Evolve Vegan

I have been inching down the vegan/vegetarian path for some time now.  Being a Buddhist practitioner, one of the Buddhist aspirations (not a commandment) is to eat vegetarian or vegan to minimize the suffering of sentient beings.  Furthermore, more and more friends and colleagues have taken this step, including my best friend who made that big decision last week. With all these signs around me, I couldn’t help but start focusing on more eating establishments that cater to such meatless cuisine. Recently, an online coupon offer showed up on my computer, and I quickly grabbed that opportunity so that I could visit a vegan Soul food restaurant.

Evolve Vegan Restaurant

Evolve Vegan Restaurant is located in the heart of Takoma Park, NW Washington, merely a few steps from the metro station. It is located in a block of eating establishments that has garnered the recognition as the best vegan eating area in the city. Walking into Evolve, the space appears more spacious than its true real estate due to the storefront windows and the soaring ceiling that add lots of light and an airy feeling. Taking a seat by the window, I perused the one page menu, and it is rather short with only a handful of entrees, a similar amount of sandwiches and salads, followed by an interesting plethora of side dishes. The drinks section was filled with sodas and smoothies, which were not exactly what I was looking for as a thirst quencher. The waiter relayed to me that the restaurant was working on the drinks section which seriously needs more light or fruit-infused liquids. Not letting that be a hindrance, I moved on to the main courses.

Fried Chick-un

Candied Yams, Sweet Maple Kale SaladOnline reviewers made mention of the house’s Southern Fried Chick-un, and that was the first order placed on the initial visit. The dishes picked from the list of fourteen sides were Yams and Sweet Maple Kale Salad. The plate arrived with two fairly large patties encrusted with the traditional-looking batter associated with the real thing. One bite into them was completely revelatory. The texture was akin to that of chicken breast and the flavor replete with the fried chicken seasonings. The first time ordering this was a version with a formidable crust but a slightly dry “meat”, whereas the second had a crumbly crust but a moist inside. Nevertheless, the patties fooled my taste buds with the close texture and unmistakable flavors in the seasoning. The side BBQ sauce was a proper one with its smoky sweet and sour qualities that gave the diner that dipping option.  In addition to the tasty patties, the sides were wrestling my attention away from the protein. The Yams were the candied yams that one would find during a Thanksgiving meal, made with a good hit of cinnamon without overpowering the tubers and sweetened by brown sugar, all tasting good enough to slap your….. But the star for me was the kale salad with the young tender leaves made delectable by a well-balanced combination of maple syrup and toasted sesame oil, making each leaf totally irresistible. Now I can see why the online folks highly recommended this entrée, and deservedly so.

Fried Seaweed Soy Fish

Ratatouille, Ginger Kale SaladWrapped Soyfish was the next main dish. The slices of soy protein arrived battered and perfectly fried, just like the above dish, along with Ratatouille and Ginger Kale Salad as the sides. The “fish” also took me by surprise by the rather firm texture, reminding me of tuna or swordfish steaks. Additionally, the flavors were enhanced by the seaweed wrap that exuded seafood umami-ness, boosted by a hint of Old Bay seasoning in the batter – my dining companion and I were quite satisfied by these “seafood” bites. The sides were equally delectable. The Ratatouille was a melange of zucchini, yellow squash, onions, tomato, and eggplant, all looking and tasting more like stewed yellow squash served in the South due to the lack of enough tomato found in the veritable version. Notwithstanding, this mix was so savory and well cooked with each element holding its own identity and enhanced by a faint hint of dried herbs, perhaps thyme or oregano. The other companion of kale salad literally grabbed my taste buds. The mild leaves were coated by a powerful ginger pesto that had a good bite that made each leaf quite piquant, but balanced by a hint of vinegar and sugar. Needless to say, not a single leaf was left on my plate as this dish combination was also a hit for me.

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese, Beet Salad

Sesame Spinach Salad N'Orleans Macaroni SaladOn the second visit, I had to try another oft-mentioned main – Macaroni and Cheese. The main dish arrived with Beet Salad and Sesame Spinach Salad as their chosen accompaniments. The pasta casserole mix was rather interesting yet tasty at the same time. The macaroni was cooked just right, not al dente, neither too mushy. The mix was quite “creamy” rich yet rather moist, with a crust of gratineed vegan cheese . However, there was slight off note of faint bitterness not usually associated with this dish, but that didn’t deter me from enjoying it since I was not expecting this dish to taste exactly like the original version. The beet salad were julienned strips of raw beets, perhaps lightly boiled due its slightly firmness, mixed with a well-balanced mix of vinegar and sugar, making it tasty beyond its mineral goodness. The spinach salad was a bowlful of young leaves tossed with balsamic vinaigrette and topped with some sesame seeds. I enjoyed the salad for the young tender crisp leaves but I wished the seeds were toasted to bring out more of their nuttiness to add another dimension to the combination. Again, the main and sides shone on this occasion, making them quite worthy of an order. Some sides from my friends’ orders deserve some mention: N’Orleans Macaroni Salad wowed its diner with its creamy flavors and the use of spices and seasonings evoking the Southern city, and a stark Steamed Broccoli that was steamed to perfection with its bright green crunchiness made savory with the use of Amino Liquid for that vegan umami-ness.

Vegan Carrotcake

Bakeless Vegan Chocolate CheesecakeOn one occasion, our young waiter highly recommended Vegan Carrot Cake and we took on his advice. The slice arrived with speckles of carrot imbedded in the cake topped with some “icing”. The bite tasted of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves, all the appropriate spices and flavors of the real thing. However it was lacking some rich bits of nuts and it was too dense for my liking. Not totally disappointing, but not really a flying success either. However, the amiable chef owner assured me that he would relay my suggestions to the pastry chef. A waitress’ recommendation on another visit was Raw Chocolate Cheesecake. One bite into it raised my eyebrows as well as those of my fellow diner. My immediate reaction was “creamy dark chocolate ice cream.” There was a lusciousness in each bite that belied its dairy-free nature, slightly bitter from a boost of cocoa with a tinge of sourness to cut through the richness. The crust mixture of crushed cashew nut and coconut flake  fooled me that it was raw and vegan. With each bite, my friend and I were “oohing” and “aahing” and we couldn’t stop until the last morsel, even though we were quite sated from the mains and side dishes. This dessert is a must order in my books.

Evolve Vegan RestaurantVegan food is usually associated with plain, bland, textureless, and perhaps pedestrian, all adjectives enough to kill the enthusiasm even before stepping into such establishment. But what my friends and I ordered here far exceeded that mindset, from the “chick-un” and soy fish that had the right textures, seasoning, and flavors that not only made them palatable but sated all my dining friends, to the Mac and Cheese that was creamy and quite “cheesy”, and to the incredible sides of leaf salads, beet salad, yams, and squash stew (ratatouille) that left us wanting more of these tongue-grabbing veggies. This effusiveness extends to the dessert section with that raw chocolate “cheesecake” that just brought out a level ecstasy in me. Sure that the service is a tad slow and sparse at times, but the congenial servers make up for it with their charming personality, helpful suggestions, and funky hair. But what is served by Evolve Vegan does not need any quotation marks or qualifiers; it is just good, tasty and downright soulful, enough to bring out a smile in both vegan and non-vegan.

Evolve Vegan Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bridgeville, DE

DSC_9031.jpgTradition, Tradition, Tradition!!!! Remember that famous song from the Broadway musical, Fiddler on The Roof? We can’t seem to escape from these customs that mark the passing of time with habitually repeated events laden with a sense of meaning associated with them. This is the case when the warm weather comes around between my close-set of friends and me. It usually spells time to head to the beach, specifically Rehoboth Beach, DE. Having already gone there as a group for nearly 15 years, we have developed certain traditions: hearty breakfasts consisting of bacon, sausage, tarragon omelet, and toast with local fruit jams; grilled steaks and local sweet corn for dinner; a day (ok, a couple) at the Outlet Malls (tax-free); hanging out at Poodle Beach (end of the boardwalk) in the afternoons until the rented umbrellas are removed; and stopping by Jimmy’s Grill on the way back to DC/MD on a Sunday afternoon.

Jimmy’s Grill is located within the limits of the quiet and quaint town of Bridgeville, DE, on the Business Route 404 corridor that used to serve as the main thoroughfare to Rehoboth from DC Metro – there is now a bypass around the town known for its 25 mph speed traps. I remember stopping there for the first time years ago. It had a homey feel to the place, but unfortunately, they closed by 6 p.m. on a Sunday and they did not take credit cards then – I had to time my departure from the beach to make it there on time.  But 6 years ago they were bought over by the employees (from what I heard), and the place went through some redecorating while maintaining its charm, along with longer hours and the acceptance of credit cards. One thing that has not suffered any change has been the quality of the food and the prices.

DSC_9036.jpgWalking into the establishment, you immediately get a sense of home comfort and of local community. Plastered in the vestibule are photos of local folks posing with the owners. Passing through it you are immediately assaulted by a huge cake display tower that would make your eyes bug out from the equally towering home-made cakes that scream “leave some room for me too.” The place is usually filled with a combination of local folks and visiting beach travellers, usually repeat customers. There is nothing fancy about the decor with a few vintage movie posters above the simple banquets or cafeteria-like tables and chairs. But this is not why we, as well as the other diners, are here for.  Can I have the menu, please?

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Tradition! Fried Chicken! This place is known for this quintessential comfort food that is so straight forward and not fussy at all. That is the only dish I order here because it is that good and I don’t have it anywhere else – where else would serve lots of chicken but in this area renown for the chicken farms that dot the highway. I usually get a piece of moist breast that is well-seasoned throughout the meat (not just the topping) with a crispy, equally seasoned and not overly thick batter. Diet out of the window, I would dig into this extremely irresistible morsel with no guilt, shame or remorse, but with a few dashes of hot sauce. Need I say more? The proof is the in the greasy fingers and meat-strippen bones left on the plate.

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Tradition! The side dishes! These small dishes are the equal stars in this eatery that sometimes attempt to steal the limelight from the mains. My favorites are usually the Corn Pudding, Collard Greens, and Lima Beans. The corn pudding is studded with fresh kernel of local corns (corn country here also), slightly sweet, slightly eggy, and quite light for this bowl of rich deliciousness – a must-order for me, always! The collard greens are de rigueur for me as well for its long cooking, delicate seasoning, and the lack of any meat fat in the stock, which I appreciate – a couple of dashes of hot sauce on it and it’s gone. An order of Lima Beans were smooth, silky, not grainy, with bits of tomato that provided some sweet acidity to the starch. I nearly forgot the Scalloped Potatoes that are thinly sliced potatoes covered by a cheesy sauce that make them irresistible and calorie-amnesia producing. Other sides ordered by my buddies included cucumber salad and macaroni and cheese, which seem equally tasty judging by the empty bowls. At times, they offer the local corn-on-the-cob as their special – if you are not corned out by now, you should try it. I could eat just order an array of their sides as my meal and I would be in heaven.

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The eatery has daily specials that cater to the traveller as well as the locals. Usually on Sundays, there is Prime Rib or Chicken with Slip Dumplings. On this given day, Rockfish stuffed with Crabmeat was on the menu, which was ordered by my bestie’s bf. A large fillet of the local fish had a mound of lump crabmeat stuffing perched on top. This man tore into his meal like he had never eaten before, and judging by his closed eyes and slow side shaking of his head, I knew it was good – pity I didn’t get to savor a single morsel. Another buddy was so taken by this man’s foodgasm that he had to place an order to go (“Can I have what s/he is having.”). He later reported that is was very good but a little dry, perhaps due to the travelling. Next time, I will place on order especially all that seafood for $14.  Another friend’s order of Chicken with Stuffing was tasty and very homey, with chicken breast stuffed with bread stuffing, coated with a thick gravy – it tasted like what a good home cook would serve to her hungry loved ones.

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DSC_9052.jpgOK, let’s cut to the chase and Let’s Eat Cake! The Rockfish Devourer’s order of Pecan Pie arrived first. But before he could take his first bite, I had to take a picture of it. And did I get a good stare from this famished man until I finished taking the singular shot, even though he had already polished the fish in no time. Again, he had foodgasm, and he even picked it up with a mound of whip cream and ate it like a cookie – it must have been that good! My bestie took out an order of Banana Cake. I tried a forkful and I was amazed by the lightness and moistness of the cake that was filled with banana flavor, small pieces of walnut, and hint of vanilla, all not being too sweet. I could have eaten the whole huge slice even though if I were full, but I would get evil-eyes from him. Another take-out order of Coconut Cake for another friend proved to be equally delectable and successful as the above concoction with a light moist vanilla cake coated with sweet frosting and sweet coconut. Let them eat cake, as well as us!

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DSC_9112.jpgA new tradition: Last year I stopped by a roadside stand, Evan’s Farm Produce, on the same highway not too far from Jimmy’s Grill, and I bought some local corn as well as a jar of their home-made orange marmalade. Tasting the marmalade at home, I was delighted by the not overly sweet jam, the soft bits of orange rind that exuded a slight bitterness, and the slight acidity from the use of orange juice as the jam. I literally fell in love with this sweet bitter preserve, and I was sad when I ran out of it a couple of months later. So, on my way back to the beach last week, I stopped by the stand and bought 3 bottles in addition to a recommendation, Triple Crown Preserves, consisting of Strawberries, Red Raspberries, and Cherries. Wow! My friends loved this berry-packed jam so much that they finished off half a bottle in a single weekend, and I bought another bottle on my way home, just before stuffing my face at Jimmy’s. Lookout for this fantastic stand just when the Bridgeville bypass merges with Route 404 heading eastward to the beach.

So, on your way to Rehoboth Beach, make sure to look out for Jimmy’s Grill for its wonderful home-style cooking, especially the fried chicken and the wonderful side dishes. Oh, also don’t forget to take home a huge slice of cake and pie. Also, make it a point to stop by Evan’s Farm Produce stand just a mile down the road to stock up on some local corn, orange marmalade, and Triple Crown jam. After sampling the food and goods from these two establishments, they may become new traditions for you and on your beach travels. Happy Summer and Safe Travels!

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