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Vegan and vegetarian at Ruby's in Ashland

My wife, Danielle, and I decided, once again, to try to become vegetarians. I think this is the third time for me and maybe the fourth time Danielle has tried to cut meat out of her diet. We’re trying not to be too strict with ourselves, so as to increase the likelihood of success. For instance, while dining out for these reviews, I will probably still eat some meat.

To see what Ashland has in store for vegetarians, we headed to Ruby’s, where about half the menu is devoted to vegetarian and vegan options. Not only does the restaurant offer a breakfast and lunch menu with equal parts meat and veggies, there are many vegetarian options that replicate meat-based dishes, including a veggie burger, steak sandwich and a Reuben.

Our decision to eat less meat comes, in part, from the role cattle ranching plays in climate change. Methane produced by farm animals has a significant impact on global atmospheric temperatures.

So, to reduce the amount of bovine gas in the air, I ordered a veggie steak sandwich ($7.50), Danielle got a falafel wrap ($7), and we ordered a Little Devil breakfast sandwich for our baby, Niko, at the cashier’s suggestion.

We lounged around inside the small restaurant while we waited for our food to be prepared. There are about four small tables and bar seating in the room paneled with wood painted in bright colors. In terms of aesthetics, the venue might be geared toward the Southern Oregon University crowd.

I had the same sandwich at Ruby’s the last time I was trying not to eat meat, and it is actually a great substitute for the real deal. The sandwich is filled with thick chunks of tempeh soaked in a marinade of onion and tomato juice, with a bit of soy. Texturally, the tempeh, onions, mushrooms and peppers are hard to distinguish from diced beef ... especially if you haven’t had steak in a while. I scarfed down my sandwich in record time.

I’ve been struggling to fall in love with a falafel sandwich in the Rogue Valley and was hoping that Ruby’s would be the one. The falafel is made from garbanzo beans, black beans, black-eyed peas and fava beans. The patty is immersed in a slaw of carrots, cabbage, tomato, cucumber and onion, and wrapped in a tortilla. Falafel is an amazing substitute for meat because it doesn’t seem as though it’s meant to substitute for meat and can stand on its own. The hummus and yogurt sauce kept the falafel from being too dry, a hazard when eating this Middle Eastern dish. Though the wrap had a fresh flavor, it did seem like it needed a bit more flavor. I guess I’ll have to keep looking for falafel love.

It was Niko’s breakfast sandwich that we found to be the most delicious. A mouth-watering, thick piece of bacon was sandwiched between a fried egg and a house-made English muffin. It’s hard to argue with the savoriness of bacon and egg, but the muffin was so moist it could easily beat the biscuits at Buttercloud in Medford.

While the bacon had us falling off the meat wagon sooner than expected, Ruby’s smoothies had us jumping back on board. At $6 a pop, they might be a suitable replacement for a meal, given the fact they are made with real fruit. I preferred my Golden smoothie to Danielle’s Purple. The Golden’s predominant flavor is mango, but it also boasted flavors of pineapple, banana, white grape and orange juice. Danielle’s smoothie was made of blackberry, cherry, blueberry, white grape and apple juice, and “tasted like antioxidants,” Danielle said.

Cutting down my meat intake is going to be a difficult journey, but one that will be made easier with substitutions from restaurants like Ruby’s. And if my cravings for an authentic steak sandwich are too much in the future, I can always order a Pabst Blue Ribbon (just $2) from the cocktail menu and drown my desire.

A tempeh sandwich that tastes like steak at Ruby's in Ashland. Volim Photo.