A prime location on Main near Huron seems a natural for an eatery catering to passersby of every stripe. Jazzy Veggie’s owner, Ananth Pullela, told the Observer shortly after opening last fall that yes, his is a restaurant for everyone. But because it features “100 percent plant-based cuisine,” you have to wonder: are carnivores really going to cross over with ease?
I’m an omnivore (subspecies flexitarian), and I entered the bright tomato-red and leaf-green one-room eatery unconcerned. Walking past Jazzy Veggie, I’d often caught whiffs of garlic (always a good sign), and acquaintances had raved about the good food and good vibe.
I quickly learned that Jazzy Veggie does a lot well. The folks at the counter are friendly and informative. The menu is original–agave barbecue, anyone? Soups, high-fiber chocolate chip cookies, and even the tofu-based chocolate mousse are built from scratch, making the reasonable prices seem even higher in value.
The sweet chili veggies with noodles would be a hit on any menu, with a slightly hot sesame spice putting attitude into a lightly cooked assortment of colorful squash, bok choy, carrots, peapods, and broccoli. The muffaletta, a hefty sandwich with guacamole, red peppers, marinated tofu, and a veggie patty on crispy Zingerman’s sesame semolina bread, is textured and tasty, appeasing junk food cravings as well as any McChicken something or other. Also appealing are some of the homemade sauces and condiments, particularly the balsamic ketchup for the baked sweet potato fries, which has savory umami addictiveness. A hint of curry-like exotica enlivens the “signature” dressing for salad and plantain chips. (Those plantain chips were, by the way, the only item I sampled that suffered from “off the shelf” ordinariness, but they did have a good crunch for a snacky fix.)
A group meal at Jazzy Veggie can provide welcome respite from the eternal (infernal?) questioning that accompanies dining out with vegans who quiz the staff on any possible egg or dairy substance lurking deep in every dish. I also thought I would easily cross over to veganism for meals here. After all, I like international food at Seva. A vegan restaurant would be another step in a good direction, right?
But it turned out that all-vegan represented a bigger jump than I could navigate effortlessly. Suddenly I was the one asking all the questions, learning that vegan dairy substitutes range from the silken tofu in the “mousse” to tapioca-sunflower-safflower “cheese” atop pizzas and accompanying macaroni in one night’s dinner special. It was a little pasty and sweet for my taste; I longed for a sharp provolone or cheddar.
Another issue: variety is limited. Jazzy Veggie’s menu has ten standard entrees, and most are sandwiches. Add pizzas with four suggested topping combinations, two appetizers, and two soups, and that’s about it. At dinner, daily specials get added in rotation, at the chef’s discretion. The evening I came eager to try enchiladas, a special on an earlier visit, they were gone, with no firm ETA for their return.
The veggie loaf we ordered instead absolutely wowed a vegan friend, who said it was a premium vegetable protein prepared as well as he’d ever tasted. I thought it was a pretty good impression of meat texture without much flavor. The sturdy brown sauce had a surprisingly gravy-like aura, but I missed the richness of butter and milk in the mashed potatoes. This was the most substantial of the entrees that I tried–blackened corn salad might have been equally filling, but I got bored and left the last two of my half dozen hearty strips of “chick’n” uneaten.
A few ways Jazzy Veggie could better satisfy the crossover crowd seem obvious. Go nuts: give a more liberal (and filling!) topping of sliced almonds on the otherwise lovely and bright couscous orange salad, for example. Pile up the baked goods: elsewhere I’ve fallen for awesome vegan pumpkin muffins, peanut butter cups, and apple cakes–they’d be welcome company to those lonely cookies on the dessert counter. And make a greater commitment to internationalism on the regular menu: other countries have time-tested cuisines less focused on meat and dairy than ours. More grain-based Middle Eastern, Mexican, Italian, African, and Asian entrees could bridge the chasm for those palates not tuned to subtleties in the quality of vegetable proteins.
Vegan regulars on a first-name basis seem plenty happy at Jazzy Veggie. To turn up the volume of customers and meals served, I’d like to see them turn up the volume on the amount and kinds of food offered. It still may not satisfy everyone–probably not the young’un I know who heated up a leftover pork chop at home after his dinner here. But for those curious passersby, there would be more to hook them in.
108 S. Main, 222-0230
Open Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Sun.
Appetizers $4.95, salads $7.25-$7.95, burgers and sandwiches, $7.25-$7.95