Home to no fewer than five colleges and universities, Lynchburg, Va., is definitely a “college town.” The students and faculty within this educational community form a driving force behind the numerous local food establishments that serve vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or otherwise non-allergenic foods.
“Gluten-free travelers have options here,” said Krista Boothby, of Lynchburg’s Tourism Office. “Vegetarian? Vegan? The restaurants are very accommodating.”
In Lynchburg, foodies of all diets and disciplines can enjoy a gastronomic spectrum that encompasses traditional Southern cooking, an authentic German bakery, handcrafted chocolates, wood-fired pizza, a genuine English tea room, tequila and bourbon bars, cafés featuring Asian and Middle Eastern influences, contemporary cuisine, and even an “old school” burger joint. Lynchburg also boasts a fleet of food trucks with offerings ranging from eclectic tacos and gourmet grilled sandwiches to homemade cider donuts and healthy Asian fusion.
“The younger generation has a lot of interests,” said Matt Kaplan, co-owner of Urbavore, a counter-service restaurant specializing in all plant-based foods, even using cheese made from potato starch and coconut oil on their vegan burger of the week. Urbavore’s menu is small, but eclectic, offering a half-dozen burgers and sandwiches and an assortment of sides, breakfast items, and desserts.
Urbavore’s staff makes everything from scratch. The restaurant’s crab dishes use jackfruit, and burgers are created from locally made tofu. “We make foods that people are used to,” said Kaplan, “but we make them all out of plants. People can still eat their favorites.”
Food allergies can limit the opportunities for people to dine out, but at T&E Catering, allergy sufferers can find a wealth of allergen-free dishes, thoughtfully prepared by chef Tim Johnson and his wife.
The restaurant’s modest exterior and simple interior belie the quality ingredients and careful preparation of all of Johnson’s dishes. His interest in gluten-free, non-allergenic foods began as an effort to help an ailing son gain weight.
Johnson’s wife, a trained pastry chef, tried the diet and the whole family switched.
“There were no places in town where we could eat gluten-free, so I began cooking that way at home,” he said.
T&E focuses on 100 percent gluten-free, made-from-scratch dishes. The restaurant also answers special requests from people with various food allergies.
The staff uses separate pans and utensils to avoid any cross-contamination, and the large lunch crowd and numerous regular customers gives evidence of how well Lynchburg has accepted Johnson’s cuisine. “They know that our foods are safe for them to eat.”
At Crisp, in the city’s revitalized downtown, the focus is on freshly made salads and juices. The menu lists more than a dozen combinations — some vegetarian and some with meat, chicken, or shrimp — that can be prepared as salads or wraps. Juices range from simple orange juice to the more extreme Kale Yeah!, a blend of kale, cucumber, orange, apple, and lemon. The assembly-line service is fast and efficient, making Crisp ideal for a quick but healthy lunch or a midday smoothie.
The most unrelenting diet does not eschew an occasional dessert. Altus Chocolate, another downtown gem, serves its own craft-made chocolates in diverse and wonderful forms, many offered with dairy-free or gluten-free options. From bars of single-source, stone-ground chocolate to drinking chocolates to a cacao-inspired tapas menu, Altus is an exploration of chocolate’s many uses and flavors. By controlling the chocolate-making process from bean to bar, Altus can ensure consistent quality.
The words vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and non-allergenic frequently appear on menus in Lynchburg. Even Isabella’s, a classic Italian trattoria, prepares gluten-free, corn-based pasta. The chicken and homemade sausage with orecchiette has a mild but full-flavored cream sauce and perfectly textured pasta.
This month’s recipe is a courtesy of Lynchburg’s Old City Cemetery. One of the nation’s oldest in continuous use, it is both serene and unusual and is a must-visit spot.
CEMETERY GINGER COOKIES
Makes: 4 to 6 dozen cookies
3/4 cups butter
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons molasses
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 325 F.
Cream butter and sugar, beat in molasses and egg, and mix in dry ingredients. Chill dough for several hours to make it easier to handle.
Roll dough into marble-sized balls. Roll balls in granulated sugar and place on a greased baking sheet. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
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