No Dairy, No Eggs, No Problem

One old, one new: Two vegan cafes offer variations on old favorites.

Veganism isn't anti-food, and that's something many non-vegans don't get. Perhaps it's because all the ethical arguments still leave omnivores wondering how in the world you can make anything delicious without chicken stock or cheese. Forget proselytizing; if you need to convince someone that shunning animal products doesn't give you a tin palate, bring them to Wayward Cafe. A humble gray box in a quiet residential part of the University District, Wayward isn't just a vegan cafe; it's one of Seattle's only collectively run restaurants. Before coming to town a year ago, Dylan Alverson and Sean Thomas owned and operated Minneapolis' Hard Times Cafe, a vegetarian collective that stayed open until 4 a.m. Last April, the duo opened Wayward in the space formerly occupied by Rainy Day Vegan Cafe. Since then, the restaurant has amassed a staff of more than a dozen volunteers. According to Alverson, staffers undergo a lengthy training process. "Basically, we have people who are interested come in and start washing dishes, and people get trained on that aspect, and they go through a two-month period where they get a feeling for the restaurant, and we get a feeling for them," he explains. The aspiring collectivists who pass muster spend another two months taking on added responsibilities around the cafe; if the owners decide they're a good fit for the place (and vice versa), they become collective members. At this point, you may be asking yourself why someone would work for months without pay just to get promoted to another unpaid position, albeit one with clout (all collective members get a say in how the cafe is run). The proof might be in the pudding, if Wayward served pudding; as it is, one dinner on a rainy evening almost convinced us to get behind the stove. Wayward's breakfast and lunch menus are constant; dinner, on the other hand, is whatever's scrawled on the "daily specials" blackboard. The night we were there, we tried the open-face tofu sandwich ($9.50) and the Wizard ($6.75), a Reuben-like combo of seitan (a high-protein, low-fat "wheat meat"), sauerkraut, perpperoncinis, and horseradish sauce. There's an odd juxtaposition of punk aesthetics and stick-to-your-ribs home cooking at Wayward. Your cook may have a pierced septum and your waitress may be heavily tattooed, but the food they prepare and deliver is pure Americana—albeit vegan, free of hydrogenated oils and refined sugars, and mostly organic. The open-face sandwich was smothered in rich mushroom gravy—the kind you spoon up when it's all that's left on the plate—and accompanied by greens with a nice, sour tang. The Wizard, only half of which we had room for, satisfied our yen for a Reuben—a yen that often crops up in ex-carnivores raised in deli-friendly cities. It's not pastrami, but Wayward's seitan is chewy and salty enough to make an excellent substitute. A real Reuben is a fixture on the eclectic lunch menu—well, a real vegan Reuben, made with fried tempeh, organic sauerkraut, and nondairy Russian dressing ($6). Also available: miso soup ($3.50), a seitan Philly cheese steak ($6.50), and an Italian-style "hot sausage sandwich" ($6.50) made with Gimme Lean sausage, marinara sauce, and fried onions and peppers. Alverson says Wayward is a work in progress; accordingly, there are growing pains on display. Takeout containers cost a quarter apiece (perhaps to defray their cost, perhaps to encourage folks to bring their own; it's unclear), and the self-serve water tank was empty for 15 minutes during our visit. Yet these are signs of a bootstrap operation, and, for the most part, they make the place more endearing. Service at the counter and the table is unusually cheery; even before you talk to them, you get a sense from the volunteers that what they're doing is, in their minds, an absolute good. ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY for proving to meat eaters that vegans and vegetarians have it good exists on the other end of town at Moonlight Cafe. This 10-year-old ID/CD Vietnamese restaurant offers both vegan/vegetarian food and meat dishes; among the various Asian/meat-free combo cafes in town to offer this cuisine type, Moonlight is the best. There are two menus—one for omnivores, one for vegetarians and vegans—but the meatless menu lists its offerings as though they contain real meat. The English translation under co'm chiên gà reads "chicken fried rice." A note in the front of the menu declares: "The meat and seafood in the menu are for name sake only." So bring a steak lover, hide the meat menu as soon as you're seated, and order the bò rang mè, or "sesame beef" ($9.95), and wonton soup ($6.50). Soon, a giant, shareable bowl of light, scented broth arrives; in the middle is a big mess of incredibly long, thin noodles. Little dots of sesame oil spot the surface. Baby bok choy swims with fresh cilantro, carrot coins, and deliciously filled—but not with meat—pastry pillows. The sesame "beef" plate is gorgeous, and also big enough for two. Shockingly green broccoli and bright tomatoes decorate a large mound of rice topped with nuggets of breaded and fried seasoned wheat gluten (so much better than it sounds, which is probably why they just call it beef). A tangy soy-based sauce and lots and lots of sesame seeds finish the plate. If you're trying to trick a meat eater, don't order the cá thu xã t ($9.95). While the flavor of this fried-tofu dish is beautifully accented with seaweed, green onion, basil, and scallion, it really doesn't taste much like tuna. (We were fascinated by the dish pretending to be lobster tail, for $8.95, but in the end it just seemed like a bad idea.) Similarly, the combo appetizer platter ($12.95) shouldn't be used to trick anyone, although the egg rolls that come on it sure could. More importantly, however, the "beef" skewers are fantastic, and the roll-your-own fresh spring rolls (use lots of the fresh mint leaves and plenty of those funny little "fish" sticks) are a delicious adventure. Wayward Cafe, 901 N.E. 55th St., 206-524-0204, UNIVERSITY DISTRICT. 9 a.m.– 9 p.m. Wed.–Sun. Moonlight Cafe, 1919 S. Jackson St., 206-322-3378, INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT/CENTRAL DISTRICT. 10 a.m.– 10 p.m. Mon.–Fri.; 10 a.m.–11 p.m. Sat.

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