Earlier in the year I addressed the likely rumor that Louisville would be getting some sort of new vegetarian restaurant that would be making its own tofu. Well, this is full on reality, folks, and it’s opening tomorrow! With a soft opening this weekend, Roots and Heart & Soy are poised to be Louisville’s newest and greenest all-vegetarian eateries. I was lucky enough to speak with owner Huong “Coco” Tranh and manager Chris Sims as they took the final steps to open the doors to the public.
Roots takes its name from a literal interpretation: “Everyone has to go back to their roots,” says Coco. “And vegetables, plants…they grow from roots.” To her, it means that even the meat-like products they serve come from roots. This is plant-based to core! Coco was so excited to tell me about the different types of tofu and soy dishes, as well as salads and appetizers, that the more-upscale restaurant Roots will be serving: Clay pot tofu, crispy avocado and tomato rolls, fried oyster mushrooms, papaya/tofu/apple salad with peanut dressing, fresh udon noodles with soy protein and a chili broth…the list goes on and on. The menu is large and varied, with reasonable prices (nothing above the single digits) and a gourmet flair.
The restaurant has only one freezer, and it’s tiny by most standards. “We have no need for a large freezer…no meat!” Coco boasts. The walk-in fridge, however, is massive, and my eyes lit up when I saw giant chunks of tofu floating in black bins. Yes, the tofu is real, and made in-house. Real, local tofu. I can’t understate how awesome this is. The soy beans, which are non-GMO, come from Lima, OH, and go through an elaborate yet simple process that involves a coagulate and water. The result is what I would call “farm fresh tofu” that will be available for sale in the (meatless) deli area of Heart & Soy. Not only tofu, but soy milk and soy pudding will be available and served in the restaurants as well. This tofu production is the first of its kind in Kentucky; sure, there might be some die-hards making it by hand in their kitchen, but given that the equipment had to be imported from Asia, what Coco is doing is truly unique. Why don’t they use soybeans from Kentucky? Because all of our soy is animal-feed grade, fattening up cows for factory farms and other nefarious uses. Sigh.
Heart & Soy, which exists right next to Roots, is a faster, more street food-esque establishment that Coco hopes will inspire people to be more compassionate. “It is ‘soy’ because we use soy or tofu in almost all of our dishes, and ‘heart’ because it is good for your heart, and we make it with our heart.” She tells me that opening these new restaurants, when she already has Zen Garden and Zen Tea House (which is unfortunately on hiatus right now), is not about making money, but serving people healthy food, and making a difference. When a restaurant doesn’t serve meat, and uses minimal dairy (some cheese for toppings) – that makes a difference. When they use glass counter-tops that were pulled out of a scrap yard, and have recycle bins from inception – that makes a difference. And when the owner lets poke around the store and tells me with a smile on her face about her decision to go vegetarian and stick with it since 1998 – that makes a difference.
I’m really excited about these two new places, and while they aren’t 100% vegan, Coco’s heart (no pun intended) is in the right place. Roots and Heart & Soy will generate buzz for vegetarianism in Louisville, allow health-conscious locavores to buy local tofu and soy milk, and continue to show the country that we have people who “get it” in Louisville. This really is possibility city!
Heart & Soy (452-6678)
1216 Bardstown Rd
Louisville, KY 40204
Fri & Sat: 11am-11pm
(Hours updated 02.03.12)