Free food is never a bad thing (even though Trey Popp might lay a guilt trip on you) provided that whatever the freebie happens to be won’t poison you*. Bottom line, there’s risk involved, and today’s (actually two weeks ago's) risk was the Basic 4 Vegetarian Café in Reading Terminal Market, already behind the Fidel eight-ball by being vegetarian. I get it, eating healthy is right and good, and reducing your meat intake can shave years off your life. But try as I might, opulence and gluttony suit me a lot better than being able to look down at a gnarly pair of 98-year old feet in Birkenstocks.
Somehow and somewhere the PR heads at Basic 4 stumbled upon my contact info, and I was given the opportunity to eat their “Press Sampler,” a Styrofoam clamshell of their greatest hits: carrot “tuna”, “chicken” salad, pickled vegetables, and a veggie burger. I even got a drink, a rather refreshing lemonade that was thankfully made of lemons and sugar (at least that’s what it tasted like). Here’s a quick review of the herbivore eats:
Carrot “tuna” –I couldn’t wrap my head around why anyone would want to eat shredded carrots that tasted like chicken of the sea, but I was pleasantly surprised that the dominant flavors were mostly Asian and not canned fish.
“Chicken” salad – Mayonnaise makes anything—even smoked soy protein—taste better. Add a crunchy element with diced celery and you’ve got me fooled.
Pickled vegetables – Again with the Asian flavors. Not revelatory, but not soggy either.
Veggie burger – There was no attempt to imitate beef flavor. Instead, they made a patty that tasted like Stove Top stuffing. A bit mushy, but by no means bland. Hands down the best of the bunch.
One thing you have to get past is the service. The two old ladies behind the counter were working their asses off, but it was very slow going. My lunch buddy had already eaten and taken a lap around RTM before I even got to order. Clearly, Basic 4 should put less focus on press and more on hired help. After I ordered (at 12:30pm, aka “the eye of the RTM shit storm), there was a line that must have been 12 deep (I imagine that the last of them got back to work at 4pm). Another thing you have to get past is the crazy voodoo lady loitering by the cash register. I don’t know what’s worse, crazy people screaming expletives in your face, or crazy people who are dead silent that just stare blankly (like this voodoo lady). Buen provecho.
*If the sign says “Free Poison Donuts,” you should assume that they’ll kill you, although they might just be named after the band, which would be kind of sweet.