I stared at the healthy bowl of minestrone, laden with kidney beans, green beans, navy beans and carrots.
And then I took a bite of my chocolate chip cookie.
Yes, I ignored common sense, choosing to eat my dessert first at Pembroke Bakery and Café. I was procrastinating eating the healthy lunch I'd ordered, giving in to the temptation of the cookie. I'll talk more about that cookie later.
Lunch on that day was a sandwich on sourdough bread and a bowl of minestrone soup at Pembroke, a mostly vegan and gluten-free eatery in the Auer Center for Arts and Culture, 300 E. Main St. Angie Quinn opened the eatery in fall 2011. I've been hesitant to review it because I'm not vegan, nor am I on a gluten-free diet, and I worried I wouldn't do it justice.
I should emphasize the deli isn't totally vegan. Meats and cheeses are available for sandwiches. Also, not all of the bakery items are gluten-free, but according to the deli's Facebook page, all the baked goods are vegan. The menu includes homemade soups, salads, vegan rice and beans, sandwiches and desserts. The bakery sells breads, bagels, pastries and cookies. Many of the bakery goods are gluten-free.
Once I finished the cookie it was, of course, hard to start on the soup. There's a reason we eat dessert last. Nevertheless, the soup, which was loaded with beans and organic veggies in a light tomato broth, was tasty and filling.
The sandwich was my own creation — at Pembroke you have your choice of meats, cheeses and toppings. I chose one piece of ham, two pieces of cheddar cheese, pickles, tomato and mayo on sourdough bread. I liked being able to customize my sandwich; my only complaint was that the homemade sourdough bread was a little dry.
Not surprisingly, my favorite part of my first visit was the chocolate chip cookie, which was not gluten-free, but was dairy- and egg-free. It was rich, chewy and contained quite a few melted, gooey chocolate chips. Before I left, I asked Quinn about the cookie, and she said she uses ground flaxseed instead of egg. The Ghirardelli chocolate chips were dairy-free.
I brought along a friend on my second visit. This time I opted for the Japanese-style Bean Curry rice bowl, which was made with chickpeas, kidney beans, white beans, potatoes and carrots in a very mild curry sauce. It was flavorful but not at all spicy.
My friend ordered a salad and a small bowl of the Golden Summer vegetable soup, which contained a lot of green beans, celery, carrots and corn. It was too spicy for her.
“I wouldn't have been able to tolerate a bigger bowl of it,” she said.
I went back in and asked for a sample — the employees will offer a sample if you're not sure what you want to order — and it didn't taste all that spicy to me. I asked what was in it, and was told it was seasoned with basil, thyme and chili powder. It must have been the chili powder that made it too spicy for my friend.
Her salad, like my sandwich, was her own creation. I kidded her for selecting Kalamata olives and Clementine sections for her salad toppings (yuck!). She didn't realize how pungent the olives were, so she ended up picking them off the salad and eating them separately. She said there was a little bit too much raspberry vinaigrette dressing on the salad, and would order it on the side next time.
She also had a scoop of chickpea salad put on her salad, and raved about that, so I decided to go back to the counter and request a sample of that.
Surprisingly, I liked it as much as she did. It's made with mashed chickpeas and Vegenaise, an egg-free spread similar to mayonnaise. Dill pickles, onion and celery enhanced the taste and texture.
Imagine that — I just admitted I liked something made with chickpeas and faux mayonnaise.
For our desserts, we splurged on two cookies and a cinnamon roll. I tried the gluten-free chocolate chip cookie, which wasn't nearly as good as the one I'd had a couple of days before. The gluten-free cookie was very crumbly — my friend said it would never survive being dunked in a glass of milk.
I didn't particularly like the texture, but I'm glad the option of gluten-free cookies, breads and sweets are available to those who are on gluten-free diets.
My friend enjoyed the dense oatmeal-cherry cookie she selected.
We split a big cinnamon roll, and both had mixed feelings about it. I found it to be a little heavy; she thought it was a bit dry. I can attest that the closer I got to the center, where there was more of the sticky cinnamon-sugar mixture, the better it was.
Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the food and am glad Fort Wayne has a downtown eatery with good food for people with special dietary needs. The employees were knowledgeable and helpful, and the environment is pleasant. There are a couple of tables inside the deli, but both times I ate in the lobby of the Auer building, where I could look up and watch ballerinas practicing at the Fort Wayne Ballet, look across the street at the Arts United Center, or look into the Artlink gallery. There is free off-street parking to the east of it.
Quinn was head of the local historic preservation group ARCH before she opened up Pembroke Bakery and Café. Fort Wayne is all the better for it.
Every other Tuesday, Larson describes a one-time dining experience at an area restaurant. The News-Sentinel pays for meals. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel. You can reach her at 461-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read other columns, go to www.news-sentinel.com /section/LARSON.