Vegetarian Delights of NYC: Eggplant Rollatini at John's in the East Village

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The sepulchral candle display in the back room at John's makes it the perfect goth dating spot.

Founded in 1908, John's is the East Village restaurant that time forgot, a stray from the pack that just happens to be better than most restaurants of its ilk in Little Italy. It's forte is southern Italian dishes with buckets of red sauce, with a preference for pastas, and especially baked pastas. The servings are humongous, the staff gracious, and the cooking, better than it needed to be if this were just a tourist trap.

The stucco on the walls is so deep you could slash yourself on it. While the front room is romantic, the rear room is doubly so, with a display of guttering candle wax that must have accumulated a decade or more. The lights are eerie, in an engaging sort of way, and soft music plays in the background--not Frank Sinatra, but 60s and 70s rock. We are indeed trapped in a time warp, my friends.

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But on to the vegetarian delight. Any of these old red-sauced places are likely to provide plenty of vegetarian options, and even a few vegan ones. For the latter, there's the leafy mainstay of southern Italy, broccoli rabe (shown above), sauteed in olive oil with huge quantities of garlic. The eggplant rollatini is the thing to get for lactovores, and it showcases the fresh-cheese obsession of Italy's southernmost regions. The purple vegetable has been fried crisp, and wrapped around a voluminous filling of ricotta. An oversufficiency of mozzarella mantles the top. On the side is an equal volume of spaghetti with a simple tomato sauce. The $13.95 entree easily feeds two. 302 East 12th Street, 212- 475-9531

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