Despite that, I got it in my head I needed to revisit my veggie adolescent experimentation, if not permanently, then at least once. I had often driven by Bean Vegan Cuisine on my way to work, wondering how in the world they were able to stay in business with such terrible signage, not to mention their inconvenient location on Independence Boulevard, a.k.a. where stores go to die. I had heard that it was the place to go if you were interested in vegan food in Charlotte, and so set my sights on trying it out.
I'm honestly not sure why I was so determined for one of my first endeavors to be vegan cuisine. Perhaps it was my early failures at trying vegetarianism that drove me. Perhaps it was because I have had a lot of vegetarian/vegan friends while in theatre. Perhaps it was out of an ill-suited attempt to find out if food could possibly be good at a restaurant with a sign that bad. No matter the case, to the vegan restaurant I went.
I have nothing against vegan or vegetarian food; in fact, I quite enjoy the occasional vegetarian meal. However, any vegan meals I've had have been purely by accident. There's something about the deliberate lack of any animal products that's made me hesitate. Could tofu fingers really replace my beloved chicken nuggets? Don't get me wrong, I salute those who are able to make it a part of their lifestyle. There are many Indian and Thai dishes that are vegetarian and vegan, and with a large portion of the country pushing towards healthy, sustainable meals, there are way more interesting options available now. It was with this in mind that I decided I needed to try my very first fully vegan meal.
There were two servers who seemed to switch off taking care of each table, rather than confining themselves to a section. They were both extremely welcoming and nice. With their longer hair and bandanas, they seemed like the stereotypical "happy vegan." I always feel nervous trying something new (hence the point of this blog), so I was grateful for their easy manner.
There was a lot of signage espousing the vegan lifestyle, which was no surprise. A sign on the door asked for no outside food and drinks, in keeping with their cruelty-free atmosphere (A bit heavy-handed in my opinion; I'm not sure that brow-beating is the most effective argument for a vegan lifestyle. I was feeling somewhat defensive; after all, I was at least trying vegan food.). A placard on the table assured me that by eating one vegan meal I was effectively saving about 3,000 gallons of water and 16 pounds of grain, not to mention the savings in future health costs by eating healthier (citation needed). I did have to wonder how much healthier deep-fried tofu and grilled soy burgers could be, but I shrugged it off. Yet another sign was on the back of their wine listing, espousing their vision for Bean Vegan Cuisine (Truly these guys believed in what they were selling, which was actually a refreshing change from the sterility and plastic smiles of most chain restaurants.).
We were handed a breakfast and a regular menu. The breakfast menu surprised me, as it was after 1pm, but I thought it was really cool. I started to order a Coke (a.k.a. the elixer of life) but I stopped when I realized they had Izze, a fruity carbonated drink. I gleefully ordered a blackberry soda.
It seemed to take a while for our appetizer to come out, though I didn't mind waiting. There were a lot of interesting things to look at, like the awesome comic book wall, t-shirts, and small vegan market at the back.
Not to be dissuaded, I moved on to the fried Buffalo tofu fingers. They appeared to be a bit unevenly sauced. Some had barely any coating on them, while others were fairly dripping. I have to say, however, that they tasted pretty good. The texture was a bit chewy and tough with some of the thinner ones, as though they had been overcooked, but if I didn't know what I was eating, I might have thought I was eating chicken fingers. The Buffalo sauce did a good job of covering up any weird tofu taste, and was really tasty. I wish I had asked whether or not they made their sauce in-house. We ended up eating all of it, though the sad vegan ranch wound up sitting largely untouched, like a vegetable tray at a Super Bowl party.
The flavor, however, not so much.
Here's the thing. I imagine for people who adopt a vegan lifestyle, these types of foods serve as awesome subsitutes for foods that they can't enjoy anymore. I imagine to them, vegan meatloaf tastes pretty close to the real thing. However, to those of us with a meat-eater's palate, the difference is enough to be more than noticeable. I've eaten veggie versions of burgers, chicken tenders, and the like. I've actually enjoyed them, any they've been pretty close to the real thing. Unfortunately, the food at Bean wasn't really close to me. Everything tasted...off, somehow. It wasn't bad, persay, but it just wasn't the same.
I didn't want to be disappointed, but disappointed is what I felt. I wanted my first true vegan experience to be awesome. Unfortunately, life doesn't always work out that way. I do think that there have to be better vegan experiences than the one I had at Bean, and for that reason I do think I am going to try again, but this time at a different restaurant.