A tasty vegetarian/vegan cart sneaks past the Back Bay's guardians of dullness
I routinely crab about the dearth of good street food in Boston, echoing former New Yorkers and Los Angelenos who pine for their hometowns' ubiquitous hot-dog carts, kebab stands, and taco trucks. Forget about street food completely if you work in the Back Bay — its toffee-nosed neighborhood association would surely torpedo any attempt to introduce something as plebian as a food cart to its environs. So I'm not sure how Jack and the Bean Bowl managed to tiptoe into existence, but there it is, offering vegetarian and vegan cuisine smack on Copley Square.
The tiny cart serves exactly one entrée option: a vegetarian bean bowl ($5), which sprinkles a foundation of brown rice and black beans with shredded cheddar cheese and fresh cilantro, then dollops it with fresh avocado, mild tomato salsa, and sour cream. (The vegan version omits the cheese and uses a tofu-based substitute for dairy sour cream.) You may choose between two vegan sauces: creamy lemon or chipotle/lime. Both add essential complexity, but I think the lemon's assertive tanginess makes a bigger impression, a rounder complement to the other savory flavors. If you like a bit of chili fire, you can dose your bowl with sriracha and/or any of four flavors of Tabasco sauce. Altogether it's fresh, colorful, and surprisingly filling — a healthy-tasting deal.
For dessert, there are cupcakes ($2) in a few permutations: vegetarian or vegan, chocolate or white cake, chocolate or vanilla frosting, with or without jimmies (sprinkles or shots to you non-locals). Though generously frosted, these don't follow the current cupcake supersizing trend, presumably so as not to utterly undermine an otherwise healthy lunch. Drink options include canned sodas ($1.50), bottled water ($1), and house-made Italian sodas ($2.50), i.e., seltzer with a jolt of any of 15 rather sweet, fruit-flavored Torani syrups. Order up, grab a napkin, and find a nearby bench or patch of lawn to sit in the sunshine and enjoy. (It will be a nice day: Jack and the Bean Bowl doesn't open if the forecast looks rainy.) Its hours of operation are scant; the husband-and-wife chef/owners have day jobs they can only sneak away from so often. But for Back Bay workers starving for good, cheap lunch options, especially the grossly underserved vegetarians and vegans among them, this Little Cart That Could is a winsome addition to the neighborhood.
Jack and the Bean Bowl, located in Copley Square (at approximately 587 Boylston Street) in Boston, is open from Wednesday–Friday, 11:30 am–2:30 pm, weather permitting. No phone.