Then I got past Bumby Avenue and noticed a new sign: Loving Hut. I thought it was a massage parlor.
Looking closer, expecting to see specials for loofah scrubs or something, I noticed that it is a restaurant. In fact, it's in a space that has held various Asian restaurants over the years.
The last time I was in this building I left without ordering. The place was so unkempt and unclean looking that I just couldn't bring myself to eat there. Sometimes you just have a feeling about a place. My feeling told me to turn around and get out of there.
The owners of Loving Hut have really cleaned the place up. In fact, its interior is so shiny white that it almost glows.
Of course, Loving Hut doesn't give much of a clue as to what to expect in the way of a cuisine, and even once I was inside and looking over the menu I wasn't all that sure. The fare is still Asian influenced, but the menu is entirely vegan. What's more, Loving Hut is a chain restaurant that touts itself as the first vegan fast food restaurant.
Hmmm, my concept of veganism is more in line with slow food than fast. And I was a little surprised when the young woman at the counter, where I placed my order, described one of the entrees as having the taste and texture of chicken. Do vegans really want to have the sensation that they're eating flesh? I doubt it. But that's just me.
This Loving Hut is the first in the eastern part of the U.S. The menu features familiar appetizers, such as spring and summer, and not so familiar, like "large golden tofu" and "New York Steak" (remember that everything served here is plant-based). Other areas of the menu include salad & soup, rice & Noodles and western specialties. The latter a club sandwich, "happy dog" and savory spaghetti. I guess you would call it a spaghetti western menu.
I ordered the fresh spring rolls for an appetizer and something called noble rice for my entree. The spring rolls had a translucent rice paper wrapper filled with greens, noodles and bits of what I assume to be tofu. It was a hefty serving, about six half rolls, served with a peanutty dipping sauce and a bowl of vegetable broth with carrots.
The entree, despite the name noble rice, was the one that was described as resembling chicken, and indeed this tofu was so chickeny that they even were able to make it slightly tough. It was coated with a breding of sorts that made it seem deep-fried, and it had a slight curry flavor, but it was not hot. The white rice had a hint of coconut and was dotted with what I choose to believe were black seeds. (If it had been the previous tenants I might have guessed something else.)
The people running Loving Hut couldn't have been friendlier or more accommodating. After you place your order you're given one of those coaster pagers (which I have never, ever seen used as a coaster, but never mind about that right now). The pager is a bit superfluous because the place is so small that a staffer could whisper your name when your order is ready and you'd hear it.
Tabletops are white and chairs are a tight white leather, a choice I think I would have counseled against -- it's going to difficult to keep those lookiing pristine.
It will be interesting to see how the vegan community embraces this concept. There are a couple of other choices, including Ethos Vegan Kitchen and the more upscale Cafe 118. The latter is not an inexpensive option, so I would think those who strive to keep to a plant-based diet would welcome another restaurant dedicated to them
Those who stop in expecting a massage will be sorely disappointed.
Loving Hut is at 2101 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It's open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is 407-894-5673.
Update: Entrees are pretty cheap, ranging from $5.75 to $7.95.