It’s no easy feat to please opinionated patrons who range from lifelong vegetarians to occasional forgoers of meat to committed vegans. The team of chef Bala Shanmugam, formerly of Red Lentil in Watertown, business partner Gopal Krishnasamy, owner of Dosa Temple in Ashland, and Liz Whitaker, another Red Lentil alum, are trying to meet that challenge at Green Leaf in Framingham.
The space, painted vibrant green with prints of global market scenes on the walls, looks updated from its former incarnation as assemble-your-own-omelet spot Eggcetera, Etc. Among our group popping in for Sunday brunch are a vegan and a self-described “flexitarian/mostly vegetarian.” The dining room is only half full, but we have to wait for someone to greet us at the door.
Cinnamon-walnut fig waffles ($8) offer everything you could want from this breakfast favorite — crispy edges and fluffy interiors, with dried Mission figs, softened in real maple syrup, topping each golden piece. These are vegan (also available gluten-free on request), and offer the same texture as a version made with eggs and milk.
An oyster-tofu scramble ($8.50) features oyster mushrooms, caramelized onions, and tiny cubes of pressed tofu. It needs more salt and a moister bean curd. Huevos rancheros ($9) — two sunny-side-up eggs on soft corn tortillas, topped with a garlicky green cilantro salsa and two creamy slices of avocado – are very appealing, especially with a splash of hot sauce.
Smoothies are everything they should be, especially a magenta-hued mango berry blast ($5) that tastes like all of its constituent fruits. Green lemonade ($6), with freshly pressed apple, cucumber, kale, and lemon, is refreshingly vegetal and not too sweet.
One snowy evening, there is still no one to greet us. Once seated, we see couples and groups arriving — and waiting — at the unstaffed host station, eyeing the steaming bowls arriving at our table. French lentil soup ($4 cup, $5 bowl) is hearty and satisfying from a long simmer. It makes a better impression than a soup made with butternut squash, miso, and a sea kelp called arame. The brothy cup registers so little dark miso flavor that we wonder if the soybean paste made it into the pot.
An appetizer of artichoke-stuffed mushrooms ($7.99) is truly delicious. The maple-balsamic marinade infuses the button mushrooms with sweet-savory flavor, and shreds of vegan cheese (goat cheese is also an option) provide a nice topping. This is followed by cashew polenta ($13.99), toothsome cornmeal cakes studded with tender cashew pieces, adorned with sauteed spinach, and plated on top of a silky butternut squash sauce they call gravy. It’s the winning dish of the evening.
Service here does not match the quality of the food. On both visits, servers are polite and earnest, but have little experience guiding patrons through the menu. One seldom drops by during the meal, then hovers awkwardly when it’s time to settle the check.
But what they’re trying to do here — satisfy all sorts of menu demands — is admirable. Once they remedy the service, the dining room in this Framingham spot will be full and all those opinionated eaters pleased. No small feat indeed.Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.