Veganism is one of the fastest growing diets in the world, with an estimated 69 million people worldwide embracing plant-based eating. It’s not just for white, privileged women, either; 8% of African-Americans identify as vegan versus 3% of the general population, according to a Pew research study. Health experts say veganism can be a smart way to combat medical problems such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, which due to systemic racism, are more prevalent in low-income and minority communities.
Yet despite its growing popularity, the image of veganism that most people have is brown rice and steamed broccoli. Why, when there are so many varied options in Cleveland? I set out to answer this question in a recent vegan foodie tour of my neighborhood.
But first, I turned to Ashu Howard of the Facebook group Vegans and Vegetarians of Northeast Ohio, who said his page has recently jumped to 18,000 followers. “The plant-based diet is way more healthy than a meat-based diet,” said Howard, adding that there are now more good substitutes for eggs and cheese along with more plant-based prepared food options.
He used to have to drive 30 minutes for a vegan meal, Howard said, but when Burger King introduced the Impossible Burger to its menu, that was a real turning point: “All of a sudden you could get something vegan in almost every neighborhood in America.”
So, where in Cleveland can you find vegan-friendly restaurants that are not fast food? Well, in my case, all I have to do is pedal down the street to Old Brooklyn, where I live.
Many local food purveyors are jumping on the trend to attract vegan customers. When one considers that this style of eating can work for paleo and food allergies, such as dairy sensitivity, as well, it is just smart business to have a few vegan options on the menu. People in their 30s-50s tend to be the largest group of plant-centric eaters, according to studies.
Trey Kirchoff, owner of Coffee, Coffee, Coffee at 4193 Pearl Road in Old Brooklyn, is one local food purveyor embracing the trend. He chose Old Brooklyn for its affordable rents and locavore food scene, where he’s now staking a claim.
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee is located next to one of the amazing sculptures of carrots riding unicycles created by artist Melissa Daubert. Visitors can find these pedaling “Root Riders” in front of key buildings such as the Old Brooklyn Development Corporation and Old Brooklyn Nutrition. These colorful characters harken back to Old Brooklyn’s history as a center of the greenhouse industry in the early 1900s.
Kirchoff said he uses his shop to promote talented entrepreneurs like Philomena Bake Shop, which is gluten-free and vegan. He also highlighted the local ingredients in his signature vegan offering, the Hot Lava-Cado Sandwich: hummus from Nate’s Deli in Ohio City, Hot Pepper Jam from The Home Pantry, and sourdough bread from Leavened in Tremont. Everything is local except the avocado, which he carefully selects from a rotating variety of vendors.
“We vet our avocados,” Kirchoff insisted (but, y’know, it’s avocados in Cleveland). The Lava-Cado “used to be served open faced on toast but, for the past two years, it has been a toasted sandwich” so that it could be served to-go during Covid-19. “We whisper a secret into the Everything Seasoning as we sprinkle it on.”
Does he have other options if you don’t like avocados (I feel odd even asking this because, seriously, who doesn’t)? The PB & Jealous (which boasts surprising choices such as Strawberry Rose, Black Lavender, and Lemonade Marmalade) is vegan if served on sourdough instead of Pain a Mie (milk bread), he said.
Kirchoff lives in the area with his family and is committed to helping foster a plant-based lifestyle in Old Brooklyn. The most popular menu items even have their own T-shirt merch available to order. I made a note to pick up a Hot Lava-Cado t-shirt to go with the Let’s Drink Coffee and Talk About Our Dreams cup that I already bought myself for Christmas.
According to Kirchoff, the success of the cafe is all in the details. Anybody can make avocado toast but a sandwich worthy of its own t-shirt is different. Kirchoff said the avocados are “placed on a wave of hummus like a tropical bird showing its feathers so you have a bite of avocado, hummus, and jam each time… Our goal is putting Old Brooklyn on the map, and to be fringy the menu has to sing.”
Lunch and Snack
Kirchoff recommended El Rinconcito Chapin at 3330 Broadview Road for lunch, so we stopped there next. When we stepped inside, they were busy with several customers enthusiastically working through the delicious Guatemalan fare. In terms of vegan options, there are vegan empanadas for an appetizer, yucca fries (no sour cream), and a vegetarian burrito bowl (vegan with no sour cream or cheese).
I chose the Vegan Pepian and a hibiscus iced tea. The stew was a lush lake of slightly sweet, garlicky, nutty, cumin-infused red sauce with thick chunks of potato, carrot, green beans, and squares of soft, slightly crunchy sauteed tofu. It soaked into the generous bed of saffron rice.
Pepian is a typical Guatemalan street food which has a Yucatan spice blend. Imagine a mild curry that is full of flavor. It’s a perfect stick-to-your-ribs food for a cold day, but, because it’s not heavy or meat-based, it’s also lovely for a lunch that will keep you awake at your desk but still feeling full.
Owner Engel Godinez, who hails from Guatemala, was too busy cooking to speak with me, but the friendly young lady at the counter let me know that they have been in Old Brooklyn for six years. As we left (with enough food left over for another meal in our to-go container) we headed over to Old Brooklyn Nutrition for a quick tea. We passed Kelly’s Catering Company, a local barbeque purveyor that also offers a vegan panini and portobello mushroom stacker. It’s nice to know that even the local BBQ purveyor is on the vegan train!
We crossed the street and headed into the cool shade of Old Brooklyn Nutrition for our afternoon iced tea fix. The owner Jacqueline Visalden offers a variety of energizing teas and shakes. I got a peach tea, my friend got a coffee and we went over to sit on the bench across West 25th at the recently created Brighton Park, which was developed over what was once a landfill. It is now a sweet little meandering path behind Burger King. Another reason to love Old Brooklyn!
Afternoon Coffee and Dinner
After a session on the bike at my gym and some work, I returned to Old Brooklyn to meet a friend for coffee and dinner. Broadview Road the first stop for a quick, plant-based coffee at vibrant Metropolitan Coffee right around the corner from the well-manicured lawns and lovely Craftsman homes of the South Hills area.
Metropolitan is housed in a renovated former garage and the lovely high ceilings and clean, sunny, nut-free kitchen offer up the perfect oat milk latte, made with Rising Star espresso created especially for the shop. I enjoy it with a sprinkle of cinnamon while nodding my head to 90s tunes. They also offer rice milk.
When you visit, it’s easy to sip at one of the corner tables while admiring the local dog walkers who camp out on the comfy patio, or sail through the drive-through window to turn north down Broadview and head towards the heart of Old Brooklyn. After we finish, we take a short bike ride down the hill to Irie Jamaican Kitchen, which also has locations in Euclid and Akron. We planned to pick up some food for takeout and “veg out” (pun intended) and watch Netflix on the couch at home. As we approached our bikes, the bright turquoise of the cute storefront beckoned.
In my mind, there was no contest: the Avocado Vegan Bowl was the way to go here because the heat of the jerk spices plays off the fat and cooling of the avocado, slightly sweet Buddha vegetables, and buttery soft cabbage. My friend got the Loaded Plantains with Black Beans and Jahpotle toppings, one of multiple veggie options. We pedaled back up the hill with our loaded to-go containers and settled down to watch a movie.
All in all, it was a full day, and it’s nice to know that I don’t need to drive anywhere to get three delicious vegan meals.
LeAnn Lewis is an Old Brooklyn resident who participated in The Land’s community journalism program.
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