Pepperclub, a mainstay on the fringe of the Old Port for 22 years, was a laid-back spot for a satisfying dinner in early May. We enjoyed wide-ranging food, and the food tab for four diners fell well within budget. (In the mornings, this same spot doubles as The Good Egg, offering breakfast every day except Monday.)
Not a table stood empty in the main dining room for the length of our two-hour visit on a Saturday, and there was little turnover among the youngish crowd.
And why not linger here? The menu, which changes nearly every day, covers a lot of global territory, and the portions are hearty but not intimidating. There’s a bar, but it’s not the focal point. Carnivores, vegetarians and vegans can find plenty of interesting options for their palates, making this a very good choice for those couples or groups with mixed eating styles.
In fact, vegetarian and vegan options go far beyond plates of “mashed yeast” (to steal from Woody Allen), or bowls of steamed vegetables topped with tofu, or some sort of pasta with cheese.
Take, for instance, Pepperclub’s vegan harvest loaf. Made from lentils, carrots, celery, sweet potato, onion, and tempeh, and smothered in a mushroom gravy, this robust and flavorful entree can go up against any bona fide meat loaf and be in the game. And it’s gluten-free, right down to the homemade Worcestershire sauce. A mashed mix of sweet and white potatoes alongside made this delicious, diner-like comfort food ($17).
My carnivorous friend with a big appetite ended up quite satisfied with his vegetarian “Marakkesh” quinoa- and feta-stuffed eggplant. The Berber sauce brought several northern African spices — cardamom, cinnamon, paprika, clove and turmeric — to the hearty dish. He remarked that the food at Pepperclub had more substance and appeal than he had expected.
Seafood lovers will find plenty to enjoy at Pepperclub, too. The menu almost always includes scallops, salmon and haddock, and preparations change frequently. My companion chose a pan-fried haddock filet served over a bed of garlic white beans and smothered by a generous mound of spinach and grilled tomatoes, brown rice on the side ($20). It was a home-style and tasty platter. Lamb strudel, ably prepared with a crinkly filo pastry and strongly flavored meat ($20), rounded out our diverse selections.
We enjoyed a bounty of colorful vegetables with our meals at no additional charge. A demi salad of mixed greens with a deliciously sharp house dressing of cucumber, dill and garlic preceded all dinners except for the lamb, which included a Greek rendition. A beet salad accompanied all four entrees. We came close to achieving our daily veggie quota without giving it a thought.
The appetizers we tried were less successful than entrees. The filling in the sesame-tempeh spring rolls was far outmatched by the wrappers ($2 each; they are finger sized). The salmon cake ($4), which is made with the addition of sweet potato and breaded with cornmeal, resembled a partly baked cookie and had scant seafood flavor.
A grainy “Andalusian” carrot and rutabaga soup was full of vegetable goodness, but salt overtook the whole. Much better was the rosemary and butter bean soup, in which the earthy herb flavor predominated ($4 each cup).
Red, blue, yellow and black walls with a zigzag motif and a fourth wall painted with fish give the interior of Pepperclub a jazzy, bohemian feel. The menu is written in colorful chalk on the blackboard above the bar, but diners also get plexi-covered slates listing that night’s offerings at their table. This means no neck craning for guests and daily penmanship for the staff.
Our casually dressed waitress was attentive, amiable and hard-working without conveying any stress. The vibe here seems to be no hassles, no worries. Come as you are, put your elbows on the table if you care to, and relax. The water glasses get filled, but don’t expect the table to be de-crumbed or wiped between courses unless you ask.
A wine bottle was presented without the customary ceremonial flair found at fancier restaurants. We didn’t care; it would almost feel odd in this setting. And we appreciated the fact that the mark-up on one of our favorite bottles was blessedly slight.
After finishing that eclectic and satisfying dinner, somehow we managed to fit in a rich dark-chocolate cheesecake and a dense vegan vanilla cake (no eggs, no dairy, no small feat) coated with a chocolate glaze — both $6. Like much of the fare at Pepperclub, these homemade desserts were attractive and appealing, not the slightest bit airy or pretentious.
Nancy Heiser is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at: