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Entering 21 Oak is like stepping back into the past, namely 25 years ago into It’s Only Natural. I mean this as a very good thing. Think back to 1990, when Ken Bergeron was still the head chef and owner of ION 1.0 at its original location on Main St, a block north of where ION 3.0 recently relocated. The décor was simple and yet comfortable, the vegan food wholesome and appealing (Ken, along with most of his faithful customers, had transitioned out of macrobiotics), the portions generous, and the prices just right. Likewise now for 21 Oak. Eerily, Shawn the head chef and owner of 21 Oak even bears a very striking resemblance to Ken both in looks and in peaceful demeanor.

While Manchester may be out of the way, once within Manchester 21 Oak is easy to find, a half a block off Main St in the center of downtown. The restaurant is small (seats 20), hence the menu is brief, but covers the breadth of American vegan eclectic cuisine. No mock meats here, which only make a mockery of vegetarianism. Instead vegetables and grains take the center stage that they deserve. My only complaint is something served but not made here, the flatbread made of white flour, but that can be substituted with whole grain and oil-free Mary’s Gone Crackers, so do ask instead for the crackers. Among the appetizers I highly recommend the Brussels sprouts and the beet chutney, among the sides the sweet potato mash (only $3!), and among the entrees the barley cakes.

While desserts vary daily, I recommend the raw vegan cheesecake, which in January 2016 cost only $6. For the same quality and same quantity, compare that with $15 charged at G-Zen. As G-Zen costs an arm and an leg, 21 Oak costs only a finger and a toe. Consequently I dare say that 21 Oak is my favorite veg restaurant in all of CT and RI.

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