Since moving to Harrisonburg, Virginia in October, I have had the pleasure and privilege of patronizing The Little Grill Collective, a historic landmark right in the heart of “The Friendly City.” These have been unusual privileges, too, as I typically shun eating out for several reasons: nearly all restaurants are perilous places for vegans, do not serve organic foods, are egregiously wasteful in many ways, and are equally egregiously overpriced.
The Little Grill, however, is a remarkable exception nearly every one of these and the many other reasons you might prefer to cook at home and brown bag it to work. From its early days in the 1940s to the time it became an employee-owned collective in 2003, The Little Grill has offered a wide variety of fare to please every palette. Whether you are a carnivore, an omnivore, or an herbivore, you will definitely find something to fill your tummy and make you smile at this joint.
The unique dishes on the menu range from appetite-stoking appetizers like the Black Beans and Rice or hummus and a pita with fresh veggies for dippin’. The entrees are even more diverse, from the whopping Ron’s Mexi-Plate to “Go Ask Alyce,” a falafel wrap with hummus, tahini, and a salad. You can also get burgers and other sandwiches, plus interesting desserts (including a yummy vegan cookie!) or smoothies. Their breakfast menu is famously full of to-die-for delights, from tofu rancheros to vegan flaxjacks. Be sure to get a big tall stack of those!
The Little Grill also hosts special events, including concerts and craft nights (seriously!), as well as having “theme nights,” such as Mexi-Nite and Breakfast Night. But the restaurant and its employees go the extra mile and help the community be well nourished. The Little Grill closes down on Monday only, in part so it can transform into the Free Food for All Soup Kitchen—where, since 1992, anyone can come and get a free meal. Along with the staff/owners, volunteers also help out on these days, providing yet another opportunity for locals to come together in this hip hangout.
As if these things were not enough reason to put the sustainability spotlight on The Little Grill, there are a few other things that help make it an unbelievably green spot for gourmands of every variety. They both use and sell local products when they can, from honey, to free-range eggs, to produce. Moreover, and this is something I have never seen elsewhere, they use many eco-friendly products. You can get your smoothie in a corn-based cup, which you can then take home and toss in the compost heap. Or if Ron’s Mexi-Plate is a bit too much for one meal (or you want another one to take home for later), you can get a “doggy bag” that will not kill the dog in the long run; instead of Styrofoam boxes, The Little Grill uses paper-based recyclable boxes.
In this age of fast food, slow food, and ready-to-eat frankenfood, those of us who strive to eat and live green often get a tummy ache at the thought of dining out. But if you happen to find yourself in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, swing through Harrisonburg and stop by The Little Grill Collective. Meet the owners as they take your order, cook your food, clear your table, and ring you up at the register. Take some good grub along with you for the drive–be it a long one or just down the street. The friendly staff, kitschy décor, and interesting characters will help make your visit a memorable, uniquely sustainable one for sure.
Do you know of any other similar, progressively green restaurants? What have your experiences been in the world of trying to dine out in an eco-friendly manner–positive, negative, mixed? What suggestions would you offer to restaurateurs to help green the industry and make it better for customers, employees, and the Earth?