Cheap Eats - World Peace Cafe

Delicious vegetarian Buddhism in Sandy Springs

When David Sweeney opened Dynamic Dish on Edgewood Avenue, the gifted chef's creative dishes and pristine presentation showed Atlanta that vegetarian food doesn't have to be boring or bland. World Peace Café (220 Hammond Drive, Sandy Springs, 404-256-2100, www.worldpeacecafeatlanta.com) isn't your stereotypical vegetarian restaurant, either.

The full-service restaurant is owned by the Rameshori Kadampa Buddhist Center, which operates under the philosophy that inner peace is crucial to world peace. The cafe does its part by serving healthy, organic and stimulating food to its surrounding community. It also hosts educational classes and events led by Gen Kelsang Mondrub, American Buddhist monk and resident teacher of the Rameshori Buddhist Center. There is a certain calmness about the two-story loft-style space. Tranquil music trickles out of the speakers, service is quick and unobtrusive, and the energy is appropriately meditative. A staff of volunteers runs the kitchen and the proceeds are reinvested into the Buddhist center. While the efforts on behalf of Buddhism are exemplary – and carried out at similar "World Peace Cafes" around the world – you won't feel hit over the head with religion when dining here. If anything, your conversion will only involve a newfound appreciation of vegetarian cuisine.

The restaurant offers an extensive vegetarian breakfast menu chock-full of items such as vegan cranberry-orange pancakes, pimento cheese omelets and mushroom frittatas. The lunch and dinner menu includes plenty of the ubiquitous vegetarian-friendly dishes – veggie burgers, vegetable rice bowls and tofu sandwiches to name a few. But there's seemingly more care put into each familiar plate. A simple cucumber sandwich transcends its ho-hum nature. Cucumber slices are seasoned with just enough salt to make them crunch, and the generous layer of Mascarpone cheese on each side of the fresh wheat bread reveals a gourmet riff on the classic tea nibble. The kale, mushroom and lentil soup is hearty enough to satisfy, yet the clear broth lightens the recipe making it an easy sandwich pairing. If veggie burgers are your thing, you won't go wanting here. The menu has a handful of versions to choose from, such as the Hot 'n Spicy burger – the cafe's homemade vegetable and oat patty, topped with "Buffalo sauce" and blue cheese. Each burger is served on a massive bun dense with whole-grain goodness. Depending on what you order, the bun is loaded with a patty, vegan cheese, other toppings and served with potato wedges.

There is a kid's menu with standards such as PB&J (organic, of course) and grilled cheese. The restaurant also serves those gorgeous vegan cakes from Southern Sweets Bakery – the triple-layer chocolate almond cake is to die for. Imagine the bastard baby of an Almond Joy candy bar and a German chocolate cake. The sweetest thing, however, about eating at World Peace Cafe is how satisfied you feel during and after your meal. Maybe it's osmosis, the atmosphere, or the thoughtful cooking. Perhaps it's just knowing you've done your body a solid while helping others.

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