The next big thing huh? I know what you’re thinking. He’s going to blow my mind with details on some exotic new locale or radical fusion dish. What could it be? Perhaps he’s going to tell us about how dishes from the steppes of Central Asia are coming to SLC restaurants; or maybe those fevered dreams have been realized and spaghetti tacos are now a thing? Nope and nope. I’m here to tell you that the next big thing is veganism. Honestly. Don’t worry, I locked the door, you can’t run off, you have to hear me out. And really, you’re going to want to if you care about dining in SLC.
A growing trend in plant based dining is changing what’s on the plate when it comes to meat free meals; this isn’t the beige world of 1970s: hummus, limp tofu and dust. A mix of cash, cool and changing market demands for healthier dining choices are dragging veganism kicking and screaming towards a future altogether more mainstream. At the tip of the spear – big money is helping arm the growing vegan ranks.
Tyson Foods doesn’t simply invest $55 million into Beyond Meat – one of the doyennes of this new meatless melee – out of kindness or fluffy feelings. Far from it, this is cold hard business cash driven by profit over principle. Beyond Meat are also trialling a new line of sausages, that by all accounts apparently sizzle just like the real thing.
The other major name in the faux flesh field is Impossible Meats – you probably heard about the veggie burger that bleeds, this is the one. Backed by equally wincing sums of VC cash, the burger is presently only locally available at Peekaboo Canyon Ranch to my knowledge. That blood by the way, comes from plant derived heme protein – and the science behind is undeniably cool. The burger even sears to a crisp finish at high temperatures like real meat. Both burgers are aimed at emulating the real thing in both texture and taste – far more so than their mealy bean burger predecessors.
The international landscape is no different. Over in Finland and Sweden, McDonald’s vegan burger is now a permanent menu item, while in the UK and Ireland, restaurant delivery service Just Eat reported a 987% increase in vegan demand in 2017 and is predicting even more rapid growth in 2018.
These macro trends are being played out locally by a bustling and growing roster of businesses. Indeed, where Salt Lake City has often lagged behind larger culinary movements, it’s arguable the city is at the forefront of this current trend; which in turn builds on a solid local history of vegetarian dining over the years, such as Sage’s Cafe and their Cali’s Natural Foods brand.
Among this new wave of vegan eateries are names like Boltcutter (South West/Mexican), Buds (sandwiches), Monkeywrench (ice cream), Veggie House (Asian), Vegan Bowl (Vietnamese), Lil Lotus (American), All Chay (Vietnamese), Seasons Plant Based Bistro (French/Italian) – these are just some of the names that are offering 100% vegan friendly menus.
Moreover these businesses are thriving too. On the heels of their popular Rose Park based All Chay, the mom and pop business decided to replicate the concept over in West Jordan. Their sophomore effort – Vegan Bowl – had diners queuing out the door from day one for the vegan Vietnamese cuisine; from pho to banh mi to rice plates, every dish is 100% karma free.
Understandably, dyed in the wool carnivores might be apprehensive about making the leap into a world of seitan, tempeh and soy curls. The jackfruit-based faux-shrimp at All Chay are uncannily like the real thing, and apt to cause a moment of existential confusion. Some might also feel a hesitancy to take a step into a community that can at times can appear to bristle with an air of exclusivity and zealousness.
If you’re looking to dip your toes into the cruelty free waters slowly, there are plenty of local businesses that cater to both vegans and omnis capably – that’s the lingo for non vegans by the way. This inclusivity is perhaps best exemplified by Dave Morris’ foursome of businesses: Piper Down, Funk N Dive, Harp N Hound and Ice Haus. The concept for these successful businesses is simple: across the menus, there’s something for everyone. Morris is fundamentally committed to inclusivity and hopefully changing opinions over time. His is a marathon of subtle suggestion rather than sprint of scolding.
Morris, co-owner and chef, transitioned to the vegan lifestyle about seven years ago. With familial roots in meat loving’ Texas and an award winning BBQ chef as his business partner, the transition proved no small feat. For Morris, a self confessed foodie, a life of hummus wasn’t on the cards. The only option was to remake his favorite dishes in vegan form. Starting first with the Piper Down menu, taking existing items and figuring out how to veganize them, over time the dishes evolved and demand blossomed. All four of Morris’ ventures now sport two separate menus, one for omni eaters and one for vegans. Preparation of each menu is kept separate at all times. Those vegan wings you might order up, they never once see the same oil as their coop derived cousins.
Stop by Ice Haus and you can happily order up a meaty bacon cheeseburger alongside the Kein Fleisch vegan burger – judgement free. This award winning creation is made with Beyond Meat’s patty. “We’re a fan of the product”, says Morris, “its made from a pea protein, there’s no soy, trans fat, cholesterol, it’s GMO, hormone, antibiotic and gluten free”. That burger by the way is topped with melted vegan cheese, caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, sauerkraut, lettuce, tomato, vegan mayo, German mustard AND a sliced vegan brat. It’s classic riotous pub grub that underlines Morris’ inclusive goal. [As an omni eater], “you might stop by one night with vegan friends and maybe you’ll just try out a vegan corn dog, but maybe next time maybe you’ll try a little more. We see that happen all the time”, notes Morris, “even if I convince you to skip just one meal a week with meat, that’s a win for me.”
Most recently, Ice Haus’ herbivorous steak nights have been generating plenty of buzz. Starting with a little playful rivalry with his BBQ’ing business partner, Morris set himself the challenge of making Ice Haus’ steak night beat the numbers of their existing meat based steak nights. It took less than four weeks.
Using product sourced from Minnesota’s Herbivorous Butcher and then smoked in house at Ice Haus – even Morris under estimated the success. “We sold out in an hour”, he laughs. “My wife and I we’re running around bussing tables, we just got slammed. We eventually caught up and figured out the demand. Now we’re serving a hundred vegan steak plates every Friday night. I think we’re the first restaurant in the nation that I know of to offer a vegan steak night”, muses Morris on the success.
Vegan options are also finding their ways onto more and more menus, ones you wouldn’t ordinarily think make natural allies. Case in point, Italian cuisine, usually loaded with dairy products. In downtown Salt Lake City, chic Stanza offers a considered vegan menu that’s much more sophisticated than a slice of bread, a salad and a smile. Chef Jonathan LeBlanc explained, “When approaching the idea of a vegan menu for Stanza I wanted it to be something special and not an after-thought. I spent some time testing out various ingredients, making fresh pasta and formulating some new, different dishes. We buy fresh local produce, highest quality semolina flour, the best olive oils and everything is made in house. Stanza is proud to offer a well-thought-out vegan menu to all of our discerning diners on a daily basis.“. Stanza’s vegan menu reads as decadent as its other offerings – rigatoni cognac fungi or pistachio pesto bucatini anyone?
Meanwhile over in South Salt Lake, Mi Ranchito Grill has doubled down on vegan dining courtesy of vegan chef Victor Ivan Barragan. Not only does the Mexican restaurant offer a 100% plant based menu of classics (pozole, tostadas, tamales, tacos, quesadillas and more) seven days a week, stop by on Friday nights and you can enjoy an all you can eat buffet of vegan Mexican dishes. Need more convincing? Salt Lake City isn’t just home to one exclusively vegan bakery, its home to a bunch: Cake Walk, Big O Doughnuts, Cinnaholic, City Cakes, Passion Flour Patisserie (itself styled as a classic French patisserie nonetheless) – all offer exclusively plant based baking. Nary a hint of milk, cream or eggs in sight. The Pie Pizzeria recently announced six new vegan pizzas – even TGI Friday’s sports the Beyond Meat burger on their menu at this point. The pace of change is palpable.
Naturally, this won’t convince everyone, there’s an undeniable combative stance between both extremes of the omni and vegan universes. I’m certain a few iPad’s have been thrown against the wall though this article, “you can prise the bacon from my cold dead twitching hand”, surely muttered in defiance. For most of us more calmer and considered types though, Salt Lake City’s growing list of vegan friendly restaurants are helping to shift the merits of non-meat meal away from the traditional battlefront.
As opposed to grappling with combustible issues (lets not even get started on the debate about honey – yes it exists and yes it rages with the intensity of a thousand suns) more diners are lessening their reliance on meat purely for nutritional reasons. Case in point, Beyond Meat’s Beast Burger packs 23g grams of protein (nearly half a days requirement) into an 8 ounce patty and it does so while using nearly 10X less the saturated fats and half the calories of even a lean meat based burger patty*. It doesn’t hurt that prices are often lower for vegan based alternatives too.
These dual drivers are causing more and more diners to transition to plant based eating. Who doesn’t want to save a few bucks and help their waistline at the same time? And now, you needn’t even sacrifice flavor or selection in doing so. Check out the vegan options next time you dine out, you might be surprised…
Found some great vegan dishes or restaurants in SLC? Come and hang out and talk with other foodies in Utah on our Facebook group here:
Credits: huge thanks to the Pure Food Facebook page for use of may of the images on this page. Go follow them for more great shots of vegan food in SLC.
* shop.harmonsgrocery.com and Harmons Lean Beef Patties used for comparative data.
Founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review. Former restaurant critic at the Salt Lake Tribune. Stuart is largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words he doesn’t understand. Ate all the pies.