Opened in 1985, ION is an enduring classic, a true survivor, and a beacon of vegan cuisine during most of its three decades long legacy. As a devoted patron since 1988, I have observed ION undergo many incarnations during its past 30 years.
It evolved into ION 8.0 in September 2013 when it relocated a few blocks north up Main Street, eerily close to its original location from which it had moved 15 years earlier. Due to increased competition from nearby latecomer veg restaurants, ION downsized both its menu and its space. I’m thankful that ION adapted, but lament the loss of most of my favorites dishes. I miss also its spacious outdoor deck which provided me with a secluded environment for many memorable meals with cherished dinner companions. On the very positive side, the new space is cozy, and sunny if you sit near the wall-size windows. The new plush seats are really comfy, almost like living room sofa chairs, a welcomed upgrade from the narrow rickety wooden chairs of its former location and of many other veg restaurants.
One very heartening change which I hail is its decision soon after its move to dump cow cheese as one of its three cheese options, which it had offered for ten years. So now ION 8.5 has reclaimed its legacy as a truly vegan restaurant.
Early in 2014, its latest incarnation into ION 9.0 occurred upon welcoming a new head chef, the first I know of where the menu changed to fit the specialties of the new chef, rather than the new chef adapting to the specialties of the restaurant. ION rewrote a new and slimmer menu, yet again. Some savory entrées and apps added just a year earlier were edged out. Only the wine and beer list has lengthened. The new truncated menu tends toward spicy Tex-Mex, unfortunately for me not among my favorite ethnic cuisines. Maybe a more fitting new name would be It’s Only Tex-Mex. Its once high nutritional standards have descended a few notches. Many of the dishes now are pan-fried or deep-fried, its baked daily in-house whole wheat bread is gone, refined tofu (yes, white tofu is highly refined, no different than white flour or white sugar) has edged out more wholesome tempeh. Quite simply, there is not a lot of choice outside of Tex-Mex.
I once ranked ION as the best veg restaurant in all New England, and felt fortunate to have it nearby, but I now have “reservations.” I nevertheless am thankful that ION has endured and I still patronize it in hopes it will reclaim its legacy as a stellar vegan restaurant. Sum and substance, if you like Tex-Mex and booze, you will love ION. But if you prefer to drink your water straight and shy away from spicy fried foods, you might be disappointed with ION. So let’s hope it migrates its menu out of Texas and Mexico and back into New England, and it morphs yet again, and into ION 10.0.