Thursday, September 11, 2008

Viva Veggie Grill!

Who: VN Publisher/Editor in Chief Joseph Connelly, VN Associate Publisher Colleen Holland, VN Editorial Director Aurelia d'Andrea, VN Senior Editor Elizabeth Castoria, and VN West Coast Advertising Representative Lara Bradley
What: A flat-out feast
Where: The Veggie Grill, El Segundo, Calif.
Why: Powering up before a fancy-pants gala
When: September 6, 2008

The Scoop: In case it wasn't already abundantly clear, we like food. A lot. All the time. So when we had the chance to stop by The Veggie Grill's second location before heading out to Acton for Animal Acres' Gala, we jumped on a plane and drove directly there, without so much as stopping to check in to our hotel. Our enthusiasm was matched by that of Kevin Boylan and John Anderson—TVG's co-founder and operations manager, respectively—who were kind enough to not only join us for lunch, but insisted on helping us out with deciding what to order. And by "helping," we mean that they had the kitchen send out enough amazing food to feed a famished army. The VN team is made up of some serious eaters, and we bravely rose to the challenge of tasting each and every delicious thing that came our way.

First off, let's just say that if every meal began with Sweetheart Fries, like this one did, the world would be a better place. Thinly sliced sweet potatoes get flash fried, then baked, to hot, crispy, yummy perfection. Along the same lines, the Chill Out Wings are basically the best faux-chicken any of us ever had. With a thick, crunchy batter and two dipping sauces—barbecue and chiptole ranch (swoon!)—these wings had us flying high. Yes, those were just the appetizers. Yes, we should have all worn maternity pants.

A slew of sandwiches and salads followed, including the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin', Papa's Portobello, Carne Asada, Bali Bliss, Grillin' Chickin', The V-Burger, the Baja Fiesta salad, and a little something that isn't quite on the menu yet called the All Hail Kale salad with blackened chickin'. Holy crap. Yes everything was amazing, and yes, somehow we managed to eat it all! Since all the sandwiches came on fresh, whole-wheat bread and smothered in avocado and other top-shelf toppings, it's hard to imagine a more appetizing spread. The All Hail Kale stood out from the already outstanding crowd for a couple reasons. One: the kale is perfectly marinated, so it retains all the fresh flavor of raw kale without being too dense. Two: the blackened chickin'. If you were ever any kind of fan of barbecued chicken in the pre-vegan days of yore, get you some blackened chickin'. Without overstating the case, it's perfect.

Just in case there was any nanometer of room left in our bellies, out came dessert. Usually, we'd send up a white flag and declare surrender at the thought of eating one more morsel after a meal like this. This time, however, let's just say that Kevin convinced us—aka told us not to "wimp out." And somehow we ended up tasting the very densely chocolaty brownie, the slightly pumpkiny cheesecake, and the faux-cream-cheese-frosted carrot cake. Then we died.

Aside from the outrageously good food—which in this case is a big aside!—what we noticed most about TVG were the people. On a sleepy Saturday afternoon, the place was continuously busy, and the customers represented all age groups and ethnicities. Kevin told us that roughly 75 percent of his customers are meat eaters, many of whom have no idea that their lunches are cruelty-free, but know for certain that the food is damn tasty. It was difficult to leave The Veggie Grill, but with our bellies bulging we bid a very fond adieu to Kevin and John, and headed back our to hotel to digest. Here's the VN crew with Kevin, who is not standing on a platform, fyi:

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