When Grins Vegetarian Café opened three years ago in Vanderbilt University’s Ben Shulman Center for Jewish Life, it was good news for vegans and vegetarians, who have long felt underserved by Nashville’s steak-, burger- and barbecue-happy dining options. Grins was even more specialized by virtue of its kosher kitchen, supervised by local rabbis who certified that all ingredients and cooking methods were in accordance with Jewish dietary law.
Chef Michele Knaus’ inspired menu of internationally flavored soups, salads, wraps, sandwiches, paninis and hot entrées attracted a devoted following of veggie-heads and carnivores alike. Though it was located on the Vanderbilt campus—not the most user-friendly place for outsiders—it drew as many, if not more, civilians as students.
As Grins—the Yiddish word for vegetables—begins its fourth year, there’s good news and bad news. The good news for Vandy students is that the lunch and dinner spot is now on the Vanderbilt Meal Plan. The bad news is that the lunch and dinner feedings—particularly the former—are now slammed with Vanderbilt students toting meal cards, in the process squeezing out campus visitors. The worse news is that the burden to feed so many in a limited amount of time has forced Knaus to discontinue her revolving repertoire of hot specials, freshly made sandwiches and outstanding paninis.
To accommodate the student rush (and their less adventurous palates), Grins has dramatically downsized its menu. Though soup is still a daily creative decision, six different wraps—very popular with students, says Knaus—now form the backbone of the menu. All begin as vegan, though a request for cheese or certain condiments will shift them into the vegetarian category. Among the options: the nacho wrap, with black bean spread, tomatoes and cilantro-lime brown rice; Thai tofu peanut wrap, with peanut sauce, baked tofu, carrots, scallions, brown rice and yellow squash; the PBG wrap, with peanut butter, fresh granola and banana; and the hummus wrap, with carrots, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, tomatoes and falafel crumbles. The preassembled wraps are $6.50 each.
A bag of chips or small side is an additional 50 cents. A three-side sampler is $7, served with pita chips. Vegan baked goods, including the popular oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, are also available daily.
Though Knaus had given her notice to proprietor Bob Bernstein when school let out for the summer, she was back in the kitchen when Grins reopened on Aug. 15. She will stay on board as long as it takes to smoothly pass the torch to new front manager Rose Belt, formerly barista at Bongo Java East, and to chef Kate Sage, original partner with Bernstein in Hillsboro Village’s Fido. Sage, who has an extensive culinary background, will be taking over the kitchen once Knaus departs for Portland, Ore., where she hopes to write a cookbook.
Grins is open 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. and 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday; operating schedule is subject to Jewish and university calendars. Phone: 322-8571.