July 01, 2009
Vegan café offers more than salads and sprouts
Café Seed is the type of place that might just break your heart.
Organic and 100% vegan — no meat, eggs, dairy or honey — its unique didactic charm might be more at home in a bustling urban environment or progressive college town than next door to an auto shop on a nearly deserted street in a city, where, to some, the preparation of meat is akin to a religious experience.
But before you sacrifice the place to the cult of BBQ, know that owner Ericka Mingo has a fine trick up her sleeve. In addition to the usual tofu-and-sprouts salads and wraps, she serves several dishes that look and taste like familiar favorites. Even the most die-hard carnivore could find comfort in the “bacon” there.
Aside from fresh, squeezed-from-scratch organic juices and natural smoothies, the café’s separate lunch and brunch menus read somewhat like a short-order menu: veggie sausage biscuit with fruit garnish ($4.95), pancakes with veggie bacon or sausage and fresh fruit topping ($8.95), Belgian waffle with home fries and veggie bacon or sausage ($8.95), deli sandwich with soup or chips ($9.95), and a grilled cheese sandwich with soup or chips ($8.95). But don’t let the “veggie” part fool you. One vegan friend couldn’t eat the sausage that came with her breakfast. “It tasted too real,” she said. “I thought I was eating meat.”
But the vegans and vegetarians who've become versed in meat substitutes from their grocer's frozen foods aisle will be pleased. A hearty animal product-free breakfast is one of the most difficult meals to find in a restaurant. However, for the nuts-and-berries crowd, there are sprout-laden choices, such as a vegan wrap served with soup ($8.95), and several salads, including a crispy tofu salad ($9.95).
Although the café’s brunch offerings are gaining much word-of-mouth attention, the lunch fare shouldn’t be discounted. The same veggie bacon that pairs perfectly with the waffle or pancakes is a smoky, crispy delight on the BLT, which comes on lightly toasted sprouted bread and a bed of crisp greens with a light, whipped mayo-like spread (Mingo doesn’t disclose her secrets that turn veggie- and soy-based ingredients into tasty substitutions). The accompanying tomato soup tasted tart yet peppery: a pleasantly surprising contradiction to its cream-based cousins. The seasoned filling in the blue corn hard shell tacos was appropriately meaty, and topped with fresh lettuce and generous avocado slices. As part of the whole, the shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream could pass as the real deal, although on closer inspection the cheddar bits were more formless than dairy cheese. In the heat of the afternoon, the stray bits on the plate started to resemble pimento spread more than cheddar.
When dining at Café Seed, patrons need to devote at least an hour or more to the meal. This isn’t the place to go for quick lunch turnover. Complicating the ordering protocol is the layout of the main dining room in relation to the kitchen. When eating in, take a seat and prepare to wait to be served. For take-out, place your order with the server at the dessert counter. Solely Mingo and one server staff the tiny place yet the service for dining in is close to intolerably slow, even when there are few other customers. This could explain the brisk take-out service I witnessed the afternoon of my lunch. If dining in alone, it’s wise to bring some reading material.
Perhaps the lack of snappy service encourages diners to browse the gallery walls in the main dining room and the retail shelves in the second dining room while they wait. The bookshelves are stocked with a variety of black pride DVDs and CDs, as well as apparel and crafts from local Afrocentric vendors. The adorable children’s T-shirts, including one featuring a picture of Angela Davis with “Little Angela” written below, must surely be a best seller.
Café Seed is open limited hours: weekend brunch, weekday lunch and Friday nights for dinner. But the hours posted on the website and front door are no guarantee of its being open. Recently, the place was closed for a hair show it co-sponsored on a Saturday, and was still shut up tight well after the listed opening hour on Sunday.
“Every time I drive by, the place looks closed,” confessed a friend recently. Eventually, we were able to catch it open, but then were promptly told the place was out of deli sandwiches, French fries and its delicious vegan desserts, including the cupcakes and cakes. Now that’s true heartbreak.
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