Before I get to the details of Vgan Kitchen, please take the following into consideration: There are not enough vegan/vegetarian restaurants in South Florida to not try new ones that pop up, no matter what I or Yelp has to say about them. So unless every review mentions the roach legs in the ratatouille or the spoiled seitan, give it a try, because there’s always the chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
My wife and I were recently in the area (18106 W Dixie Hwy), so we met some family at Vgan Kitchen for dinner. It’s a small place – the picture above captures almost the entire restaurant – with a couple of outdoor tables, which because of the configuration, are kind of in the parking lot.
Now for the food. Mushrooms are a crucial part of a vegan diet: Besides being delicious, they are unique in the meaty, earthy taste they provide. And vegan or not, when you imagine biting into, for instance, a portobello, I’m guessing that said portobello is warm, juicy, and textured. Or more succinctly: I’m guessing it is cooked. Well, not at Vgan Kitchen.
The mushroom appetizer – which we started with – is stuffed with a tomato, olive, and onion mixture. Unfortunately, there is really nothing you can put inside a mushroom to redeem it from being served raw, and this particular dish only strengthened my commitment to that belief. Has anyone, ever, in the history of mushrooms, said I can’t wait to bite into that dry, rubbery, piece of fungi?
For main courses we shared four dishes: The White Bean Mushroom Meatball Sub, Raw Vegan Burger, Crispy Cauliflower Pizza, and the Sheppard’s Pie.
The Meatball Sub loses some points for not actually being a sub (it’s served on a sweet potato tortilla), loses more because what the menu calls “marinara sauce” was actually just chopped up tomato, and loses whatever points it had left for the dry lumps of bean balls that served as the meatball substitute. I could offer suggestions for how to make a sub that better evinces the Italian classic , but Vgan Kitchen’s version is so entirely different from anything resembling a meatball sub that they don’t seem worth sharing. By virtue of it being on the menu, it’s likely the chef felt she achieved her goal. The kindest thing I can say about it is that it’s just not for me.
The Raw Vegan Burger is an exemplar of what I think non-vegans imagine that vegans eat all the time. The bun? More raw portobello. (Unlike the appetizer, the menu does state the “bun” is raw). The burger? A cracker. Let me repeat that. The burger was a cracker. I suppose it was a tasty cracker – according to the menu it is made of sunflower seeds and vegetables – but it’s still a cracker, meaning, save it for a starter with some hummus, don’t serve it as a burger. The toppings on the burger were respectable, but it was simply too difficult to get over the entire concept of the dish. My wife said it best (as she usually does): Cook the mushroom and turn the whole thing inside out (the “bun” becomes the burger and the “burger” becomes the bun), and you are on the right track.
The pizza was tasty, but it is misleading to call it pizza: My wife observed that it was closer to a vegan omelette with vegetables on top (the menu says that the “dough” is cauliflower and almond flour). In short, it was fine, but not the kind of meal you’d ever get a hankering for.
The Shepard’s Pie occupies a similar space as the pizza and there really isn’t much to say about it either. It was flavorful, but exactly what you’d expect from lentils, mushrooms, sautéed greens, and spices: The only thing that will surprise you is how predictable it is.
I began by saying that unless there is some overwhelming reason not to, if you are vegan in South Florida, you should try every vegetarian/vegan restaurant in the area, and I stand by that. I say that while recognizing the contradiction between that statement and the following one: I think Vgan Kitchen gives vegan food a bad reputation. The true test of a vegan restaurant is not if vegans alone crave the food, but if omnivores at-large do. I don’t know if Vgan Kitchen passes the former test (it doesn’t with this vegan), but I am almost certain it doesn’t pass the latter.
Vegan restaurateurs should realize that the wheel need not be reinvented: Some of the most delicious food in the world just so happens to be vegan, or can be made so with slight, often imperceptible modifications. Think about the stars of different ethnic cuisines: Mexican (fresh tortilla, guacamole, refried beans), Middle Eastern (grape leaves, falafel, baklava), Indian (samosa, chana masala, aloo gobi), and Thai (pad thai, curries).
You’ll never convince everyone to become vegan, but you can convince a lot of people to become more vegan, and that matters for each factory farm animal that is spared suffering and each unit of CO2 that is not released into the atmosphere. To achieve that goal, don’t appeal to hearts and minds, but to palettes and stomachs. In other words, more somosa and less raw portobello.