Food & Drink

Checkin' Out the Chickin'

One Vegan, Two Vegetarians, and One Carnivore Review the Brand-New Veggie Grill

Checkin' Out the Chickin'

Kelly O

TASTE + ENJOY To varying degrees.

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Kelly O
THE VEGAN

The Veggie Grill—that rare thing, a vegan fast-food chain—seeks to briskly deliver a wide range of meatless/dairyless comfort food to your gullet. It was nice to get my order in five minutes; not so nice was the tomato basil soup ($2.95 cup/$4.95 bowl), which was bland, although the accompanying triangles of crisp sesame-seed bread satisfied. The fluffy quinoa pilaf side dish ($2.25)—speckled with tiny bits of carrots, celery, and onion—similarly begged for more flavor and heft. The Bali Bliss burger ($7.95), while substantial, didn't deliver the promised nirvana of exotic savoriness. The sizable rectangle of grilled tempeh is piled with tomato, lettuce, and red onion and dabbed with chipotle ranch; you should plunk down the extra $1.50 for avocado or portobello. But the main problem is the bun, which was toasted but not very grainy; it had an incongruous cheap-burger-joint squishiness. I left feeling full but with taste buds barely stimulated.

Returning for dinner the next evening, I had another mediocre cup of soup, this time tortilla, which could've used hot chili flakes. The Sweetheart Fries ($4.25)—compact fingers of sweet potato—somehow tasted better the more they were consumed. The Blackened Chickin' Plate ($9.50) had a rubbery consistency, and the papaya sprinkled over it barely registered; the generous bed of kale was the best thing about the dish. The Chipotle BBQ burger ($8.95)—a messy agglomeration of veggie steak with caramelized onions, tomato, lettuce, and a "tangy" barbecue sauce—replicated the beefy flavor and consistency of meat, but I became a vegan to escape this sort of thing. Perhaps items like this will help carnivores gently transition into veganism; however, seasoned vets may wish for more variations on veggie/brown-rice/tofu staples.

The Veggie Grill is a welcome alternative to the country's prevailing fare, but there's still room for improvement. DAVE SEGAL

VEGETARIAN #1

Vegetarians rejoice! Now that the meatless, "natural + wholesome" California chain Veggie Grill has sprouted its way up the West Coast, recently arriving in South Lake Union (and coming soon to the University District), we vegetarians and vegans finally have an "order at the counter and get food quickly" option with everything on the menu being vegan.

But it's gonna cost you.

The Baja Fiesta salad ($8.95) is a large pile of romaine lettuce with quinoa "infused" into it, covered in diced tomatoes and red peppers, corn, hunks of fresh papaya, chunks of avocado, cucumber, little strips of tortilla chips, and a tangy, sweet ginger papaya vinaigrette (that tasted nothing at all like ginger). For an extra $2.75, you can add on five fat slices of grilled tempeh. Yes!

And while that'd certainly be enough food, especially for lunch, those sweet potato fries (served with a side of chipotle ranch, $4.25) sure do look good, so what the hell. And then add a drink ($2.25 for a lemonade). And then add a tip (they bring the food out to you and clear your table when you're finished). And there I was, $20 poorer. TWENTY DOLLARS. For a lemonade, a salad, and a side of fries.

Of course, as I said, it was quite good—the leafy greens were fresh and the diced vegetables didn't have dried edges like they had been sitting in a prep station for three days. Just be sure to bridle your enthusiasm at the counter to spare your wallet any pain. MEGAN SELING

VEGETARIAN #2

The new outpost of Veggie Grill in South Lake Union has the decor and ambience of a carrot. Carrots are nice. Nothing wrong with carrots. Orange and green are hopeful together. Nothing wrong with meatlessness, either. I, for one, am a vegetarian of many years, and this has not put out the fire in my soul. But there is some bad news about Veggie Grill on the subject of fire.

Upon walking in the door, a person is met by a glowing red wall fronted by wood slats. Given its appealingly hellish appearance, one wishes this to emit heat and devious laughter, or to have, frankly, anything about it of the place where the dangerous Ring of the Nibelungs was forged, where Persephone was carted off to and transformed from the girl goddess of growth and grain into the fearsome Queen of the Dead. This polished piece of interior instead feels like the view of a sunny day from inside a tomato.

The All Hail Kale salad ($8.45) involves something called "chickin'" (add $2.45), which involves something to do with mashed-up pea proteins, and like the heatless red wall needs more spice—less kale and carrots and tomato bits, more agave-roasted walnuts and more of the crispy-tart surface of that blackened "chickin'," which is surprisingly good. (The inside of the chickin', however, is slimy and spongy.) Then again, I'm a dumb vegetarian. I ordered the All Hail Kale salad, as opposed to the Carne Asada or the Chipotle BBQ or the Buffalo Bomber. I deserve the polite tomato-and-carrot decor. JEN GRAVES

THE CARNIVORE

You know that vegan place with the mismatched chairs and the cutie with the dreadlocks who's always super-stoned behind the counter? The one where stuff takes a long time, but it's cool, man, and doesn't it remind you of that one place in Santa Cruz, kind of, and they have a cat?

The Veggie Grill is the opposite of that. It is slick and bright and stylish; it is as clean as anything ever possibly could be—so clean that the dirt from which its 100 percent veganness was born seems like an unpleasant, far-off abstraction. If the people working here were on a drug, it would be super-clean MDMA—they are preternaturally friendly, entirely chipper, and absolutely in agreement with whatever you say: Ohmigod, yes, you should totally try the buffalo wings, they are SO GOOD, people LOVE them. You get the distinct sensation that if you said you had a gun and would like the money in the cash register, they'd say, Ohmigod, yes, even people who AREN'T vegans totally LOVE that.

At 12:57 p.m. on a Wednesday, the place is packed with Amazon employees—it's like a futuristic college dining hall, with a din to match. A highly enthused employee in a spotless orange apron guides those who are new to the ways of the Veggie Grill through the line, delivering a speed-of-light orientation; we get everything he recommends, plus what the counterperson enthusiastically endorses, and we get a number and the last two-top. Though they are slammed, it doesn't take long (and we are then checked on three separate, extremely cheerful times).

For being 100 percent plant, the food tastes strangely unnatural. The buffalo wings ($6.95) have a bounciness to their fake chicken insides; if you didn't know better, you might think there was something artificial to the coating's acidic over-tang. The nondairy ranch dressing is extra-slippery, as is the nondairy mac and cheese ($2.25)—a slimy, flavorless affair that a little salt and pepper might or might not help. The Santa Fe Crispy Chickin' sandwich ($8.95) is amorphously beige—the chickin' patty lacks crunchy crust and tastes notably neutral, mushing into its wheaty bun. The All Hail Kale salad ($8.45) is lushly green, but a marination process and its ginger-papaya dressing have rendered it oddly, monotonously sweet. A thing that is good: the sweet potato fries ($4.25), crispy on the outside, creamy within. They are lukewarm, but at least they don't taste like they're trying to be something they're not. BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT

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Comments (26) RSS

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s.maxim 1
Did any of you try the chocolate pudding parfait? That was the most amazing thing I've ever had EVER
Posted by s.maxim on September 5, 2012 at 9:11 AM · Report this
Mittens Schrodinger 2
I have to agree with Megan Seling on this one. I think to really appreciate this place, you have to realize it is fast food for vegans/vegetarians. This is the equivalent of McDonald's, Burger King, effing KFC fer chrissake! On that level it rocks, but it IS pretty pricey. And yes, it happens to be in the middle of Amazon HQ, so it is highly likely that you will run into a lot of Amazonians...um, duh.
Posted by Mittens Schrodinger on September 5, 2012 at 10:44 AM · Report this
3
Food may take more than 5 minutes and you may get your food from regular nice humans instead of smile robots, but this city is busting with awesome, locally owned, owner-operated, vegan restaurants (like my place Pizza Pi and our friends Wayward and Araya's!)

(To be fair, I'm sure most of the smile robots moonlight as regular nice humans in their free time. I just have a hard time with an executive from T.G.I. Friday's/Pizza Hut/Kenny Rogers Roasters coming into our city with his newest chain and everybody eating it up just because it's vegan. Consequently, I enjoyed the reviews.)

(FYI: This is the CEO of Veggie Grill: www.linkedin.com/pub/greg-dollarhyde/3/b… )
Posted by vegancookies on September 5, 2012 at 8:51 PM · Report this
4
Nothing wrong with veganism at all.

But who in the world ever heard of 'chikin'. That ain't organic, no matter what anybody says.

Sell me vegetables. Not vegetables you've mashed into an unrecognizable form and relabeled as 'chikin'. (Which, despite being pronounced in entirely the same manner as "chicken", sounds incredibly disgusting.)
Posted by David in Shoreline on September 5, 2012 at 10:13 PM · Report this
5
the side of kale salad is great, with an asian style dressing. i usually order two orders of it plus the sweet potato fried, and even occasionally the chikin which is better than it sounds.
Posted by eden on September 7, 2012 at 10:36 AM · Report this
Fnarf 6
Only attractive young white people are allowed, because only attractive young white people are allowed in the entire neighborhood. Attractive young white AFFLUENT people, who can afford to budget $500 a month for their lunches.

This place ain't urban. It's not even suburban; it's college cafeteria, or high school these days in the richer districts.
Posted by Fnarf http://www.facebook.com/fnarf on September 7, 2012 at 11:10 AM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 7
Ouch. Tough review. I was excited about this place.

@4 as a 14-year vegetarian, I love most fake meat. There's only so many vegetables, and it's nice to shake things up.

@6 I assumed the neighborhood had at least a few attractive young affluent Indians. But that might be a stereotype.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on September 7, 2012 at 12:04 PM · Report this
Baby Blue 8
Thanks for sparing me the trouble of trying this place out. I might have been excited when walking past, if not for this heads up. I'll save my enthusiasm, time, and money for someplace more worthy.
Posted by Baby Blue on September 7, 2012 at 12:06 PM · Report this
9
@4: They call it 'chickin' or 'chick'n' or whatever other variations because the chicken industry will sue them otherwise. They make it in the first place because meat tastes good, but you have to kill things to get it. I don't understand how this is complicated for anyone.

I don't know if you could have picked worse people to review this place: a vegan who doesn't like meat, two vegetarians who just got salads, and a non-vegetarian (unless BJC has some kind of condition prohibiting her from eating anything but meat, she's an omnivore) who of course is going to compare the fake meat to real meat and find it doesn't measure up.

I didn't quit eating meat because meat tastes bad, or because I just love vegetables so much. I quit eating meat because I don't want to kill things if I don't have to. I don't like salad any more than I did before I quit.

I want a place where I can get some kind of facsimile of the food I ate before I stopped eating meat. I don't care how it compares to actual meat, because actual meat isn't an option. I don't care how their salad is, because fuck salad, I am sick to fucking death of salad. Can I get fake meat that doesn't suck, in some form other than a patty between two buns? How about a cheesesteak or chicken tacos or a sausage and ham pizza?
Posted by Ben on September 7, 2012 at 12:33 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 10
@9 The Sun Break snapped some pictures of food options. Some look good.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on September 7, 2012 at 2:13 PM · Report this
Posted by Matt the Engineer on September 7, 2012 at 2:14 PM · Report this
12
#6: what are you talking about? There are a ton of Indians in SLU.
Posted by pfffft on September 7, 2012 at 2:23 PM · Report this
13
And ffs, Bethany, you're an omnivore, not a carnivore.
Posted by pfffft on September 7, 2012 at 2:25 PM · Report this
stinkbug 14
Too bad that the Stranger does a detailed review over a chain place like this, but doesn't do a review of Wayward Vegan Cafe (another all-vegan place). Yes, the Stranger wrote about Wayward in a piece two years ago, but that was before they had a dinner menu and it wasn't really a review.

Also, the Stranger's info page for Vegan Grill states that one is coming soon to the u-dist at "2681 NE University St". Is that supposed to be "2681 NE University Village St" or "2681 University Way NE" (or elsewhere)??
Posted by stinkbug on September 7, 2012 at 2:38 PM · Report this
ScienceNerd 15
Two things:
1. No human is a carnivore. You would starve to death quickly.
2. @9, They don't call it chicken because IT ISN'T. :)
Posted by ScienceNerd http://stanichium.tumblr.com/ on September 7, 2012 at 2:41 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 16
Can you bring your own steer or pig into the place, slaughter it and bbq it in the middle of their cafe'?
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on September 7, 2012 at 3:00 PM · Report this
17
@15: REALLY?!? IT ISN'T?! HOLY SHIT!
Posted by Ben on September 7, 2012 at 3:22 PM · Report this
18
@15: Humans can survive on meat alone, but they'd have to eat all those yucky organ meats in order to get nutrients. In fact, there are human populations who do precisely this.

The thing that bothers me most about this review is the apostrophe at the end of chickin'. Like, is their fake chicken actually called chicking and they're cutting it down to give the name some edge?
Posted by MR M on September 7, 2012 at 3:37 PM · Report this
19
i havent tried it yet and i cant wait. maybe im easy to please but at this point being able to walk in somewhere and not have to play 20 questions with an annoyed waitstaff or counter person is enough to already get this place halfway to 5 out of 10.

i have also heard no mention of fake cheese and for this i am thankful because fake cheese just needs to stop.
Posted by grace on September 7, 2012 at 4:26 PM · Report this
20
@13 and 15: I am well aware that I am not, strictly speaking, a carnivore. However, I do not literally eat everything—the legs of tables, other people, etc.—so I don't think "omnivore," in its strictest sense (which is what you appear to be going by), is correct either. We used "carnivore" here in the way that it is commonly understood by human beings. But I will include this quasi-error in our end of the year Regrets issue, just for you!
Posted by Bethany Jean Clement on September 7, 2012 at 5:38 PM · Report this
21
So, the takeaway is:
1. Fast food tastes bad
2. Eating vegan is much more expensive than eating factory-farmed meat
3. Omnivores don't like meat substitutes

Not exactly a scoop, but at least I can tell my vegetarian wife not to bother with the place.
Posted by Orv on September 7, 2012 at 7:19 PM · Report this
22
Here's what I would do for a chickin' sandwich:
1. Catch a chicken -- preferably a spare rooster. If you get unsexed chicks, you'll probably wind up with too many roosters. Use one or more of those.
2. Hang each rooster upside down by its legs from a tree or a beam or something. Blood will rush to its head, which will calm it down for step three. Now is a good time to thank the rooster for all of its chicken-y sillyness, good times, and to acknowledge a basic fact of millions of years evolution: the African ape homo sapiens is indisputably an omnivore.
3. Pull the rooster's head down gently to expose the neck and make a deep slit with a very sharp knife across the jugular vein. This will result in a steady stream of blood onto the ground below - it's probably best to do this over grass or flowers, which will appreciate the nutrients.
4. As the rooster loses all that blood, it will shudder and flap about several times. This is normal. This a chickin’ nervous system shutting down. This is your food chain “keepin’ it real.”
5. Remove the chickin’s head and upper neck. Make sure to gaze into those lifeless little eyes as they stare back at you without a hint of affection or cognition. This will be quite similar to the chickin’s regard for you while it was alive.
6. As an alternative, you could replace steps 3, 4, and 5 by chopping off the head with a hatchet, although this seems like a rather poor way to either lose a finger or cause undue trauma to the chickin’ with a misplaced blow.
7. Scald the chickin’ by fully immersing it in 160-degree water for 30 seconds. This will make plucking easier, though it’s still a pain in the ass if you do it by hand. Do things the hard way. The magic fingers works great, but isn’t really worth it unless you’re butchering a bunch of chickins’. Plus if you’re going to introduce an elaborate contrivance into your diet, you may as well just become a vegan now. While feather plucking, think “finger lickin’”
8. Remove the crop, oil gland, viscera, and the rest. It’s messy, slimy, and smelly. The most important highlights are to remove the crop in entirety and the intestines and colon without puncturing either. These make great crab bait, BTW. Also, be sure to scrape every last bit of the lungs away from the rib-cage; this takes some effort and attention. These tasks take place within a warm, slippery, smelly dark cavity that you can’t quite fit your hand into. Avoid thinking about birth or sex for the duration of step eight.
9. Cool the chickin’ quickly and allow it to sit a refrigerator for about 24 hours prior to cooking with it or freezing it. As for chicken sandwiches, I’ve never really cared for them myself.

Or you could content yourself with factory-produced meat simulacrums marketed to appeal to misguided priorities. That’s cool too. I suppose.
More...
Posted by ctmcmull on September 7, 2012 at 9:35 PM · Report this
stinkbug 23
@19: Yes, they use a cheese alternative. What fake/vegan cheeses have you tried? There are some really good ones on the market nowadays.
Posted by stinkbug on September 8, 2012 at 11:47 AM · Report this
Ed2013 24
Vegans and vegetarians want to eat fast food? Hmm never would of thought!
Posted by Ed2013 http://everydaylivingpnw.wordpress.com on September 10, 2012 at 4:51 PM · Report this
25
@24: Contrary to popular opinion, "vegetarian" does not necessarily mean "healthy eating." ;)
Posted by Orv on September 11, 2012 at 1:00 PM · Report this
26
My experience was very good down in Oregon. I found it a great option: friendly, fast, lots of kale greens, lots of option if you don't want their veggie Chic'n.

I prefer to get my sauces on the side, so I had no problems with anything too sweet or high in sodium. For a $10 plate of food, it's very filling, especially after the copious amounts of fresh kale. I felt great eating it. I could have added fries, etc, but it is too much food. I think yeah, you can add a lot of sides/drinks but with any restaurant... adds to the cost.

Don't forget. Although this is a chain, there is a small business owner behind it. Someone invested in a franchise fee and running it as their baby. People become so judgmental. If the staff is friendly, lets call it a bad thing and make fun of it.

Posted by janeofOR on November 17, 2012 at 7:42 AM · Report this

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