A review of a tiny stand in the Indianapolis City Market?

You bet.

When Three Carrots opened recently in the Indianapolis City Market, it became – as far as I know — the city’s first non-ethnic vegetarian restaurant. And that’s significant.

And even though chef/owner Ian Phillips is operating out of a spot that’s smaller than most home kitchens, he’s turning out a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes for a variety of customers – not just vegetarians. And that means that even here in steak-and-potatoes Indianapolis, vegetarian food isn’t so unusual anymore.

In fact, Three Carrots won’t be Indy’s only vegetarian cafe for long. Ezra’s Enlightened Café will be opening soon at 6516 Ferguson St. with even more raw and vegan options. Other restaurants, like Duos, for example, have cajoled the local dining public into trying lunches that don’t necessarily feature meat in the middle of the plate (I’m thinking here of Duo’s popular Balance Bowls). And when even bars like the Sinking Ship offer vegetarian options – beyond the ubiquitous portobello burger — you know it’s just not that odd anymore to skip the meat-centric model and have something else for lunch.

So, yeah, a little stand in the City Market can definitely command some attention. Now, I know it’s a too soon to jump into a full-fledged review. After all, Three Carrots had barely been open a couple of weeks when I stopped in for lunch with a friend recently. But there’s enough going on to merit a look.

I certainly wasn’t the only one who thought so. According to Phillips, it was probably the busiest day he’d seen yet. So waits for orders were a bit on the long side – let’s say more than five minutes, and getting close to 10 – and with Phillips manning the sandwich press and one other person working the counter, “hectic” is the word that comes to mind.

But I was happy to notice repeat customers; in fact, I was behind a person in line who said “I’ll have the Three C BLT again.”

Good choice. In fact, the special of the day was my favorite of the three sandwiches I tried – although the seitan in the BLT isn’t anything at all like bacon. Seitan, sometimes called “wheat meat,” is made from wheat gluten and can take on a variety of favors. It has a nice chewiness and this version had a bit of bacon’s salty smokiness, but don’t expect to be fooled. Still, it’s a good sandwich, although the bread didn’t hold up as well as I would have liked.

The banh mi sandwich, also $7.50, worked out better as far as sturdiness. Also made with seitan, it included the pickled vegetables and jalapeno of a traditional banh mi, although the two of us who tried it wanted bigger flavors, especially from the vegetables. Saltier, maybe or sweeter or more sour. It’s a banh mi that plays it safe.

I also wanted to try one of the tofu sandwiches, so I opted for the popular Tofu Rich Girl, $8.50, a take on a po-boy that includes cornmeal-crusted tofu, chipotle slaw and avocado. This one just didn’t work for me. The cornmeal coating on the tofu was sandy rather than crisp and the avocado just wasn’t ripe.

Ian’s Chili, however, available by the $4 cup or $6 bowl, was terrific. Made with beans, peppers, tomatoes and a generous amount of spice, it was also a bit sweet thanks to a topping of cashew crème fraiche. I also liked a chilled peach soup, another of the day’s specials.

Sandwiches come with chips and a flavorful salsa. Side salads are available as well, and a $6 lemon-marinated kale salad with fruit, almonds red peppers and cranberries sounds good. And I’ll definitely have to stop by at breakfast soon for vegan biscuits and gravy, $7.

"It appeals to the vegan and vegetarian communities whose dining options can be somewhat limited," said City Market executive director Stevi Stoesz Kersh. "Even non plant-based consumers have been enjoying the flavorful offerings from Ian Phillips and his Three Carrots crew."

So there’s plenty to try at Three Carrots, more than its small space would indicate. It’s a great addition to the market, and the very fact that the city now has a vegetarian breakfast and lunch option is definitely encouraging. I’m looking forward to seeing what else Phillips and other vegetarian chefs in the city have in store for us.

Jolene Ketzenberger covers local food at EatDrinkIndy.com. You can follow her on Twitter @JKetzenberger.


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