Two vegan journeys converge at West Street Grill in Litchfield, CT

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by JL Fields on August 24, 2012

Thank you everyone for the interesting and thought-provoking comments to my post yesterday.  I still cannot believe that I accidentally consumed eggs and cheese!  I was pretty taken aback by some of the responses on my column but overall it seems that most people appreciated the intent behind it.

Yesterday I posted my latest piece on Elephant Journal:  The Vegan Kitchen: Cook beans in bulk to save time & money. I hope you will check it out (and if you like it or have something to add, please comment on EJ!)  I love spreading the home-cooked beans and bulk-cooking message!

Today I want to share a wonderful experience from last week.  Eight or nine years ago, after living in metro New York City for a few years, my husband and I adventured out on the Connecticut Wine Trail.  One of the stops on the trail was Hopkins Vineyard,

overlooking Lake Waramaug.

We fell in love. Hard.

Over the years we took friends and family on the wine trail, always starting at Hopkins, because it is so magical. We would visit with one another while sipping a glass of their hearty Cabernet Franc in The Hayloft Wine Bar, overlooking the lake.  The second time we visited we noticed an inn (not affiliated with the vineyard) next door and we promised ourselves to one day stay there.  We did so the following year and thus began a six-year tradition of visiting Lake Waramaug for a weekend or full-week, each year, alternating between the inn and a warm and cheerful B&B two doors down.

During these last six years I have been on a dietary and ethical journey, as most of you know.  I had gone vegetarian for ethical reasons years prior (still dabbled in fish – yep, I was that vegetarian) and by the time we became annual visitors to Lake Waramaug I was completely vegetarian – still consuming dairy and eggs.  Even as a vegetarian, not vegan, it was hard to find a good meal in the area.  About 12 miles away, in Litchfield, CT, we stumbled upon West Side Grill. There were no vegetarian options on the menu so I asked the server what they might do for me.  The owner of West Side Grill, James O’Shea, came over to the table and said they would be delighted to accommodate me. The chef prepared a big plate of veggies and sides – so delicious that we returned to West Side Grill annually. Each year we had a chance to visit with James, who would join us as at our table for a quick chat before we dined.

Last year, during a week-long vacation on Lake Waramaug, we returned. James was not there that night. But tofu was! Yep, West Street Grill had begun offering vegan – not just vegetarian, people, but vegan – options on the menu. Better yet? They offered a vegan, black bean brownie for dessert! I asked the server what the heck was going on! “The owner is vegan.” To which I asked, “Is there a new owner?”  (James, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t believe you went vegan!)  She explained that no, the owner had recently gone vegan.  Awesome!

Last week Dave and I were back on Lake Waramaug for a mini-getaway and, of course, we went to West Side Grill – this time, for lunch.   There were three vegan options on the lunch menu and James was in the house.  I had the black bean burger, in a wrap (the potato bun is not vegan)

photo credit: West Street Grill

and it was simply delightful.

James and I had a chance to chat and I learned a few things:

  • He has been vegan for a  year and  a half.
  • His non-vegan chef, Jimmy, convinced him to go vegan to better his health.
  • James has already rubbed elbows with Neil Barnard and Colleen Patrick Goudreau; James, the new vegan, is for real, y’all!

James and I had such a great conversation about the vegan journey. He brought his chef out, James (Jimmy) Cosgriff, who was super-busy in the kitchen but took time to talk to me about his approach to vegan cooking. James and Jimmy are experimenting with a tasty sesame sauce –  they let Dave and I sample – that is s going to be so good that I promised I would drive back up (90 minutes on way!) when it’s on the menu.

James and I, two strangers, have been on a vegan journey separately, and together.  James is eating vegan and offering vegan options on his menu.  Not just vegan options, folks, delicious, plant-based cuisine.  Kudos to Chef Jimmy for being open to creating inspiring dishes for all of his diners and to James for having the vision and desire to bring his vegan experience to the plates at West Side Grill.

West Street Grill on Urbanspoon

  • PSP

    So exiting about West Side Grill! Thanks for recommending it. CT sooo traditional; a vegan dish on a menu is a definite progress!

    • JL

      I am always so excited to see vegan dishes on the menu at a non-vegetarian restaurant. Such a thrill! I hope you have the chance to dine at West Street Grill – good stuff!

  • nikki

    i’ll be flying to connecticut soon to visit my in-laws for the first time. (dh and i have been together for 15 years, so this has been a long time coming!) anyway… i was so excited to read this as their hometown is only twenty minutes from litchfield. i just checked out their menus online, though, and don’t see a bean burger anywhere – lunch, dinner, OR bistro. have they just not updated their online menus yet?

    • JL

      Wow, Nikki! That’s a huge trip for huge! Yes, the menu is out of date – they have a new menus. Call to make your reservations, ask for James and let him know you are a vegan, read about him on JL goes Vegan and that you’re coming for the vegan food! 🙂

      • nikki

        Thanks! That’s good to know! I’ll definitely follow your suggestion. 🙂

  • Carmella

    Having used to work in CT, I always wanted to check out the wine trail, but never really made it up that far. My husband and I should make a trip from NYC! Now knowing there’s a restaurant with vegan options (other than omitting an ingredient from a menu item), we definitely have to check out the West Side Grill.

    • JL

      I highly recommend staying at the Sachem Farm House B&B (She makes a mean vegan package for breakfast, just ask when you make your reservation!), enjoying an afternoon glass of wine at Hopkins Vineyard and having lunch or dinner at West Street Grill in Litchfield – it’s a getaway that makes like you feel like you are far away but it’s oh-so-close to NYC!

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