Veggie Girl: Eatzi's

A hat tip to the writers of Dude Food, who this February ensured that good ol' meat-eatin' men could dine successfully at Eatzi's. So, it turns out, can veggie-eating types.

Eatzi's is one of those Oak Lawn institutions whose charming perks have given it staying power. It could be the outdoor patio with piped-in opera music, the surprisingly broad wine and bread selections, or simply the fact that it's one of few places where you feel European enough to kick back and have a glass of wine or two during lunch. Whatever the reason, Eatzi's is a classic.

But be strong, my veggie-loving friends, for Eatzi's is no place for the weak. For one thing, there are piles of free samples lying around, just begging you to take a bite. But most of them, aside from their accompanying slices of French bread, are creamy dips or cubes of fancy cheese. Even the marinara sauce has cheese in it. If you should prove immune to temptation, beware the squeamish-vegetarian fright factor: Everywhere there are displays of lamb shanks and endless varieties of charcuterie, large chunks of sushi-grade ahi tuna and all kinds of shellfish.

If meat makes you gag, don't go in; take a walk down the street and hit up Cosmic Café instead .

If the sights and smells don't bother you, Eatzi's has plenty of good vegetarian options, and enough to give vegans some choices, too. Beyond the usual fresh fruits, granola, mixed nuts and make-your-own salads, there's a wide selection of bread, including some of my favorite pita that is thick, soft, and spiced with herbs and olives. The main counter offers roasted vegetables, a tofu- and veggie-stuffed Thai basil spring roll and a few dairy-free salads (tabbouleh, cucumber-olive-chickpea, wild rice). At the back is a prepared-foods section with three kinds of hummus (Kalamata olive, roasted red pepper and pesto), edamame (disappointingly, no veggie sushi), and minestrone soup.

There's a black bean soup, too, but beware--they use ham.

Eatzi's is slammed at lunchtime, but if you come after 2 p.m., you can bet on an interesting conversation with the woman behind the sandwich bar. Case in point:

Me: "Do you have hummus?"
She: "Hummus? No."
Me: "Umm...Okay. I'll just have multi-grain bread with avocado..."
She: "Hummus? We have hummus. You want hummus?"
Me: (confused) "Um...No. No thanks."
She: "You don't want it?"
Me: "No. Just--all the vegetables."
She: "All?"
Me: "Yes, please."
She: "Which ones?"

That odd exchange safely behind us, I was pleasantly astounded at the variety of sandwich veggies. They did have hummus, but my sandwich was more than complete--and completely, unmanageably huge--with just the veggies: roasted carrots, pickles, roasted squash, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, onions, grainy mustard, black olives and avocado. My sandwich was only $3.99 (plus $0.99 extra for the avocado), which is probably the best deal available at Eatzi's, where your general feeling of belonging increases in direct proportion to the number of designer bags, shoes and clothing items on your person.

The prepared foods can get very pricey very fast--cucumber salad costs $9.99 a pound, and cucumbers weigh a lot--and the salads aren't cheap, either. But skipping the sandwich line for an under-$10 picnic lunch of pitas, hummus and a glass of chilled Chardonnay ($4.99) will have you skipping out the door to the tune of a Carmen aria.

3500 Oak Lawn Ave., Suite 215

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