2280 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City ; 801-484-8378
Omnivores, vegetarians and vegans can delight in Tender Tiger (vegetarian "chicken" strips) and numerous brunch items.
Cuisine: Vegan, Vegetarian
Hours: Open daily, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Liquor: Beer & Wine
Reservations: Not accepted/necessary
Recommended Dishes: Tender Tiger (vegetarian "chicken" strips).
September 12, 2007
Pancakes are flat-out fabulous at South Salt Lake vegan restaurant
By Vanessa Chang
My friend sounded worried. "A vegan restaurant?" he pleaded. "What am I going to eat there?" Truthfully, I wondered the same thing, too. But when he bit into his breaded "chicken" sandwich ($6.75) with its well-seasoned, shattering fried chicken-like crust and side of golden cut fries he was pleasantly surprised. "You sure this isn't chicken?" he asked. He cocked an eyebrow as the server assured him everything was vegan, meaning no meat, no eggs and no refined sugars. By the time he washed down his Pinkus Organic Hefeweizen ($6.50), the sandwich was gone.
Admittedly, its unique take on vegan comfort food at affordable prices isn't for everyone. But omnivores looking for something different to supplement their usual dining out routine can find something to enjoy with the vegetarians and vegans who frequent the South Salt Lake restaurant.
Chef-owner Ian Brandt resurrected the old 1920s diner, reviving its retro bones (counter seating, booths, glass block wall) with a juxtaposition of salvaged Chinese wood carvings, black and white color scheme and huge windows, giving it a thoroughly eclectic modern feel. A free jukebox plays everything from Johnny Cash to classic rock and there are weekend nightly dinner specials.
The neighborhood itself is industrial, save the meat heaven that is Pat's Barbecue just around the corner. Brandt created a place where the organic and local food mantra are pervasive (even his concise beer and wine lists feature organic options), yet the space is still fun enough to get together with friends and sip on lusciously sweet mocha soy smoothies ($6).
Affordability comes by using less organic products. Whereas sister restaurant Sage's Café is 80 to 90 percent organic, Vertical hovers around 30 percent. Still remarkably, everything from the fennel-spiked vegetarian sausage patties to the "cheeze" sauce is made from scratch, in-house.
Vegan cuisine has its own nomenclature. Take "cheeze" sauce. The culinary cognate has no actual dairy. It mimics fermented milk with fermented yeast used to make beer. It's not so convincing atop an appetizer of nachos ("nacho mama" $7.50), but it works over your choice of portobello mushrooms, tempeh (a nutty tasting Indonesian soy bean cake) or vegetarian chicken in a Philly "cheeze" steak sandwich ($6.50).
I confess to not completely understand the concept of vegetarian "meat." My inner carnivore begs that there's really no point in comparing whether or not the fake stuff is as good as the real thing. One exception to my blatant prejudice is the Tender Tiger ($4.75) -- essentially chicken fingers, but no chicken or tiger were harmed in its making. Instead, wheat gluten, known as seitan (say-tan), Vertical's own version, is cajoled into a very convincing texture and appealing mildness. No sarcasm intended, it actually tastes like chicken. Tender Tiger appears again atop smooth mashed potatoes in a Thursday special of "chicken fried steak" ($9.75), though you lose that sexy crunch when its slathered with a well-seasoned gravy. We'd ordered the hearty entrée after a huge round of Tender Tiger appetizers. More tiger wasn't appealing and we wished our server had warned us that our dinner order would leave us completely tiger-ed out.
Service in general is straightforward, sometimes extremely friendly. Sometimes not. Overall, customers less familiar with vegan food can always get answers like why boca burgers ($5.75) differ from sunshine burgers ($6.25).
Like any good diner, brunch is served all day here. And this part of the menu has the most universal appeal. You can't argue with a heap of spice-dusted, sautéed hash browns slathered with "cheeze" sauce and capped with a silky tofu scramble (The Mountain -- $7.25). Biscuits and gravy ($2.75, plus $2 per side dish) get a convincing makeover with beguiling vegan biscuits as light and tender as clouds. Alone the flavor isn't quite right, but married with the aromatic gravy, it's not bad.
If you're in the mood for pancakes you'll get to taste the best thing on the menu. Plain, banana, or my favorite, blueberry ($2.75 for two), you get fluffy disks, wonderfully griddle-toasted on the outside. Soy butter melts atop the stack and gives it a well-rounded mouth feel. All you need is some real maple syrup (75 cents) especially if you have whole, tart, aromatic blueberries in the batter. You'd never guess these were from an eggless, butterless recipe.
They were good enough that my friend ordered a stack for dessert after he finished his chicken sandwich. He knew better than to ask for bacon.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.