As my friend and I walked into Vegan Friendly Foods, the sky had darkened with the threat of rain. We found a well-suited refuge in the comfort of the locally-owned vegan restaurant. Operated by Cornelius Roy and his family, Vegan Friendly Foods opened in November, bringing something new to Baton Rouge’s vegan food scene by offering transitional vegan food. The kitchen at VFF is experimental and open to trying new things; they find ways to make the dishes that fall in the gap, the foods that vegans miss eating.
As upbeat music softly played from the loudspeakers, we walked up to the white tile counter displaying a large menu and drink options. We waited in line and placed our orders. The space, with white walls and purple trim, hanging soft lights and wooden tables and chairs, has plenty of seating options. We chose a table in the corner.
My friend and I started off with a small cup of gumbo ($6) and a “Very Frickin’ Good” juice ($3). The refreshing, lightly sweetened juice is made daily in house. For such a delicious juice, I was surprised that it’s only $3 — an excellent deal for the drink you get.
The gumbo was broth-like and packed full of vegetables and vegan sausage. The okra was phenomenal, and there were many pleasant flavors present in the dish. The vegan sausage had both the texture and taste of real sausage, fooling vegans and nonvegans alike. It wasn’t heavy and left room for us to eat more, but the gumbo did have an herb-like flavor that we were not accustomed to, making it less likely that we would order it again.
We ordered the soul food platter ($15) as our main dish, a plate featuring four items: jambalaya, dirty rice, red beans and rice, and mac and cheese. The jambalaya was the most sensational item on the plate. It was spicy, the rice was excellently cooked, and the “sausage” was well-textured and seasoned. The color was inviting, and the flavor of the bell pepper stood out in the dish.
The dirty rice was seasoned but not spicy, and the “ground beef” was an incredibly convincing meat substitute. It tasted just like the Louisiana dirty rice you anticipate at a family meal — delicious, soothing and pleasingly textured. The red beans and rice was also delicious and soft, making for a savory dish that tasted home-cooked.
The mac and cheese, our fourth sampler item, was the right color, mild and pleasant. For how well-spiced and flavorful the other dishes were, by comparison we found the mac and cheese slightly basic. But we still quickly ate all of it. The dish would be perfect for kids, vegan or not.
The soul food platter, as a whole, was well-presented and delicious. I would have to say that the jambalaya was the most impressive item on the plate. When dealing with meat substitutes, it’s a common problem to encounter strangely textured, rubbery or bland options. Across the board, this is not an issue at VFF — an incredible feat for a vegan restaurant. The colors of the plate were warm, and the flavor combinations worked with each other.
We moved on to a side of fried vegetables ($5) — mushrooms, eggplant and cauliflower — which are remarkable. The vegetables are well-battered, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. We didn't feel like they needed a condiment, but they would be delicious with sauces as well. These fried veggies were exceptional, and we will certainly be back for them.
We finished our meal off with a chocolate chip vegan cookie ($3). The dessert options were displayed at the front by the register, and I noticed some cake slices in the refrigerator next to a selection of Urban Bros juices. We unwrapped the golden brown cookie from its saran wrap and took a bite. The cookie, from pastry chef Rah Cashmere, was soft, pleasantly moist and sweet. It had the fresh-out-of-mom’s-oven sensation and was well-balanced, rich and enjoyable.
Easy to see from the road, Vegan Friendly Foods is marked with two clear signs and ample parking. A great spot to take your nonvegan friends, VFF is simply good food. The menu includes options for everyone, including a phenomenal burger, two salads, wraps, the classic homestyle comfort food fare, juices and smoothies. The prices are affordable, especially for vegan eating with fresh ingredients.
Vegan Friendly Foods
4608 Bennington Ave.
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
(225) 246-8391; veganffoods.com
Pros: Easy parking; relaxed and comfortable vibe; great for bringing non-vegan friends and family; the fried vegetables are exceptional.
Cons: Gumbo had a strong herb-like flavor that distracted from the dish; high-traffic area on College Drive.