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Mother's Says Eat Your Veggies

February 15, 1996|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mother's Market and Kitchen is a super-store for the health-conscious; or rather, two super-stores, with locations in Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.

These huge, spotless places come equipped with full-service restaurants as well as everything an alternative supermarket is likely to carry. They feature the largest selection of vitamins and food supplements I've ever seen, an extensive selection of books on nutrition, wonderfully ripe organic tomatoes (in the extensive produce sections), soy products galore and a fetching line of soaps, shampoos and cosmetics, the majority made without additives such as sodium laureth sulfate or any other New Age demons. Shhh. That keening sound you hear on the sound system is probably Enya, the Irish balladeer.

My wife became an LOV (lacto-ovo vegetarian) this year. Now she eats a diet based on eggs, dairy products, fruit, grains, nuts and vegetables--in short, nothing with a face, as the current expression goes. The restaurant at Mother's has been designed for people just like her.

It serves three squares a day, with choices ranging from pancakes to imitation meatloaf. The only menu item that is not acceptable to the committed LOV is the tuna sandwich, dolphin-safe and piled with sprouts, tomato and lettuce on 10-grain bread.

Given the number of vegetarians around, it's amazing there aren't more dining rooms like this one. At the Huntington Beach location, the restaurant is at the back of the market, behind the prepared foods deli. It's a pleasant room with an eight-seat counter, tables that look like slabs of green stone (but are plastic), a carpet depicting rain forest scenes and a small, plant-filled atrium fronted, on most evenings, by a classical guitarist.

Look for a diverse crowd: business people on their lunch breaks, Sikhs, Sufis and secretaries. One evening I sat next to a guru in horn-rimmed glasses who was lecturing a small group of acolytes while handing out leafy green vegetables from a brown paper bag. Another day I shared the space with a motorcycle gang.

That was at breakfast, my favorite meal here. There are omelets made with guacamole, feta cheese, fresh mushrooms and other ingredients; spicy scrambled eggs with sauteed peppers; even huevos rancheros. Almost every egg dish comes with delicious 10-grain toast and light, golden home fries. The blueberry flapjacks are served with a tiny pitcher of pure maple syrup. Juices are fresh--as in "squeezed to order," not as in "from a plastic bottle via refrigerated truck."

Among the appetizers at lunch and dinner are Buffalo-style tempeh things, little cubes of pressed soy piled up in a breakfast cereal bowl, glowing faintly red from their sugary barbecue sauce. Mother's nachos are probably a cardiological no-no, heaped as they are with beans, melted Cheddar, too much sour cream and salsa.

*

On the whole, the salads are a safer bet than the appetizers. The energy salad is a plate of green- and red-leaf lettuces and a few romaine leaves, garnished with sunflower seeds, three kinds of sprouts and avocado slices. Try it with the grainy tahineh dressing.

The soups have lots of earthy appeal. Vegetarian chili soup, available every day, is made with kidney beans and bits of textured soy protein that in this context could easily pass for meat. Mother's butternut squash soup, served Mondays, is a creamy soup made without cream. If you like the clean, sweet flavor of squash, this one's for you.

A good number of the entrees are Mexican. My only complaint with the oversized macho burrito--made with a whole-wheat chapati in place of a tortilla--is the texture of the refried-style pinto beans, which are as dry as New Mexico sand. It's filled with those beans, soy cheese, green onions and olives with an optional dollop of sour cream.

Some entrees are Italian. There's a reliable spinach lasagna with lots of frothy ricotta between the sheets and a bland marinara sauce on top. The competent eggplant Parmesan would be improved if the eggplant were sliced thinner.

The menu describes Ma's nut loaf as a mildly spiced casserole of bell peppers, mushrooms, walnuts and other ingredients. When slabs of it appear on the plate, blanketed with dark brown gravy, they make a convincing substitute for meatloaf. The nut loaf has an intense mushroom flavor, and the ground walnuts impart a meatlike density.

Beverages include decent Kona coffee (available at all hours), alcohol-free Ariel wine (by the glass) and the usual parade of banana-based smoothies. The best desserts are pumpkin yogurt roll and peach torte. Make sure you get the roll icebox-cold so that the yogurt center holds firm. The peach torte--spiced peach slices with an oatmeal crust--is more appealing warm.

Mother's Market and Kitchen is inexpensive. Breakfasts are $2.75-$4.75. Salads are $2.75-$5.25. Entrees are $3.75-$6.25.

* MOTHER'S MARKET AND KITCHEN

* 19770 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-6667. Also 225 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (714) 631-4741.

* Both restaurants open 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily. Store hours, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

* Visa, MasterCard.

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