By Joyce Ann Lee
Strolling down Middle Neck Road, you are greeted by numerous restaurants, cafes, and dessert bars. While there are unique establishments specializing in cuisines such as Chinese and Peruvian, up until late January, Great Neck was missing one thing: a vegan restaurant. Veganism, a lifestyle where people abstain from consuming animal products, has become extremely popular over the past few years. On January 8, Great Neck’s first vegan restaurant, Zen Garden, opened its doors.
On the corner of Great Neck Road and Middle Neck Road, Zen Garden is in a prime location. Displaying a large sign reading “vegan, vegetarian, dairy free, and gluten free,” Zen Garden intrigues customers with its unique cooking philosophy. As you walk in, you are greeted with colorful balloons, vibrant plants, and friendly service. You are seated at a table by friendly waiters and waitresses and handed a large menu. The restaurant consists of blue quilted velvet booths, elegant marble tables, and velvet plush chairs. The spacious interior seats plenty of people and is perfect for large parties. With a simple and elegant aesthetic, Zen Garden is perfect for casual lunches or fancy dinners.
The efficient staff members are extremely friendly; they are eager to answer your questions or give you their personal recommendations. To somebody who isn’t vegan or vegetarian, some of their menu options may be intimidating. At first glance, “soy protein drumsticks” may sound frightening, but your server will gladly explain to you what goes into each dish. Soy protein, a prominent part of many dishes on their menu, is a protein isolated from soybean. It is used by many vegetarian restaurants as a meat substitute.
The restaurant advertises itself as a “vegan restaurant and tea house.” Their menu consists of several different types of cuisine, including Chinese, American, and Japanese dishes. One can choose from a variety of salads, soups, sandwiches, noodles, sushi rolls, and traditional Chinese dishes. Whether or not you’re vegan, the menu has something for everybody. Their brunch and lunch menus consist of numerous non-vegan options such as omelettes and egg sandwiches. The tea menu offers a large variety of choices including classic flavors and unique fruit blends. Appetizers range from five to ten dollars, and entrees range from thirteen to eighteen dollars. The prices are reasonable considering the great quality of food and the generous portion sizes.
Zen Garden truly surpassed all of my expectations. Because Zen Garden is the first vegan restaurant in Great Neck, I was hesitant about the quality and taste of the food. I ordered the “Zen Garden roll,” consisting of sweet yam, avocado, tofu skin, and sesame seeds. It was unlike any sushi roll I’ve had before. The sweet yam and tofu skin gave the roll a creamy consistency. I also tried the steamed vegetable dumplings and tofu kebabs. The ingredients were extremely fresh and the flavors were great. My non-vegan friend ordered the “guacamole soy protein burger” and said it tasted like a regular beef burger. We all thoroughly enjoyed our meals, and we can’t wait to try more dishes. Overall, my experience at Zen Garden was incredible. The ambiance was great, and you definitely don’t have to be vegan to enjoy their unique dishes.