've finally stuffed yourself to the point of discomfort (which is not advisable, but I can't seem to go there without doing it), someone swathed in comfy-looking robes will offer you dessert. At our most recent love-feast, the options were mango sweet rice, date-walnut halvah and a vegan apple crumble that was good but unexceptional.

But vegans rejoice: We too can partake of Kalachandji's famous and unabashedly American cinnamon-raisin bread, which has more crystallized sugar in its swirls than a Texas steak does marbling.

Five plates and an appalling number of those irresistible fried pakora later, we were stuffed and happy, and my once-reluctant companion conceded that curry tastes just as good without meat. But possibly the best thing about Kalachandji's is the price: a "suggested donation" of $7.95 (lunch) or $10.95 (dinner) for all the food you can eat. Even if my spiritual reawakening doesn't come from eating vegetables to the beat of a tambourine in a temple, I can at least rest assured that I'm a cheap date.
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