This post almost didn’t happen. When I first got the email inviting me to The Veggie Grill’s blogger event, I ignored it—they must have gotten my email address from some list or something, and I don’t live in L.A. anymore. But then I got a follow-up email right about the time I started getting emails from Webly, Janessa, and Jess, debating over whether or not they could swing the trip. “Sorry, ladies, I simply cannot arrange or afford a flight for next weekend!” I read the email again…ohhh, they were covering our flight and a night in a hotel so we could come try their food. I thought it foolish on their part, but it sure did sound like fun, so I did some quick scheming with the folks at work and figured out a way to make it happen. The Portland vegan bloggers were going to L.A.!
Turns out, Veggie Grill’s plan wasn’t foolish at all. They’re opening some new locations up here (Beaverton at the end of January, Downtown in May-ish, another Portlandy one sometime after that, with a few Seattle locations thrown in there somewhere), so they wanted to give us a head start. Honestly, for the price of a couple of advertisements they got four vegan bloggers (and a couple of omni restaurant reviewers) to try their food and listen to their story. Of course we’re writing about it—we write about everything! And you know me, I’m going to be straight with you.
We’ll get to the food in a minute, but I want to talk about the company. These guys are on a mission. They’re smart—and now they’re vegan. What started out as a business venture to build a chain of healthy fast-casual restaurants has changed their lives and just might change a few more. In researching this concept—the founders are all seasoned businessmen—they learned that vegan food can be just as flavorful and enjoyable as any other convenience food. Sure, that may not surprise you and me, but it did surprise them. Hooking up with their foodie Ray White, formerly of Native Foods, they are out to spread accessible, affordable vegan food across the country in a way that hasn’t been seen before.
You can choose to be excited about or scoff at the mass-market aspect of that. I personally don’t have a problem with it. Much like my experience at Native, sitting in the L.A. Veggie Grills, I loved looking around at a packed dining room, full of all races and ages, all eating vegan food. It’s not likely all these customers were vegan, but every vegan meal eaten means fewer animals are suffering. If we can take that to the masses, awesome. It could very well lead some to experiment at home with vegan ingredients or encourage them to try other vegan restaurants.
All right, you’ve been good and listened to me think probably way too much about this than I should. Here’s some food porn…after this photo of the Sunset location, for which I was hassled by The Man.
That’s Jess walking with Ray, who was a great storyteller. I was really glad to have met him. He has a love of produce and animals and people alike; it was nice to see the heart behind the chain, you know?
Same goes for the Buffalo wings. These drippy, saucy strips are like a gateway vegan food. You’ll find this Buffalo chick-product in sandwiches and wraps too. I’m not even a fan of vinegar, but I ate two of ’em.
The All Hail Kale salad, ladies and gentlemen. Kale, corn salsa, cabbage, carrots, papaya-ginger vinaigrette, and agave-roasted walnuts…guess who’s gotta try to make this at home! I cannot tell you how much I loved this salad. I’m not at all embarrassed that I was the one who flat-out asked that they box up the leftovers for us. And yes, I did eat it for breakfast the next day—it held up just grand.
The VG team all had words about the mac-n-cheese. They’re apparently still tinkering with it. It’s a quinoa pasta with their gluten-free cheese sauce, so without the breadcrumbs it’s completely gluten-free. If you’re not into quinoa pasta or a very mild cheesy taste, skip it. Kids dig it and can’t tell the difference.
In addition to burgers (you know what those look like), the menu has a bunch of steaky options. The top one there is the All-American Stack, with veggie steak, dressing, the usual fixin’s, and an onion ring. (Note: Onion rings are not an option as a side, and I for one am outraged. Hear my outrage, Veggie Grill, hear meeeee!) The next is the Carne Asada, with a spicy veggie steak. I still can’t bring myself to eat vegan steak—so dumb, I know, totally psychological—but others were into it.
The sandwich I did try (and was super impressed with) was the Bayou Chicken. Here it is wrap-style, bundled up for me to take to the airport. It’s spicy and grilled, and totally satisfying. It was my top pick along with the kale salad.
Dessert sampler, yes! I had three of these chocolate chip cookies over the course of the weekend and I wouldn’t mind another. The pudding has a dark chocolate base, and it’s the standard tofu pudding we’ve all made. Then the carrot cake: I loved it. It was pretty moist and mild. The frosting wasn’t übersweet, again going for the accessible, comfortable, you-could-have-made-it-at-home-but-you’re-running-errands-so-here-you-go vibe.
And that’s that. Unfortuately, I had to get on the early plane to make it back in time for work while the others stuck around for the new menu items, including full-meal, fork-n-knife plates, so check out their sites. I guess the Beaverton location won’t get the new menu just yet—baby steps—but you’ve seen the old one and they’re doing pretty OK with it. See you there!