Restaurant Review: Sage Vegetarian Cafe, Chapel Hill, NC

February 24, 2009 By: Megabeth Category: Restaurant Review, Travel Print This Post Print This Post

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Unless you are looking for it, the Sage Vegetarian Cafe just blends into a Chapel Hill strip mall. But, you’ll be glad you’ve sought it out. It’s a cozy little place that seats about 30 and a little more on the warm days when their outside tables are set-up.

We were met with the warm smells of garlic and bread as soon as we walked in. On this Saturday night, we were lucky to grab a table, albeit by the door. (On this particularly frigid day, that was sort of a bad idea because the cold air came rushing in when people came in.)

Sage Vegetarian - Chapel Hill, NC

Our server was friendly and knowledgeable and quite attentive. We did not seem to have to wait long for our appetizer even though every table was filled in the place. In fact, the atmosphere was quite calming but not overly quiet. The attention to detail on every single item was impressive. Even the iced tea was out of the ordinary –  Persian iced tea infused with jasmine/cardamom.

Both vegan and vegetarian dishes are available. Vegetarian dishes that can be turned vegan upon request are clearly marked on the menu.

We started with a mezze platter which included hummus, baba ghanouj and some stuffed grape leaves. It was served with wheat pita wedges and a great cucumber salad. (Side note: we dined with a carnivore that was not happy we “dragged” him to a vegetarian cafe. He declared, after eating the appetizer, that he would order it as his main dish next time. He realized that he didn’t miss meat.)

Sage Vegetarian - Chapel Hill, NC

Let me pause a second and describe the wonderful cucumber salad or shirazi. The flavors were so complex in this cucumber salad but the server let us know that it is basically cucumber, tomato, red onions, olive oil, lemon juice and mint.  A little dish of it was also served with our main dishes. These basic fresh ingredients created a small taste that nearly shadowed everything else we ordered.

The Caribe entree was a perfect mid-winter meal. It is described as, “black beans topped with a slice of avocado, served with rice, grilled spicy tofu and plantains.” It’s served with the beans in a separate bowl. The tofu and plantains sat atop of large plate of perfectly cooked rice. This arrangement made it easy to choose how you wanted to eat the dish – together or separately. I only wish the bowl of beans was slightly larger.

img_Sage Vegetarian - Chapel Hill, NC

Sage Vegetarian - Chapel Hill, NC

We also ordered the Bud-Mo-Joon which is described as an “eggplant paradise with tomato, split peas, turmeric, sauteed onion,  a hint of cinnamon and spices, served with basmati-saffron rice and a side of shirazi.” It had a sweeter taste than the black beans but it was warm and comforting. It was, indeed, paradise. The bowl of bud-mo-joon was larger than the beans, so we had plenty of leftovers.

Sage Vegetarian - Chapel Hill, NC

Even the garden salad was worthy of writing about. The organic greens, carrots, cucumbers and various other vegetables were complimented perfectly by the homemade creamy dill dressing.

Sage Vegetarian - Chapel Hill, NC

Other dishes of interest (which will be ordered next time I go to Sage Vegetarian) are the Fesen-Joon  which is described as a Persian dish that is of “sweet and sour flavor of pomegranate juice, agave nectar, ground walnuts and herbs blended with grilled tempeh, served with basmati-saffron rice”. The soy chicken cutlets also caught my eye as they are served in a mild coconut curry and mushroom sauce. A pasta primavera, vegetarian lasagna, gnocchi arabiatta and vegetable kabob are also available.

Desserts included tiramisu, dark chocolate walnut cake, vegan “chocolate” cake, chocolate brownie deluze, baklava, and cannoli.

Sage Vegetarian also serves lunch with a menu that features grilled cheese, caprese eggcellent wrap, vegan wrap (tofu, collards, portabella mushrooms), portofino (grilled portabella mushrooms, artichoke, local goat cheese pesto, etc. in a wrap), feta-spinach wrap (grilled tempeh, feta cheese, spinach, onion, tomato, portabella mushrooms with herb-vinaigrette dressing).

We all walked away from Sage Vegetarian Cafe with full stomachs and satisfied appetites – even our reluctant carnivore had to admit it was a great place to eat. Sage Cafe is worth a trip if you are in the Triangle region of North Carolina.

Sage Vegetarian Cafe
Timberlyne Shopping Center
1129 Weaver Dairy Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

(Unfortunately, the closest I could find to a web page for Sage Vegetarian Cafe was the restaurant’s MySpace page.)

7 Comments to “Restaurant Review: Sage Vegetarian Cafe, Chapel Hill, NC”

  1. So, this was not a Persian restaurant, but one that had adapted the typically non vegetarian Persian dishes to be vegetarian? (Which is, admittedly, very easy to do–let me know if you are ever interested in a good, authentic Persian cookbook, which you can then adapt yourself.)

    I think the eggplant dish you are referring to is maybe [khoreshteh] ‘bademjan’ which is Persian for eggplant–it is pronounced ‘bademjoon’ conversationally. (‘Jan’ is usually turned into ‘joon’ in conversation. Also, side bar about fesenjoon: you really want to try that with pomegranate sauce or “robh”, which is much thicker and better than just the juice.)

    I am thrilled to hear someone else experiencing the Shirazi salad! My dad is from Shiraz, so of course I know it well. I have to admit, there is something abotu the way he makes it (same ingredients as you noted) that somehow we can never get quite as right as he does, though.

    Oh, and no Persian would drink tea cold… it’s sacrilege, or so we’re told. :)

  2. Lovely review. All the dishes served sound amazing.

  3. I am definitely interested in seeing that cookbook. Thanks! And, thanks for the background on the bedemajan and robh. I’ll have to check that out.

    It’s funny because when we asked the server what was in the Shirazi salad I knew right away that I wouldn’t be able to mimic it. The ingredients are simple but the ratios of how much to put into it, I’m sure, is an art form. (The red onion was particularly “spicy”, too.)

    But, you see drinking hot tea in NC is probably a sacrilege. The fact that I usually order tea unsweetened down there is frowned upon…I can’t win. ;)

  4. So, here is a breakdown of Persian cookbooks, available in English. :) Of course, the review is subjective, but it’s based on well my husband was able to mimic authentic Persian cooking to pass muster with my parents and, more importantly, me (heh).

    As an aside you will see that I do not mention Najmieh Batmanghelij, who is probably the most well-known Persian cookbook author post revolution (before, it was Rosa Montazemi–her book was sort of what Joy of Coooking is, over here). I like Batmanghelij’s recipes just fine, but they are a little too Rachel Ray for my palate (i.e. common denominator pleasing at the risk of losing some of the really more interesting flavor). I do believe her newer books do a nice job of pointing out how to go vegetarian with most of the recipes, but I think that is pretty easy to work out, anyway.

    Also, if you do seriously get into trying out Persian dishes, there are a few things you might want to make sure your kitchen has which may not be easily found–but that’s only if you’re going hardcore. Otherwise, if you have plenty of turmeric, a bit of saffron, a bit of cardamom, and really good white rice (basmati, long grained, and not jasmine or anything infused), you’re good to go.

    Oh, and if you do like using meat substitutes, I would recommend doing so for some of the khoreshts, especially those that have a tomato/tomato puree base. It can soak up the flavor pretty well. The mostly green vegetable/herbs based khoreshts–it’s a bit of hit and miss and that is where the specific Persian kitchen condiments, etc. (“ghooreh” or sour grape juice, or “limoo khoshk” aka dried lemon/lime peels, come would probably make the difference).

    Finally (no, really!), if you like, I can scan a couple of the recipes (khoresht bademjoon, khoresht karafs (aka the celery khoresht) or the celery khoresht, from each book, e-mail them to you, and you can see which one you like better, before trying to find a copy of these. (If there is any other dish you’ve tried or heard of, let me know, and I can scan those, too)

    Okay, on to the books:

    The Art of Persian Cooking: Forough Hekmat (this is from the Hippocrene cookbook library series): This is my husband’s go to cookbook, when he wants to try something for the first time,or is looking to maybe adapt the recipe. His version of the khoreshteh bademjoon (done in a slow-cooker) comes from this.

    Persian Cooking – Nesta Ramazani: Another very good all rounder, especially for the beginner. I think because it is a little more bulky than the previous one and harder to keep open, L. went for the Hippocrene series one, first.

    In a Persian Kitchen – Maideh Mazda: This is the cookbook that is most like how my family makes the dishes, especially how my grandmother used to make it. L. uses it when he is trying to be as authentic as possible, and he also used the celery recipe from this one, versus the others.

    All of these have lots of interesting facts, not just about the recipes or Persian cuisine, but the cultural aspects of entertaining via a meal etc. from back home as well.

    Okay, this was very long, I know. Hopefully you didn’t fall asleep reading it.

  5. Oh, there are obviously a lot more Persian cookbooks than what I mentioned (and we have them all. Every single one). What I meant to say was that this was a breakdown of the top three. Sometimes, my brain runs ahead a lot faster than my fingers. :)

  6. Megabeth says:

    You are awesome! Thanks for the info. When I’m back from vacation, I’ll start figuring out which Persian dishes I want to try…and you know you’ll be the first to know! I think this is the perfect Spring project for me!

  7. Brilliant post thanks, all the best. I really like reading this blog, it has a good position on my favourites bar! Restaurant in Ilfracombe


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