There are two types of vegetarian restaurants.Â The first type tops things with sprouts and tosses around words like seitan and tempeh.Â The second type pretends it isn’t a vegetarian restaurant.Â Brother Tim’s, situated near 87th and Stony Island in Calumet Heights, is the second kind.Â Their menu, which proffers “vegetarian fast food,” is conspicuously rabbit food—free.Â Instead of salad, they offer a Super Link Soy Hotdog with melted soy cheese.Â Instead of tofu, they serve chicken—less hot wings (mild or spicy). The dessert menu, which boasts a variety of cobblers and puddings, seems more at home as the capstone to a classic soul food meal than it does to something like a bowl of quinoa. Luckily, Brother Tim’s fare is junk food first and health food second–the rarest kind of vegetarian restaurant.
In the tradition of other fast food restaurants, Brother Tim’s upholds the nugget as an art form. One of their specialties, the fish nugget, near-perfectly mimicked the taste of seafood.Â The nuggets, which come in orders of 12 and are delivered folded in a tinfoil bag, are lightly breaded in a cornmeal batter and fried in just the right amount of oil. Though the texture was less fish and more nugget, this wasn’t as bothersome as it might have been with a real piece of meat. Omnivores might find the homogenously spongy texture off-putting, but as a vegan, the processed mouth-feel was a welcome return to the Gorton’s frozen fish sticks of my childhood that I’ve since forsaken. Think McNugget, but slipperier and with less guilt.Â The morsels paired wonderfully with Brother Tim’s homemade dairy-free Ranch dressing, which is available in house for dipping or in sixteen-ounce bottles for home use.
Brother Tim’s dessert case looked like an elementary school bake sale, filled with individually wrapped banana nut loaves, palm-sized sweet potato pies, and jumbo trays of fruit cobbler with sloppy handmade crusts. The blueberry cobbler, ordered for takeout, came double wrapped in a Styrofoam cup and a paper bag, welcome defenses against the white-shirt-hostile deep purple filling. The sweet potato pie, also portioned for takeout, filled a mid-sized plastic box and tasted sweet enough for dessert, but not so sweet that it couldn’t be eaten for breakfast.
Brother Tim’s shuns corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, but the establishment is largely devoid of the organic, gluten-free, and vegan—type rhetoric that characterizes many trendy vegan and vegetarian establishments. Sure, the fare is made without meat, eggs, or dairy, but the restaurant doesn’t come across as pushing a dogma. The vibe is downright unpretentious. Everything from the restaurant’s menu–hand painted directly on to the wall–to its in-house notices–rendered in rainbow WordArt–shirks that sort of self-congratulatory, Whole Foods activist affect that one might expect from a restaurant of this genre. Hell, they don’t even recycle, a fact that is somehow refreshing, bothersome, and confusing all at once.
What was most surprising about a visit to Brother Tim’s, though, was the clientele.Â During the Saturday afternoon lunch rush, a steady stream of people passed through, most of them men. Men ordering soy chicken sandwiches. Men eating nut loaf burgers. Men sipping honey ginger lemonade, and liking it.Â One after another, Brother Tim’s customers contradicted the meat equals masculine mindset. The venue doesn’t make a spectacle out of eating vegetarian, and this strategy appears to be working.
All in all, Brother Tim’s isn’t the kind of food you should eat every day, but it certainly makes for a nice treat, and definitely serves as an improvement on the real fast food establishments that blanket the surrounding area.
711 E. 87th St. Monday-Saturday, 11am-9pm; Sunday, 11am-7pm. (773)375-4722. brothertimsvegetarian.com