The night is damp as Tom and I scurry across side streets to the Pepper Club on 78 Middle St. A trail of black and white zigzags coat the windows, creating a secluded location. Tom swings the wooden door open and we enter the dining room lit with soft peach-colored light. Our eyes meet a rainbow of vivacious brick reds, golden mangos and royal blues on some walls, while others have leaves and fish in bright avocado, turquoise blue and flecks of gold. The delightful trim forecasts the unique combination of fish, poultry, organic beef and vegan dishes found at the Pepper Club. A variety of seating options, from booths and circle tables to hidden tables for two, create the dining area. Tom and I stroll to a small wall table for two.
The Pepper Club is split into two sections. One side houses a rustic bar area while the other is personalized with funky geometric-shaped dividers to create an intimate dining adventure. We settle into our seats and before long a splendid wine list appears in front of us. We survey the list and decide to choose a sauvignon with a subtle taste of grapefruit and gooseberry ($5.50). Our glasses arrive. Tom gently grasps the glass and makes a light toast. “To a wonderful night, cheers.” Our glasses sway as they tenderly touch.
Tom suggests we take advantage of an appetize. We compromise on the baked Brie with apricot preserves garnished with almonds. I tell Tom I have a weakness for Brie; he reveals he has a weakness as well. Moments later, a basket of whole wheat bread is a centerpiece at our cozy table. Tom swiftly captures the end pieces. He looks up with a sparkle in his eye and says, “A true great date takes the ends of the bread.” I admire his chivalry and make a mental note.
Our baked Brie arrives. It sizzles as the first butter knife delves into the creamy-colored Brie. The gooey texture is quick to spread on the thin and crisp whole-wheat crackers. The vibrant apricot preserves and nibbles of toasted almonds transform the beginning of our meal into dreamy sweetness. Suddenly, an eruption of technical rings shatter our gazing into each other’s eyes. Tom’s cell phone is going off. He searches for the interruption in the pockets of his winter coat. He eventually finds it, glances at the screen and answers it. He talks for a few moments, but answers mostly with yeas and nays. It is Penelope (Cruz), a friend, who plans to meet Tom later tonight. The cell phone remains at the table, as if Tom is not dating it. He apologizes and says, “Now I’m that cell phone guy at the restaurant.” His charisma somehow whites out the dowdy moment, and I disregard the cell phone.
Our salads arrive. They are composed of fresh colorful European greens with wisps of grated carrots and topped with the Pepper Club’s house dressing, a heavenly mix of dill and garlic vinaigrette. Tom chooses the spinach ravioli drenched in portabella sauce as his entree. Bouquets of diced tomatoes and portabella mushrooms twist throughout the dish as Tom ladles the golden brown sauce. He stops in mid-air and looks at me. I don’t dare to scan my dish–the Middle Eastern medley is patient. “You have beautiful eyes, ” he said. I smile. I don’t want to lose the connection with Tom. He peers down, giving me the go to begin my dish, which is an assortment of Middle Eastern flavors of Tabbouleh salad of chopped mint, parsley and burghul in a luscious roasted red pepper. A roasted zucchini decked with vibrant zesty spices and clusters of kasha intertwine with sweet potato and cracked wheat grains. My meal invites an alluring blend of grains together, and although bland at first, a few sprits of the dill and garlic vinaigrette do the trick … not to mention Tom’s delightful conversation.
The roaring of the dining room winds down as people finish their dinners and filter out. Soon, Tom and I are once again on our own bohemian island. We decide dessert will make a fitting end or mere beginning to a splendid evening. Tom chooses the delectable Mocha Hazelnut Dacquoise. It is a disc-shaped, hazelnut meringue with satiny mocha butter cream. Each bite is intoxicating as the smooth butter cream tangles and melts in Tom’s mouth. I try the Chocolate Pepper Cake, rich chocolate cake meshed with ancho chipotle peppers layered with velvet chocolate butter cream. After my first bite, I’m in a tizzy. The sweet flavors of gourmet chocolate whirling with the spicy peppers creates a dessert to remember. I’m glad I can share the moment with Tom.
Open seven days a week and located at 78 Middle St., the Pepper Club is a novel dining experience fusing vegan and eclectic gourmet dishes that will leave bliss in one’s mouth.
Erin Zwirn can be contacted at [email protected]