Remember eating pepper steak at your neighborhood Chinese restaurant? Ask yourself: Did you really order the dish because of the beef (actually more pot roast than steak) or because of the rich brown sauce laced with bright peppers? At the new Vege Favor in Islip, pepper "steak" is a soy-based beef substitute smothered with exactly the kind of sauce and peppers you've been craving.
The airy, attractive counter-service place is one of the few exclusively vegetarian restaurants on Long Island. Vegans, too, have lots to choose from. The rule here is that "chicken" and "beef" are made of soy products and that nothing served contains gluten, MSG or anything that's been genetically modified.
Just don't expect fine dinnerware. Here, you bus your own table and eat off disposable ware that also works for takeout.
For starters, Chef Guixin Gu makes an ingeniously spiced pumpkin soup, both chunky and colorful, as well as a proper hot and sour soup laced with tofu and vegetables. A chickeny-tasting broth (purchased, not house-made) defines the chicken noodle soup, but it's hard to figure out why Italian penne are used in lieu of noodles. While vegetable spring rolls have crunch and flavor, bland pasty steamed dumplings and thin, oily scallion pancakes have little to recommend them.
On the other hand, the highly flavorsome fried rice with vegetables is a treat, as is the savory vegetable lo mein. You can get that lo mein -- laced only with shards of cabbage -- as a gratis side dish with most entrees. Or opt for rice, white or brown.
Kung pao chicken -- with peanuts and celery -- comes in a brown sauce with plenty of zing, but approach the mango chicken only if you have a sweet tooth. Gu does a fine version of General Tso's chicken, but it's his orange chicken -- spiked with orange peel and dried hot peppers -- that transcends the expected. In comparison, curry chicken with potatoes seems humdrum.
A few dishes star actual vegetables rather than ersatz meat. You'll want to try the bias-cut Japanese eggplant, either with spicy garlic sauce or with tofu. Both dishes are delicious.
To cap it all off, there's freshly squeezed fruit juice, smoothies and self-serve frozen yogurt.
It's the serious food, though, that will matter most to vegetarians who have long been in need of choices. For them, as well as their omnivorous friends, Vege Favor is a worthy one.