I was mindlessly slipping on my favorite Wallace & Gromit socks while getting dressed for lunch, when I suddenly became mindful of the fact that I was headed to the Govina Dining Room at the Hare Krishna Temple in Coconut Grove, the sort of place that likely would have guests remove their shoes at the door. Not wishing to draw any more attention to myself than necessary, I changed to white cotton hose. As it turned out, shoes were allowed at the restaurant, which is located a short stroll from the temple, where they are not. The lovely Krishna grounds also include gardens and a gift shop that sells exactly what you'd think it would sell.
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Regret at having removed my Wallace & Gromit socks for naught was short-lived, as I was distracted by a disappointing glance around Govina. I had expected something humble and minimalist, perhaps a spare new-age sort of space or an organic, rustic-hippie spot, but nothing quite as drastically drab as this. A self-serve steam table and a salad table are set up side by side at one end of the large rectangular room, the center taken up by a dozen wooden tables strewn about on a dark green-tile floor. Images of Krishnamurti and some Indian prints hang on the walls, and there are old black steel bars on the windows (presumably from whatever was here before, unless break-ins at Hare Krishna dining rooms are more prevalent than we suspect). Six tables with banquet seating on the front porch offer a far more comfortable and comforting environment, but, just the same, before the meek shall inherit the Earth let's hope they seek some decorating advice.
The food, prepared with love by Vikarta Devi Dasi, is hot, healthy, made fresh daily, and cheap. You grab a Styrofoam plate and help yourself to two vegetable dishes, white or "integral" (brown) rice, and a salad of lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, red pepper, and small cubes of tofu. You also can fill a Styrofoam bowl with soup, a paper cup with mint iced tea, and keep on eating and drinking as much as you'd like for the grand price of five dollars. A slice of homemade pizza, with olives, peppers, broccoli, tomato sauce, mozzarella and very crisp crust sells separately for $1.50. Made by Dasi's husband, the pizza won't be confused with anything you'd get at a pizzeria, but it's not bad.
Govina Dining Room
Hare Krishna Temple, 3220 Virginia St, Coconut Grove
305-442-7218. Open Monday through Saturday, noon till 6:30 p.m.
The Krishna Temple has been on this site for nineteen years. Head cook Dasi arrived just over a month ago from her native Argentina and has the task of rejuvenating what has been a sluggish dining scene. She gets some of her recipes from the official Hare Krishna vegetarian cookbook, others from her home country. Soups of the day might include garbanzo or pumpkin, though on the day we dined, the duo was red bean with tofu and asparagus with tofu. The latter soup had the stringy texture of asparagus pulp, but I'm not sure the word texture even belongs in a review of an all-you-can-eat-for-$5 eatery. Let's just say both soups were tasty. The two vegetables offered were collard greens mixed with sweet potatoes and a stir-fry of potatoes, sweet plantains, peppers, tomatoes, and a zesty spice mixture of cumin, coriander, and garlic. Other days might bring green beans with tomatoes and panir (homemade curd cheese), or spinach with garbanzos and peppers. There were no desserts when we visited, but Dasi usually puts out some sort of honey-sweetened custard or rice pudding.
All things considered, Govina is an ugly, upbeat, offbeat, inexpensive vegetarian place to eat. They've got music, too, and though it was played so low as to make it difficult to discern, I thought I heard a subliminal Hare Krishna chorus singing in the background. That's okay. I mean, at least there was no proselytizing, and, best of all, I wasn't pressured into buying any incense.