Howard County, Maryland’s Great Sage [classic article]

Howard County’s Great Sage has been a completely vegan restaurant for a year now, having previously been vegetarian/vegan. Vegan is not consuming any products of breathing creatures – including honey from bees. Interestingly, the chef at Great Sage is neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, but looks upon his work at the restaurant as an opportunity to be innovative and artistic in cooking.

Great Sage has a modern bistro atmosphere with a come-as-you-are vibe. Patrons span a broad range of ages. The menu has a mix of philosophies as to the vegan lifestyle. Some foods and beverages are completely raw, as many vegans follow a raw food diet to obtain as many plant nutrients as possible. Actor Woody Harrelson (and workout buddy to Mathew McConaughey) follows a raw food diet, as well as Lisa Bonet, Alicia Silverstone, supposedly Beyonce’ and Apple’s Steve Jobs do, too. Other Great Sage items are cooked into a variety of cuisines: Tex-Mex, comfort food, and Asian recipes all mingle happily on the menu. Another type of offering at Great Sage is food that replicates familiar meat or cheese recipes for those folks who are not vegans or for vegans who crave something “hearty”.

Great Sage’s menu changes seasonally and they serve brunch, lunch, dinner, Happy Hour fare, and have a kids’ menu. They’re part of what the owners call a “Conscious Corner”: the strip mall in which the restaurant resides also is home to an ethically driven grocery store, “Roots”; a pet supply store, “Bark!”; and “Nest”, an Earth-friendly clothing/gift-shop.

Great Sage has a full liquor license and serves upscale sustainable/organic wines, beers, and cocktails. This is one of the factors that takes what might have been an earthy-crunchy concept straight from the 70’s and makes the restaurant feel modern and chic. It also belies any thought that veganism means deprivation. They have local bands and wine specials on Thursday evenings. Valentine’s Day is open by reservation only, with a special prix fixe menu.

Since the offerings are seasonal and vegetable based, everything has a homemade freshness to it. Without animal fats, intrinsic flavors of the vegetables and fruits stand out. The LIVE Cucumber Mint Coolada seems like a bold, veggie, non-alcoholic version of a Mojito. You really taste things in a vegan format. The General Tso’s Tofu is spicy, with great, crispy textures in the vegetables. The tofu pieces do remind one of white meat chicken. Porcini and Black Truffle Rigatoni has the luxury of artichokes and truffle oil, along with a high-end faux Parmesan. The entrees certainly refute any thought that perhaps a vegan meal wouldn’t be filling. The hearty winter menu that’s just been introduced is warming and nourishing.

The desserts have nut-free and soy-free options, so that everyone – regardless of allergies, etc. – can end on a sweet note.

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