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Vegan food has become quite the rage in past few years, breaking through to the mainstream with chains like Native Foods, Veggie Grill and Real Food Daily. Still, by my estimation, none of them have managed to even come close to Silver Lake’s Flore Vegan Cuisine. This mainstay cafe has been a go-to for omnivores and vegans alike for years because it’s so damn good. The comfort-driven menu, grounded in organic ingredients, has all the hits, from sloppy burgers and classic sandwiches to fat burritos and breakfast til 1 pm. Their brunch menu even includes a gravy-drenched “Chicken & Waffles.”
I find it hard to veer from Flore’s generally gluttonous sandwiches. The Tempeh Tu-No Melt is close to the real thing but stands on its own, plus any deviation is made up for by the fact that it isn’t chock-full of mercury. Chunky with ideal crunch, the tuna-like tempeh mixture mingles with cashew cheese, which adds a luscious texture and light sweetness. It does the same for the Tempeh Reuben, grilled on rye and absolutely gooey with layers of cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. All sandwiches come with mixed green salad or potato salad.
I love potato tacos. A lot of people don’t, and I blame the overwhelming amount of bad potato tacos (soggy, bland, and uninspired) for misrepresenting the entire category. Perhaps my appreciation comes from the fact that I usually make mine at home, giving them an Indian twist with Chef Raghavan Iyer’s smoky yellow dal recipe. This way, I get to bypass most restaurant versions, though I am guilty of pigging out on the greasy bombs they serve over at El Acator #11 after a few drinks and under the cloak of night.
There is one potato taco that recently came onto my radar that actually gives its brethren a good name: the Mashed Curry Potatoes and Carrot Taco at Xoia Vietnamese Eats in Echo Park. This one gets it right for so many reasons. For one, the filling is flavorful thanks to the sweetness of the carrots and, of course, the savory curry, which really pops. The crunch factor is also spot on. The filling of a potato taco is unavoidably mushy, so a certain amount of crunch is necessary—the crispy tortilla and shreds of red cabbage are perfect for the task.
The finishing touches don’t miss, either. Vietnamese coriander, which is similar to cilantro, and a house-made sauce of Oaxacan crema, coconut milk and Sriracha add to the overall flavor. I think about these tacos a lot.
Not bad for $6.99.
Summer barbecues are traditionally meaty affairs, but there’s always room for a veggie burger. And I don’t mean a Boca Burger. I’m talking a homemade one that’s hearty, delicious and made with, you know, actual vegetables. I asked Eagle Rock’s Four Cafe owner Michelle Wilton how to make such a veggie burger, and she was nice enough to show us. On video. Check it out and then see the recipe and step by step instructions below.
The list of ingredients is lengthy but not too exotic, and the recipe makes about 12-15 burgers. Plus, you can freeze left over patties for 6 months.
1 red onion, diced
2 minced garlic cloves
1 cup of mixed kale and spinach
3 portobello mushrooms, chopped and grilled
3 c of cooked kidney beans
1 c of cooked black lentils
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup shredded beets
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground flax meal
1 1/2 tsp agave
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
2 tsp soy sauce
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Sautée diced red onion and minced garlic in a large pan over medium heat until softened. About 5 minutes. Add kale and spinach mixture and cook until softened for about 5 minutes more.
Step 2: Pulse grilled mushrooms, half of beans, onion mixture and half of lentils in a food processor. You can always mash and blend by hand if you don’t have a food processor. Transfer to a very large bowl.
Step 3: Add the rest of the beans, carrots, beets, quinoa and breadcrumbs.
Step 4: In a separate bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the sauce. Add it to the bean mixture. Mix very well.
Step 5: Form patties and lay them on a cookie sheet. For best results, chill them for 30 minutes. This will help maintain their shape once you begin cooking.
Step 6: If you’re using a frying pan, make sure the surface is very hot and well oiled. If you’re using a grill, make sure it’s very hot. Cook each side for 3 minutes. Melt cheese on top.
Step 7: Dress it up. Michelle uses a brioche bun, pickles, a thousand island style dressing, butter lettuce, red onions and cheddar cheese.
Is there a dish at an Eastside restaurant that you’d like to learn how to make? Let me know, and we’ll try to get the recipe for a future post.
Fact: grilled cheese, as with pancakes and steak, always tastes better when someone else makes it. Heywood, the newish grilled cheese shop in Silver Lake, has ambitiously taken up the task. Named after John Heywood, a 16th century British writer who once wrote an ode to cheese, the little eatery is, itself, an ode to the art of ultimate comfort sandwich.
The menu runs the gamut from recognizable to experimental. There’s The Classic, a standard combination of white bread, cheddar and butter, and then there’s The Bon Appetite Brie on cinnamon raisin bread, sweetened with fig jam and topped with raspberry sugar crystals. Fantastically unsubtle, The Italian Blue Jeans is a well-proportioned mix of mozzarella, blue cheese, walnut pesto and sundried tomatoes that packs quite the wallop. You can also choose from a list of breads, cheeses, fruits, veggies, and spreads to build your own. Vegan cheese and butter can be substituted on most sandwiches.
All sandwiches are served on a wooden board with mixed greens and a small cup of tomato soup for dipping. The soup is a velvety bisque that far outshines local contenders like the rather watery one they sell for an arm and a leg at nearby LAMill, for instance. It’s so good that you—but not I—could forgo the sandwich and pair a full-sized portion with one of the two salads on the menu. We tried the Mix Spring Salad, mixed greens topped with cheese and tomatoes. It was nice enough.
Prices range from $7-11, and some will argue that you can make 20 grilled cheeses for that kind of money, but if you just want one really good one, leave your griddle in the cupboard and check out Heywood.
They’re open ’til 3am Fridays and Saturdays.
Heywood A Gourmet Grilled Cheese Shop
3337 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, 90026
Sure, Griffith Park is one of LA’s most majestic treasures. The Central Park of LA, it’s truly an outstanding public space with lots of fantastic attractions—Travel Town, the Carousel, pony rides, hiking trails, baby swings…you name it. But, something it also has, though rarely acknowledged, is one of the best veggie sandwiches in LA.
The avocado sandwich at The Trails Cafe, a cute little outside eatery at the base of the Griffith Observatory trail, is a lunchtime triumph, stacked high on dark, sweet bread with at least half an avocado, tomatoes, red onion, cheddar and mayo. It’s even sprinkled with soy bacon bits, which would normally scare me, but on this sandwich it works very well, adding salty crunch.
I could eat the thing everyday.
And as if that weren’t enough, Trails also makes a bevy of baked goods, vegan and otherwise, all from scratch. This cheddar and chive scone is buttery, flaky, dense, and draped in cheddar that once bubbled and dripped. Other savory options include quiches, hand pies, cheesy tarts and even some fancy pigs in a blanket called “Snakedogs”.
By all rights, Garvanza’s should be wildly popular, but its tucked-away location keeps it undercover. The neighborhood restaurant focuses on pan-Latin flavors with an emphasis on high quality local ingredients. The produce is fresh and seasonal, and the service is super friendly. A lot of people, including me, are rooting for it.
The bulk of Garvanza’s menu is burritos and tacos, including tender barbacoa with pickled onions, pork shoulder slow cooked in garlic and peppercorns, and flaky mango-salsa-topped fish tacos. Plates, comprised of those same meat choices and some of the most flavorful rice and beans in a 10 mile radius, are also served.
The one must of the appetizers is the Garbanzo Bean Salad, a simple mix of fried garbanzos, tomatoes, onions and cilantro. The cool veggies and a drenching of lime juice really brighten up this highly addictive dish. The chips and salsa are also notable for the same reason—the chips are thick and greasy, making them the perfect match for the tangy salsa their served with.
I’m glad I live in a city where the mention of “vegan brunch” actually brings to mind more than a few delicious possibilities. Echo Park and Silver Lake, alone, have more full-on vegan restaurants (that are actually good) than most states in this country. It’s pretty exciting that, once sneered and rolled eyes at, vegetarian food’s hard-core sibling is becoming a cuisine like any other in L.A.
One of the best vegan menus in town, doing tons to make the cuisine more accessible, is at Sage Organic Vegan Bistro. Open for a little over a year—replacing their not-so-successful predecessor Mooi—Sage has evolved into a comfort food haven of non-meaty goodness. Think: bacon chili cheese burgers, eggplant parmesan, clam chowder, and bowls stuffed with everything from kale and quinoa to fried macaroni and cheese.
I have to admit, I’m a big fan of the everything-old-is-new-again food trends. You know what I mean—like when restaurants start offering cookies and milk for dessert or their own version of Ho-Hos. It’s silly, but whatever, I’m not immune to the charms of such things.
Now I’m lobbying for another classic to have its day: I’m thinking it’s pudding’s time to shine. Specifically, tapioca pudding, so I offer a new take on the cafeteria favorite: coconut tapioca pudding. I say this knowing full well that there are a lot of detractors to tapioca. I get it. Those little beads can be a freaky, but I think the spark that coconut milk adds might help stem your fears.
I was really surprised at how easy tapioca pudding is to make from scratch, and how creamy, luscious and pretty the results were.
Here’s how I did it:
(See ingredients list at the bottom of this post.)
Step 1: Boil 3 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Once things get rolling, add tapioca beads and reduce to a simmer. Constant stirring is a must because the tapioca tends to stick to the bottom of the pan. Just keep things moving for about 10 minutes.
Long anticipated or dreaded, depending on your point of view, Mohawk Bend is finally opening in Echo Park later this month. The “drinking and eating outpost” has taken over the former Ramona Theater space next door to Elf restaurant and will be serving a mostly vegan menu along with some vegetarian and meaty dishes.
Last night I attended Mohawk Bend’s media preview party, and I have to say I was pretty impressed with the transformation. Designed by Spacecraft, the once-forlorn theater is now an impressive modern space, boasting high ceilings, patio seating, skylights, exposed brick, vintage beer signs, and an atrium-like room with long communal tables and a fireplace.
Food-wise, it wasn’t bad. While I wasn’t blown away by anything, I did enjoy most of what I ate. High marks go to the Petite Sirah dipping sauce that came with the Fire Roasted Artichoke and The Flash Gordon Salad with flash-grilled Little Gem lettuce (similar to hearts of romaine), grapefruit, avocado, pickled onions and dill dressing. Owner Tony Yanow says the locavore/organic menu will change weekly to reflect the seasonal comings and goings of produce.
UPDATE: BOMB! Salads is now BOMB! Foods, but you can still find them in the Silver Lake Farmers’ Market.
When Rowan Moore Gerety wrote me, he had two questions: a.) had I tried Tacos La Fonda in Glassel Park and b.) did I know about his salad stall at the Silver Lake Farmers’ Market. The answer to both questions was no, but I was easily lured by his description of BOMB! Salads—fresh salads made to order with produce purchased on the spot.
Sign me up.
Every Saturday until 2pm, Gerety and his business partner, Jesse, (who’s taking over while Gerety is away on assignment in Mozambique) whip up salads, soups and mashed potatoes from scratch. The menu and ingredients change depending on what’s in available at the market. On my visit, I tried two salads: one with chopped broccoli, julienned apples and cilantro (pictured above) and another with curly kale, gold beet, dandelion and cucumbers. Both were really delicious with a light dressing of sunflower with lemon and yellow mustard on the kale and green pea and peppercorn on the broccoli salad. The crunch factor of both salads (super fresh!) was a plus, and the plate-sized portions were a fair deal for $6.