BITE-SIZED

CELEBRATE NO MEAT MARCH WITH A TRIP TO GARDEN TRUCK

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No, it's not a food truck. Yes, Garden Truck is vegan (happy No Meat March!), on the Northside (only 15 minutes from Downtown), and worth the trek when you're looking for something healthful, local and fresh.

Order and pay at the counter, then seat (and treat) yourself. The space, in a small strip mall in the middle of seemingly nowhere somewhere off the East Beltway, is extra-inviting: strings of globe lights shine on the brightly painted walls, vibrant fresh-cut flowers adorn the wooden tables and an oversized chalkboard tells you what's available.

To quench your thirst, choose from a dozen smoothies ($6.95) and juices ($5.95) to try. I found My Daily Fruit juice, a coral-colored concoction with apple, pineapple, kiwi, orange and strawberry — delightfully refreshing. Coffee and tea are also available.

The majority of items on the menu are sandwiches, paninis and salads, and there are daily soups and specials. Recent favorites include rigatoni with "sausage," red peppers and mushrooms in a light white wine sauce, roasted squash curry bisque, coconut milk crème brûlée and a "crab" cake panini.

I started with the Caesar ($5.95) — hearts of romaine, chopped artichoke hearts, roasted sweet red peppers and avocado in a light Dijon mustard dressing. Pro tip: Ask for the housemade croutons on top. They're magically crunchy and seasoned.

My two to-go sandwiches (all sandwiches are $6.95 and include one side) are smoked tempeh (a high-protein meat substitute made from fermented soy beans), lettuce, tomato and veganaise (an eggless mayo spread) and smoky sea salt, and the roasted vegetable and artichoke panini with spicy aioli and roasted garlic spread. The bread is freshly baked, and I picked multigrain for both sandwiches.

And don't knock the "sausage and peppers" sandwich until you try it. It's created with caramelized onions, green and red peppers, and a spicy mustard sauce on warm ciabatta bread — you'll hardly notice that the fennel-spiced "sausage" is meatless. Trust me.

Side-item selections are red bliss potato salad, lentil and herb salad, small mixed green salad and a rotating special (the day I went, it was Brussels spouts, which I enjoyed.)

Open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 7 to 3, Garden Truck is closed on Sundays.

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