#280: Vegan Plate

1:10PM, 7/9/2022


This morning I was repeatedly spinning a little random selector wheel app with all the new restaurant options and nothing was piquing my interest until I hit Vegan Plate. I instantly thought about Green Boheme and Baagan Cafe, both of which I enjoyed but ultimately did not end up returning to. Honestly, as a….Meatatarian (Meatasaurus? Man of the meats? Bear with me, I’m still work-shopping this) it usually something that looks particularly interesting to get me to go to these types of places (not counting going for this blog, which is one of the reasons I do it!). For all the obvious reasons (health, environment, animal welfare) I think it is a commendable lifestyle. I just don’t see myself giving up things like BBQ and sushi. I enjoy dipping my toes into this world once in a while and see how things are progressing.

I took a quick look at some photos online of the place and some food items and what I saw felt very ambitious. Sure, I’ve had burgers and cheesesteaks with Impossible’s beef substitute, and they are anywhere decent to pretty good. I’ve heard that chicken nuggets/ground patties can be done pretty well with soy, although I haven’t tried any that I can think of. But it was the shrimp. That’s what I saw that sealed the deal that I would be going here today. I’ve never seen this before and had to know if the taste and texture of a shrimp was something that could be approximated these days.

It was about ten past one when I arrived in the Hobby Lobby shopping center on Douglas at Sierra Gardens Dr. Two things struck me as I checked out the front of this building. I was surprised to see that the Jimboy’s was gone, and I realized that Vegan Plate now occupies the spot where Bo Bo Cafe was, which was just my 6th post ever (over a decade ago now, what a trip), and the first time I’d ever tried Vietnamese cuisine. I snapped some shots of the exterior and headed in.

The space is straightforward, a counter at center back for ordering, with a nice big black board menu that’s easy to read, and plenty of cafeteria-type seating to either side of the walkway that runs to the counter right down the middle of the room. A couple of wooden crate displays have some shirts and snacks for sale in the isle. There were just a few people in the dining room when I entered. The counter was unmanned but someone emerged right away once I got there. I said I was just starting to take a look at everything and he handed me a bound menu and said I could take a seat and come up and order whenever I was ready.

I knew I had to check out the Bang Bang Soy Shrimp (made of potato starch Konjac, Soy Protein Tossed with our house made sauce – 8 pcs)[$9.25] – as a minor tangent, I googled Konjac and it’s a root vegetable native to Asia, but I loved some of the other names it’s known by and had to share = devil’s tongue, voodoo lily, snake palm and elephant yam. I also decided to get the Soy Crispy Chick’n Sandwich (Patty is made out of Soy and Wheat. Veggies: Lettuce, Tomatoes & pickles – side of fries)[$14.95]. Beverage-wise they have a bunch of options as you’ll see in the menu photos. I went with the Tropical Sunrise, which looked like one of the lighter and more refreshing things available (orange juice, lime soda and grenadine with orange slice and cherry topping)[$5.95].

My food was ready and brought out in seven minutes, with the drink lagging behind a few more. After some quick pictures I took the first bite of the item that brought me here, the Bang Bang Soy Shrimp. What this dish seems to try to mimic is a battered, deep fried shrimp. Where most of those have a very light, crispy texture to them, this had a more substantial crunch to it. This first bite was good (insert George Takei “oh my” here), but the rest were even better. The rest of the pieces had something the first oddly lacked, and that was that, somehow, they’ve gone and done it and found a way to replicate the texture of biting into a shrimp. Well maybe not a whole shrimp but at the very least chopped pieces of shrimp within the battered shell. The flavor had a tease of heat right at the start but it never really turned into anything. The sauce was a little bit sweet. This was very good overall and while maybe not 100% convincing, if you were trying to fool me, it’s getting there.

The Soy Crispy Chick’n Sandwich was much more straightforward and exactly what I expected. The patty had a light crisp to it and it had a very convincing texture of ground chicken. The lettuce was nice and crisp, the tomatoes perfectly ripe and juicy, and the sandwich was finished off with some kind of Thousand Island type sauce. The pickles were kind of all in one spot but that’s about the only nitpick I have with this. I really enjoyed the bun, which was encrusted with nuts and was very rustic feeling. It both added a great texture to the sandwich and was strangely interesting to hold. The fries were the flat steak variety, which had me a bit worried at first. They were sliced quite thin which made them very crisp and they turned out to be totally awesome – with ketchup or without!

Last but not least, the Tropical Sunrise was just as tasty and refreshing as I had hoped. This was the only item that felt a little overpriced. It could have been a bit larger for that amount.

So this place totally blew me away. One of these days they’re gonna perfectly replicate a fatty BBQ beef brisket and the day that happens I’ll take that little voice in the back of my head telling me I should probably consider eating less meat a lot more seriously.


AM8: Sunflower Drive In

Today I finally visited a place that I’ve heard about off and on for years, Sunflower Drive In.  This is a vegetarian/vegan joint located in Fair Oaks at the corner of Main and Fair Oaks.  Whenever this place came up in some conversation it was always a rave review, unfortunately I’d just forget about it shortly after until it came up again months (or years) later.  The most recent occurrence was last December and I made a point to write it down that time.  Specifically, the item that was recommended to me was a Super Nutburger.

I arrived a little after noon and parked in the smallish lot.  The place looked quiet for the most part.  There were a handful of people sitting at the various patio tables and picnic benches around the building, but most were finishing up and heading out.  I Looked over the menu for a few minutes and picked out the Super Nutburger, as suggested and, to drink, a small pineapple juice.  By the time I had paid and turned around there was a decent line behind me.  A steady stream of people continued to arrive after this, but at least half seemed to take their orders to go.

The Super Nutburger [$6.49] is basically the same as the regular nutburger [$5.69] but with a larger patty and on pocket bread instead of a whole wheat bun.  The regular is described as a “nutmeat patty served with sauce, onions, pickles, tomatoes, romain and sprouts.”  I added cheese($0.99) and avocado($1.55) to it.  The Pineapple juice was $2.29, and my grand total with tax was $13.15.  I was handed a little paper slip with a number on it and I took a seat at one of the picnic tables to the right.

It was a little chilly in the shade there, but I bet it’s a really nice place to eat when it’s warm out.  I could hear the local roosters calling out all around the area.  My food was ready in about 7 minutes and I retrieved it from the window when my number was called out.  My burger was wrapped up in paper on a plastic tray / paper plate.  Once I got the front open I could see lots of greens waiting to spill out.  I carefully unwrapped the rest and took some photos.  I couldn’t see the patty itself quite yet.  The pocket bread was thin but large in diameter and they stuffed it full of the toppings.  I did see some big slices of avocado already sneaking out the side.

As soon as I attempted to get my hands around this thing and pick it up I realized that this was going to be messy.  When I read “pocket” bread I was envisioning something more like a pita pocket, closed on one end.  Instead it was more like a couple round pieces of flat bread.  I dug into it and mostly got romain, sprouts and a pickle.  The sauce was creamy, not quite a thousand island type but something kind of in that direction.  All the veggies were nice and fresh.  Finally after a few bites around the front I made it to the nutmeat patty.  It was mostly brown, with a bit of orange to it here and there from (I guess) carrots.  It was still warm, despite the cool air and breeze (I should mention that there is a small amount of indoor seating). Texture-wise it was surprisingly enjoyable.  While not at all like a beef patty from a place that serves quality burgers, it was not that much different from some fast food beef patties (I wasn’t to be clear that I don’t mean it’s bad, rather that it’s not weird).  As far as the taste went it was delicious!  It had just more than a hint of cumin to it, making it the most prominent flavor outside of the other toppings.

I have to admit that I came here with the thought in my mind that maybe this had been oversold to me over time and that I would leave disappointed.  I’m glad to say that was incorrect.  I really enjoyed my food, Oh!  And I almost forgot to mention the pineapple juice!  Very flavorful and delicious, like someone grabbed a whole pineapple with both hands and wrung it out over a cup.  I’m also happy that this is within driving distance for lunch from work, I have a feeling I’ll be adding this into my usual rotation soon!

#23: Baagan Fresh Healthy Vegan Cafe

I headed out last night with a direction but not a destination.  I was driving over towards the Walmart by 65 where I knew some of my choices were The Habit, India Oven and Pho Hang.  I did a quick pass down Vernon to see if there was anything interesting and noticed The Place was open, and packed!  I’ll go there another night, I’m excited to see what they are all about.  Eventually I drove past the Habit/India Oven shopping center and turned in where Pho Hang is.  I peered in the windows and it was lightly occupied.  Before deciding for certain I coasted further into the shopping center in the corner by AAA.  I didn’t think anything was actually there but then saw the sign for Baagan.  I recalled that it was on my list but I could not remember what type of food it was.  Once i got closer and parked I could clearly see into the windows and saw the rest of the sign: Healthy Alternatives… Powered by Nature.  “Oh boy” I thought, “it’s the vegan place.”

Sure, I probably have some unfair opinions about vegans, but they’re not exactly strong opinions, I would consider them to be humorous (the opinions, that is).  I’ve never spent enough time with someone that was a vegan to be properly exposed to the lifestyle in order to appreciate and respect it.  So, here goes nothing.  When I walked inside I was actually a little confused, I wasn’t so sure all of a sudden that they had much to offer in terms of food.  They place had a coffee house thing going on with the design and seating.  There was an area with a couple of lounge chairs and a couch.  I immediately noticed smoothies, teas and ice cream on the menu.  The menu that I apparently skipped over did, however, list soup, salads and sandwiches.  An employee come out from the back and greeted me while I studied the menu and probably looked like a deer in headlights.  Another person came out, one of the owners, and after I told her I was completely out of my element and asked for suggestions she started going over my options.

I knew I would have a cup of the Indian Lentil soup, it sounded great and I’m pretty sure it was the first thing I smelled when I came in.  When I asked about the sandwich options she told me she was about to make the last curry panini of the day and I said I’d take that.  I wanted to try a little bit of everything to make sure I gave it a fair shot, so I also chose the tuscan kale salad and a tea.  She told me their most popular tea was the Be Slim Satva, which she described as a little like chai after listing off some of the things that were in it.  I went ahead and ordered one of those.  With the panini, salad, soup and tea it all came to around $20 which seemed like a lot, but in hindsight I think it was a fair price.  The quality and freshness was fantastic, and it was quite a bit of food.  With the ordering taken care of they both went into the back to work on my food and I took a lap or two around the cafe to take photos.

Much like a coffee house they have lots of things to buy from yoga supplies (mats, bags, cousins, etc) and blankets to tea pots and infusers, and lots of organic snack items like kale chips.

My Be Slim Satva tea and Indian Lentil soup came out as I was finishing my rounds.  I was shown the sweetening options, raw agave nectar and coconut sugar and given a taste of the latter, which I ended up using.  after sweetening my tea I sat down to take photos of the soup and salad (which I was given right at the register).  My Curry Panini was delivered right on time as I finished those up.

The Tuscan kale salad was fresh kale with a sweet honey mustard dressing, persimmons, pomegranates and chopped almonds.  This was the most dense salad I’ve ever eaten, and possibly one of the tastiest.  Very sweet from the dressing and pomegranate, and the persimmons were ripe and juicy.  I ended up taking half of this home and eating it with lunch the next day and it was still great.  My poor refrigerator didn’t know what hit it, it probably hasn’t seen a salad since my vegetarian roommate moved out a couple years ago.

The Indian lentil soup was great, I already like lentil soup as it is.  This version had a great heat that built up over several spoonfuls.

The tea was as she described, a lot like chai, though it seemed much more mellow than other chai’s I’ve had.  This wasn’t a bad thing, it was tasty and very soothing.  It is a blend of three kinds of tulsi, turmeric, licorice, black pepper, green cardamom, fennel, ginger, clove and cinnamon.

The Curry Panini was the big surprise.  The “meat” if you will (ha), in this is a spread they make with potatoes, cauliflower, chana beans and some other things I missed.  It was one of the most unique textures I’ve encountered.  I should really work on my vocabulary, because I can’t think of how to describe it, but it was awesome.  The panini was warm, which caught me off guard despite the toasted bread.  I guess whenever I think about a vegetarian sandwich I think cold, crisp vegetables.  In addition to lettuce and bell peppers it had a creamy cilantro sauce on it and was served with a mint chutney on the side which was a great pairing.  I think I kind of fell in love with this sandwich, I could come back and eat one of these every week and I don’t think I’d get tired of it (of course I say that about a lot of things I then proceed to burn myself out on, but I think this would have more staying power than most).  I HIGHLY recommend it.  It’s actually not technically on the menu, at least not yet.  They’re trying it out right now, so you might have to ask if you can order one.

As I said, this was a lot of food.  I left full, but not that heavy burger-full that has me wanting a 2 hour nap.  It was a very satisfying meal all together.  I never thought I would be giving a vegan place a perfect score, but this was an amazing visit and introduction to how good vegan food can be.  The owner (actually both, the 2nd one came in while I was eating) and their employee were all super nice, helpful and patient as I asked questions.

Website: http://www.baagan.com/