Vegans like it raw, not bland

Rachel Keown-Burke and Rachel Keown-Burke

“Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn … life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat … or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.

Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit…” explains Anthony Bourdain, author, culinary mogul and Travel Channel icon.

Most vegans are not exactly the militant propagandists Mr. Bourdain portrays in his 2001 novel “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.” Still, there is always an apprehension prior to entering a vegan restaurant, spawned from an irrational fear that a deranged member of PETA looms behind the door. Or that some patchouli-infused predator sniffs out the weekends-only vegans (with their leather shoes), and waits in passive-aggressive pretension before springing to paper-mache people with pamphlets entitled “Your Mommy Kills Animals!”

Even as a “meat free-er,” an endearing Rachael Ray-ism coined to offset the moniker “meat eater,” I often find myself lingering about these places in anticipation of having to admit, as if it were an act of contrition before ordering, that yes, years ago I did eat meat. “My name is Rachel. And I’m a former bacon addict.”

Recently I found myself chasing the high I’d achieved weeks ago at Evolution Fast Food, and stumbled upon the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “vege” eatery Veg-N-Out in North Park at the corner of 30th and Myrtle. I immediately noticed their laid-back tikki-inspired outdoor patio and my apprehensions were quashed as I entered the joint in confidence with the reformed meat eater status I’d abolished. Their bumper sticker-laden counter, however, was able to raise a hair or two, brandishing phrases like “Eat Your Veggies, Not Your Friends” and “BP-eed on Me,” but I resigned them to kitsch rather than propagandist literature.

The pierced-lip woman at the counter indulged me as I debated over the 30-odd sandwich and burger choices Veg-N-Out’s menu provided. All of their selections cater to vegetarians, but for an extra seventy-five cents, several can be upgraded to vegan, in which traditional cheddar cheese is replaced by its Follow Your Heart brand counterpart, whose packaging boasts the questionable accomplishment “It Melts!”

Mr. Bourdain might be correct in asserting that there is no real substitution for a wedge of stinky cheese.

I settled on The Island Boy, a sandwich adorned with “vege chicken, jalapenos, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and mayonnaise” (substituted, of course, by Veganaise) on a wheat bun, which came with a side of their “hand-cut potato wedges.” As a self-proclaimed sauce junky, I didn’t even flinch when I read that their “hand-dipped, seasonal vegetables” fried to a golden tempura-battered crisp was “served with … homemade tarragon sauce.” I quickly amended my order.

The patio was crowded, and the dine-in atmosphere – despite its zen-Buddhist tapestries and bamboo wind chimes – alluded to an establishment that was more cannabis collective than herbivorous hash house, so I decided on take-out. The aroma of the tempura veggies filled my car, and without regard to their photographic destiny I had to nosh on one.

The oil-slicked sack belied Veg-N-Out’s statement on their website,vegnout.com, that the “staff prepares all dishes with your health in mind,” but who doesn’t observe the occasional pleasures that accompany a healthy dose of vitamin F-ried?

I tore into the bag and popped back an indistinguishable mass of breading, to discover what I’d so ravenously ingested had been a mushroom.

To my unending disappointment, someone had forgotten to drop the dipping sauce into my “100% compostable” sack. While not necessarily unforgivable, this oversight certainly dampened my dining experience.
The “meat” had been grilled and chunk-cut seitan, the other white-wheat meat, and they used fresh jalapenos instead of pickled.

Unfortunately, the chicken was underseasoned, if indeed it was seasoned at all, and the bacon pieces were little more than the cardboard imposters similar to those manufactured by Beggin’ Strips.

The hand-cut wedge fries begged for salt, but once seasoned, lived up to their savory potential.

My impromptu love affair with the tempura vegetables soured after the canola oil coated my stomach. The food high I had been chasing suddenly crashed.

My dining experience with Veg-N-Out was, at best, a letdown, and with prices ranging between $7.50 and $8 for just one sandwich, I am resolved to more research prior to the next adventure inside San Diego’s community of vegan restaurants.

Veg-N-Out
3442 30th St.
San Diego, CA
619-546-8411

Monday-Thursday 11-9
Friday 11-10
Saturday 12-10
Sunday 12-9