As the name implies, Ethos Vegan Kitchen is a 100% vegan restaurant. It is located in Winter Park which is just north of Orlando. Unlike Vegan2Go, it is a sit-down, full service kind of restaurant. Dan and I decided to try Ethos – and bring both of our families with us, none of whom are vegans. We hoped they would like the food and show them vegan does not equal boring and tasteless. Plus, we got to try more of the menu items that way :)
Ethos Vegan Kitchen is owned by husband and wife Kelly and Laina Shockley and has been open since December 2007. Laina relates that a major impetus in opening the restaurant came during their honeymoon in Europe. They found way more vegan options for dining out than they expected and decided that Orlando really needed more vegan choices. Kelly is both the chef and general manager and Laina is the head baker and handles the finances. In addition to offering tasty vegan food, they strive to be socially and environmentally responsible.
Ethos is a medium-sized restaurant with a relatively large bar area. There is a lot of open space and it looks like more tables could be added to the restaurant if need be. There are not a lot of large tables – we had a bit of a wait – so while they don’t take reservations I would call ahead for larger groups. Both at the bar while waiting and once we were seated at our table, we had great service.
While we waited we sat at the bar and sampled three of the appetizers: the Garlic Knots, Sausage Roll and the Boxty. The Garlic Knots were amazing: light, hot and fluffy and I swear there was cheese and butter on them (the “butter” is Earth Balance, a vegan butter substitute). The Sausage Roll had a flavorful meaty texture and a nice dipping sauce. The Boxty was my personal least favorite. It was rather bland and sticky, but that may appeal to someone who is not as into spices.
The menu truly is 100% vegan. They reference non-vegan items like “Parmesan cheese”, “mozzarella” and “sausage” but that is just to describe the taste. I had to explain this a few times to my non-vegan family members. Laina was nice enough to answer some questions about the menu’s entrées in advance:
1) What are the most popular dishes on the menu?
- In addition to the items marked as favorites on our menu, the Pizza, Samson Burger and Sheep’s Pie are also consistently among our top sellers. Right now a new item, the Chickun Bruschetta Sandwich, is very popular. On the Brunch menu our pancakes and Breakfast Burrito are always top sellers.
2) What are your top recommendations for a non-vegan to order?
- For a hesitant non-vegan, we usually recommend the Sheep’s Pie with Seitan or the Philly. Both dishes are hearty and flavorful enough for a meat-eater, but also familiar enough to try. Seitan has a firm texture and is generally more appealing to non-vegans than tofu. For the enthusiastic non-vegan we can be a little more adventurous. We like to recommend the Coconut Curry Wrap for something light or the Pecan Encrusted Eggplant for a twist on the traditional dinner plate.
3) What is your favorite item on the menu?
- My personal favorites are the Fiesta Salad and the Laina’s Special Pasta with Seitan. (Hey, it’s named after me for a reason!) I also tend to go on a Chickpea Salad kick every couple of months. My husband Kelly’s favorites are Pizza, Mac n Cheese n Peas with Tofu, and Boxty.
- One item that Kelly makes is a vegan version of Irish Stew. We only run it twice a year, on St. Patrick’s Day and again when we celebrate St. Paddy’s in September.
When it came time to order our entrées, it was decision paralysis time! I was so happy to have a big group so I could try so many different foods. The menu items we sampled included the:
- Pecan Encrusted Eggplant, served with mashed potatoes and gravy. It really tasted like I was eating real mashed potatoes and gravy and with the eggplant it felt like Thanksgiving.
- All-American Burger (a special that day). I didn’t try this one but my dad ate the whole thing and enjoyed it.
- Mac ‘n Cheese ‘n Peas with Chickun. Vegan Mac & Cheese, who’d have thought? The cheese flavor was light and smooth.
- Bay Cakes, Ethos’ rendition of crab cakes made with chickpeas, chopped celery and fresh herbs. It was served with a spicy remoulade (apparently I need to check out vegan mayonnaise for making dips as this is also a key ingredient in the dip for the sausage roll). This might have been my favorite dish. I LOVE crab cakes and these were a close enough substitute to fulfill any cravings. Too bad my mom ordered it and not me!
- Crispy Chickun Salad. My mother-in-law said: “You can’t even tell it’s not real chicken”.
- Pizza. You choose your own toppings and sauce. The mozzarella “cheese” is Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet. The pizza was well-received and the crust in particular got some thumbs up.
- Sheep’s Pie. This was ordered without any seitan or chickun and I think it was needed. There weren’t that many vegetables and the addition of “meat” would better break up the gravy and potato filling.
After all that, we were stuffed. But… no way we could leave without trying dessert! I’m amazed at how much the tofu vanilla “ice cream” in the Ethos Sundae tasted just like real vanilla ice cream. The Chocolate Amaretto Mousse definitely had a strong amaretto flavor. And to top it off we ordered two cookies, a Snickerdoodle and a Cowboy. While the Snickerdoodle was great, my favorite dessert was the Cowboy cookie. They have pecans, coconut, oats and chocolate chips and just melt into amazingness in your mouth. As full as we all were, none of these desserts made it home as leftovers.
I whole-heartedly recommend Ethos to both vegans and non-vegans alike. Everyone in our group found multiple items on the menu they enjoyed. I would caution that vegan does not equal healthy, so you might not want to get too many of the cookies :) Vegan also definitely does not equal boring!
Ratings from a plant-based eating perspective (1-5 scale, 1=Terrible 5=Excellent)
Ambiance: 4 Service: 5 Choices: 5 Taste: 5 Overall: 5