Veg-tas­tic: Meet the plant-based play­ers mak­ing culi­nary in­roads here.

Ve­gan din­ing is thriv­ing in Mil­wau­kee. Here’s where to find some of the most in­ter­est­ing and de­li­cious green dishes.

Milwaukee Health - - DEPARTMENTS - By ANN CHRIS­TEN­SON with con­tri­bu­tions by El­iz­a­beth Elv­ing

The plant-based di­etary life­style may seem to just be in fash­ion, but it’s no sur­face trend. Meat con­sump­tion is a heav­ily charged eth­i­cal and po­lit­i­cal topic, with in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the United Na­tions warn­ing that a ve­gan diet will be vi­tal to our planet’s fu­ture. The move­ment is even pick­ing up steam in MKE, as the num­ber of ve­gan venues climbs and main­stream om­niv­o­rous res­tau­rants (Odd Duck, Braise) re­spond to de­mand.

Most lo­cals who eat green know Beans & Bar­ley – re­li­able, un­chang­ing and vege­tar­ian-fo­cused (but also serv­ing poul­try and fish). Ten years ago, Brook­field’s Café Manna be­came the re­source for peo­ple whose diet is dairy- and meat-free, and/or raw. Manna was able to make plant-de­rived din­ing sat­is­fy­ing and de­li­cious.

The move­ment is now hum­ming along, with Beer­line Café, Ur­ban Beets and most re­cently Strange Town of­fer­ing more in­no­va­tive ways of pre­sent­ing ve­gan foods. And af­ter test­ing her Beatrix Foods meat­less model as a pop-up, Me­lanie Manuel is set to open a small restau­rant and sei­tan “butcher” counter – a first in this city – on the East Side. Din­ing with­out meat or dairy is, in essence, eas­ier than ever. Take a closer look at the lo­cal plant-based play­ers:

Strange Town

A cozy bar space with the un­hur­ried, art­lessly stylish feel of a Parisian café, Strange Town goes the route of “mind­ful” im­bib­ing (small-pro­duc­tion wines, botan­i­cal-based cock­tails) and food with deep fla­vors and tex­tures – food that’s per­sonal to its own­ers. Cousins Andy Noble and Mia LeTen­dre, who took over the old Al­lium digs in 2017, are do­ing the op­po­site of “dumb bar food,” as Noble calls it, or de­riv­a­tive faux meat-based dishes. Theirs is a small kitchen with­out bells and whis­tles, and they work around it, mak­ing baked rice balls, mush­room tar­tine, beets in Ja­panese mari­nade shio koji and a re­ally in­ven­tive sea veg­etable salad with gin­ger crema and spir­ulina, a high-pro­tein al­gae. They make the edgy seem sim­ple and some­how fa­mil­iar. (2101 N. Prospect Ave., strange­town­mke.com)

Café Manna

Since its 2008 open­ing, the trail­blazer has evolved too. Raw food was an un­ex­pected hit from the be­gin­ning and re­mains pop­u­lar thanks to healthy-but-tasty dishes like raw nut-meat na­chos and Thai rolls with col­lard greens. “Food is pow­er­ful,” says founder Robin Kasch, who adopted a plant-based diet for health rea­sons. “So we work to cre­ate a bet­ter way to eat.” Cer­ti­fied by the Green Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion (GRA), Manna walks the low-car­bon-foot­print walk, on bam­boo floors. In the kitchen, there’s not a deep-fryer or mi­crowave to be found. (3815 N. Brook­field Rd., Brook­field; cafe­manna.com)

Ur­ban Beets Cafe & Juicery

In 2017, Ur­ban Beets ex­panded into an ad­ja­cent space to keep up with the city’s grow­ing ap­petite for the healthy fare it serves. It will also open a sec­ond lo­ca­tion, in Tosa, this year. The grow­ing aware­ness of what peo­ple are putting in their bod­ies, says GM Ni­cole Cornejo, has helped Mil­wau­kee’s bur­geon­ing plant-based move­ment co­ex­ist with its long­stand­ing bratand-burger cul­ture. Ve­g­ans and dab­blers alike can en­joy fresh juices, acai bowls and en­trées made with whole-plant food. Raw desserts crafted from dates, oats, nuts, and co­conut milk are avail­able as grab-andgo bites. Us­ing wal­nuts as a meat sub­sti­tute is ge­nius when it’s in the raw taco salad. Also good is the UB poke bowl, fea­tur­ing a cu­cum­ber salsa and gin­ger-soy sriracha dress­ing folded into quinoa and veg­gies. (1401 N. King Dr., ur­ban­beetscafe.com)

Beer­line Cafe

The menu goes well beyond the crepes it started with in 2015 to a mush­room bar­ley burger, veg­gie-heavy Buddha bowl and Ethiopian lentil-sweet potato wrap. The GRA-cer­ti­fied venue strives for sus­tain­abil­ity with LED lights and water-sav­ing faucets. Recipes fa­vor or­ganic ingredients and avoid the pack­aged meat al­ter­na­tives that used to pre­vail. “Ve­gan cook­ing has taken a big turn,” says head chef Corissa Grund­man. Beer­line “is a place where ev­ery­body can eat.” (2076 N. Com­merce St., beer­linecafe.com)

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