A communal dinner at the Birdsell Mansion thrills guests

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By: Rama Ganesan

Rama Ganesan/Flavor 574

Second World Cafe hosted a vegan dinner for about 35 people on Saturday, March 7, at the Birdsell Mansion in South Bend. The event was uncommonly good and deserves to recognized and celebrated!

The invitation came through our Facebook group, Veg Michiana. The event page, “The Great Veganonymous Phenomenon,” promoted the event in such a droll and knowing fashion that I wondered whether there was an underground vegan movement in Michiana that even I, zealous vegan, did not know about.

The event description begins: “There is an Indisputable Veganonymous Phenomenon. Vegetables passing as bicycles, rolling through stop signs, mimicking meats, in the name of who knows what. At some point we have to sit down, put our faces together, and try out a community expression if we wish to be taken seriously!”

When I attended Ignite Michiana last fall, I learned a little bit about plans to utilize the Birdsell Mansion for exhibiting art. But to find out more about this particular dinner event, I contacted Bert Fitzgerald, one of the organizers of the Veganonymous Phenomenon.

This vegan dinner was hosted by the Second World Café, an initiative to host living space and dinner parties at the mansion. The model for Second World is the “public house,” where the community can socialize, share local foods and engage in other cultural endeavors.

Future dinners will explore various themes, such as vegan, Indian and fiesta. To keep to the mission of promoting community and mutual respect, the payment for participation is through an honor system of suggested donation.

The organizers do, however, anticipate that the novel initiative will result in a fully sustainable institution: “2ndWorld is thus a social experiment, grounded in history and values both deeply spiritual and completely contemporary.”

This model piqued my interest and the actual event proved to be as interesting as anticipated.

The large entrance hall in the mansion is set up with several large tables, and the walls are lined with electrical switch panels as form of “industrial” décor. But the building is still undergoing considerable remodeling and construction.

I shared a table with my neighbor Amy (we drove in together) and some new and older friends. There were red and white wines at the table, and I cleared the white wine as vegan through Barnivore.

The menu was quite delectable from start to finish. The Korean dressing and the rutabaga gave the salad its exotic flavor (warmed spinach salad with roasted Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, walnuts and dried cherries with Korean spiced dressing).

This was followed by butternut squash and pumpkin soup, a clear favorite with everyone at the event.

The main dish was well-prepared coconut fried rice, accompanied with a tomato and bell pepper tofu curry.

For dessert most of us were served a double chocolate cherry cheesecake, but I also tried a sliver of the raspberry cheesecake that was offered as an alternative. Both cakes were sumptuous! The chocolate cherry cake included nuts, which made for an unusual cheesecake texture.

Some of the guests moved and mingled around the tables between courses. Bert and the other hosts spoke to us about the Second World Café mission and plans for the future.

The suggested donation for the meal was $9, with additional $2 for each glass of wine, and $2 to 3 for the dessert.

The food received great reviews from all who attended. I think the meal got its extra special quality from being a communal-table dinner party, rather than the more mundane private menu-based dining.

I can’t fault the dishes that were served, except perhaps I would add some type of bread to the table (roti-style flat bread or standard dinner rolls) to accompany the soup and main course.

I hope the veganonymous dinner becomes a regular event at the Birdsell Mansion.

For more tales of dining vegan in Michiana from Rama Ganesan and her fellow meatless maven Crystal Hallwood, subscribe to the Vegan at the Bend email newsletter.
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