Restaurant Review: Café Veg

Café Veg
2291 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard (7th Avenue)
(between West 134th Street and West 135th Street)
Harlem, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (3/4)

With a Groupon in-hand, Brian and I set off from north Harlem to visit Café Veg, and to experiment with some of their vegan-style soul food. Nestled between two larger buildings and set slightly below street level, the restaurant has a secluded feel. Inside, exposed brick and wood paneling in the long, narrow dining room push the décor in the direction of a speak-easy, but they unfortunately don’t pursue that theme. While comfortable, the restaurant has a lot of unrealized potential in terms of atmosphere.

But space alone does not make a restaurant…  Their service was amazingly friendly, and our waiter was very helpful in guiding us through a menu chock-full of southern specialties.

For beverages, I had an orange mango drink and Brian went with a raspberry lemonade. Though served in glasses, our guess is that they had been poured from cans of Santa Cruz Organics; both had the sweet and fizzy taste of those sodas.

For our dinner, we started with spinach rolls and golden chicken nuggets as appetizers. The spinach rolls had been deep-fried well beyond the stage of a golden crust, but not so long as to qualify as burnt. They were delicious regardless, with a well-seasoned spinach interior. The chicken nuggets were also good, with a crisp coating and a nicely textured interior, though our appetites desired a larger portion size (there were four medium-sized nuggets on the plate).

As our entrées, we each chose a main dish with three sides, which were served attractively on compartmentalized dishes.

My stir-fry steak was meaty, with the sweet, rich underlying flavor of molasses in the sauce. A side of chili added a touch of spice to my meal, and was joined by a carefully cooked okra (steamed just long enough to soften the vegetable without allowing the white pods to lose their form), and a simple mac and cheese.

Brian’s BBQ ribs were straight out of the fast-food vegetarian playbook; they bore no resemblance to actual ribs in taste, texture, appearance, or experience – instead they were more just a seitan means of conveying the thick barbeque sauce to our mouths. Brian’s main was joined by wonderfully sweet mashed potatoes, another scoop of the chili, and a fine helping of collard greens.

Veg Café joins many of NYC’s other vegetarian restaurants in serving desserts provided by Vegan Treats. We shared a chocolate strawberry shortcake and a coconut cake (both delicious, though the coconut cake was especially amazing with its smoothly-flavored coconut cream frosting and filling).

Overall the food was fun and enjoyable, but (much like the interior design) we would have loved to see a stronger pursuit of their culinary theme. At $22 each, the Café Veg experience is certainly a solid value, but knowing the potential of vegan soul food (with examples like Blossom Du Jour’s mac and cheese, or Food Swings’ BBQ wings), Café Veg doesn’t quite match up - we’d like to see their kitchen push the envelope just a bit further in giving the restaurant and its food a sharper edge and stronger distinctiveness.

Food (3/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (3/4)

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