Ce­lesta finds a home on East Side’s ve­gan scene

Wisconsin Gazette - - Editorial - By Mike Hol­loway Staff writer

Grow­ing up in a mil­i­tary fam­ily, Me­lanie Manuel grew ac­cus­tomed to mov­ing around long be­fore she be­gan her se­ries of pop-up din­ners.

In 2015, Manuel’s Beatrix Foods be­gan pop­ping up at brew­eries, wed­dings, art shows and small fam­ily events. Her ve­g­an­friendly bar food quickly found a fol­low­ing.

Even­tu­ally, the pop­u­lar­ity of Beatrix Foods out­grew its no­madic life, prompt­ing Manuel to leave her day job as an English teacher and plant roots on Mil­wau­kee’s East Side with a brick-and-mor­tar restau­rant. Ce­lesta Restau­rant opened June 12 in a space at 1978 N. Far­well Ave. for­merly oc­cu­pied by Jow Nai Fou­quet.

Ce­lesta brings unique, af­ford­able op­tions to the East Side’s grow­ing ros­ter of ve­gan-friendly restau­rants. Cur­rently, none of the food items ex­ceed $15.

Manuel’s goal is to ap­peal to ve­g­ans and non-ve­g­ans by of­fer­ing hearty, sat­is­fy­ing dishes. Her menu in­cludes such en­trées as a turkey club, made with sei­tan and smoke­fla­vored tem­peh ($12), and lasagna made with rose­mary-sage “sausage” ($14).

Draw­ing from her love for Asian cui­sine, she of­fers ra­men with a broth that in­cludes a con­cen­trate of gar­lic, ginger, shal­lots, white miso, chili oil, tamari and sunflower seeds. “It’s for peo­ple who want a nu­anced ra­men dish,” Manuel says. “The fla­vors are a lit­tle del­i­cate, with a lighter touch.”

An­other light op­tion is the “com­mu­nity bowl,” with ro­tat­ing in­gre­di­ents. Vari­a­tions have in­cluded a bowl with kim­chi, tofu, pick­led veg­eta­bles and rice, as well as a noo­dle bowl with len­til Bolog­nese.

For her first din­ner spe­cial, Manuel chose Cal­laloo Run­dung, a Ja­maican dish con­sist­ing of rice and kid­ney beans cooked in co­conut milk and cov­ered with a creamy, gar­licky veg­etable stew.

Ce­lesta also has ap­pe­tizer and dessert spe­cials.

The restau­rant has a full bar stocked with lo­cally sourced beer, liquor and spir­its. For cock­tails, Manuel went with veg­etable-for­ward fla­vors. For ex­am­ple, The Up­ris­ing ($9) com­bines Or­ganic Twisted Path Vodka with fresh basil and toma­toes. She’s kept Abu’s Rose­wa­ter Lemon­ade ($4), which gained pop­u­lar­ity when it was a sta­ple at Abu’s, a Mid­dle Eastern restau­rant that oc­cu­pied the space be­fore Jow Nai.

Manuel be­lieves the pro­lif­er­a­tion of sus­tain­able food restau­rants on the East

Side is part of a larger so­cial move­ment. “Healthy eat­ing — and in par­tic­u­lar ve­gan and veg­e­tar­i­an­ism — is not just a trend,” she says. “Peo­ple are just so much more aware of their din­ing choices (in terms of) en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.”

And while Manuel be­lieves those din­ing choices are im­por­tant, she isn’t pass­ing up the op­por­tu­nity to have fun along the way. For in­stance, come foot­ball sea­son, she wants to of­fer home­made ve­gan baked ham and rolls.

“Peo­ple take food so se­ri­ously, but I want to in­vite a play­ful­ness to it,” Manuel says.

Ce­lesta Restau­rant

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