Breakfast is slamming coffee and cereal, or maybe drinking a smoothie in the car on the way to work. But brunch? It’s an event, a time to downshift, commune and chow down on stuff you wouldn’t think of eating on a typical weekday.
Yet for plant-based diet aficionados, the idea of brunching can be fraught with watching meatatarians pile their plates high, while being relegated to nibbling dry toast and fruit. Traditional brunch foods are meat and egg-centric, and even the Bloody Marys are usually taboo.*
First Coast vegans, as well as those seeking to lessen their food footprint, will be pleased to know there are several brunch choices available at area restaurants.
Jacksonville’s German Schnitzel Haus would seem the least likely place to find vegan alternatives. This may have been so until a couple of years ago, when the folks from Jax Restaurant Reviews challenged Chef Steve Thurston to produce plant-based meals. He held a six-course vegan dinner event and parlayed its success into including vegan items on the everyday menu.
Last autumn, while peddling his fare at GastroJax’s Moon Over the Market event, he fooled a couple of officers from the sheriff's department who devoured mounds of what they thought was chicken. “They couldn’t believe it was vegan,” Thurston said.
German Schnitzel Haus now has an entire brunch menu targeting the herbivore-friendly. They recognized the demand was there, and “we wanted to do something for our vegan friends,” said Lisa Thurston, general manager. Steve quickly added that his wife is more than the GM, she is the restaurant’s (and his) backbone and “my muse,” he said.
Chef Steve said he avoids cross-contamination by prepping every vegan option separately. Numerous thoughtfully prepared dishes include (the cop-fooling) faux chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy and a breakfast skillet. Local vegan meat purveyor Zen Butcher Company’s products feature prominently, too. Rotating seasonal desserts, like bread pudding, made with pumpkin and ginger bread, dried cherries, walnuts and a caramel and applesauce topping are a highlight. The brunch essential bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys enhance the experience.
Zen Butcher Company co-owner Samantha Sievens sees brunch as a time to slow down and add “some savory indulgence to my week,” she said. She and her partner (and business co-owner)Adam Finley were looking for healthy substitutes for meat and cheese, and created their company to help those overwhelmed with the transition to veganism. Zen Butcher products are found at area markets and are the highlight of a number of brunch menus in Northeast Florida.
The west St. Augustine plant-based institution Present Moment Cafe has served up Sunday brunch since April 2017. Owner Julie Watkins said, “We’ve had a great response to now being open Sundays.” A revolving cast of veganized brunch stalwarts like French toast, eggs benedict and breakfast burritos are found on the specials menu, next to the cafe’s daily breakfast regulars like loaded grits and veggie sausage.
Springfield’s Uptown Kitchen and Bar is another local establishment that acknowledges people who “look for healthier menu choices or have concerns with eating animal products,” GM Steve Richardson said. Their updated brunch offerings created by Chef Ray Johnston include dishes like “buckwheat pancakes, tempeh reubens, French toast, a great take on bananas foster and more,” he said.
Hosting or attending a critter-free home brunch is not difficult, either. Start with a bag of Hugo’s Muffins from the St. Augustine Amphitheatre Saturday market or a box of goodies from Riverside’s Sweet Theory Baking Co. Plate up some of Zen Butcher’s breakfast links. Create a simple veggie tart or egg-free quiche with a chickpea flour or tofu base that will have guests scrambling for seconds. Grab some liquid smoke and make homemade coconut or tempeh bacon.
Area chefs have become wise to this untapped market. No matter where on the vegan spectrum you fall, don’t fear the brunch invite. A beast-free feast is deliciously attainable on the First Coast.
*Fun fish fact: if the Bloody Marys contain Worcestershire sauce, there are probably anchovies in them.