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When you walk in to the Seasoned Vegan (55 St. Nicholas Avenue; 212-222-0092), nestled at the corner of 113th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, the restaurant’s sign greets you with the tagline, “The food you love, veganized.” Indeed, mother-son duo Brenda and Aaron Beener’s menu aims to please with renditions of foods that meat-eaters enjoy, but with soy, nut, and wheat-free substitutions.
Beener, known as Chef B, didn’t grow up vegan. She’s the daughter of two Louisiana natives, both cooks, and always ate meat while growing up. The born-and-raised Harlemite learned to cook from the age of eight. “My mother had me come to the stove and taught me how to cook,” Beener tells the Voice. “My parents had a Louisiana flair to their cooking — very Cajun, very Creole.”
Beener didn’t have a taste for meat, so when her friends introduced her to vegetarianism in the 1970s, she tried it. It was her first experience with a non-meat diet, but she didn’t stick with it for long; her parents thought she was going to die if she didn’t eat meat. She then met her husband, who was vegetarian at the time, which made it a lot easier for her to try the lifestyle. She stopped eating pork 45 years ago, followed over the years by red meat, chicken, and dairy. It was a slow transition for her to switch to a completely vegan diet, which she finally did eight years ago when she gave up eating fish.
While she never went to culinary school, she worked in restaurants and health food stores for years. Last year, she felt it was time to branch out on her own. She opened Seasoned Vegan on May 3, 2014.
“I have the vegan restaurant because of my community. I started talking to different people and realizing that my community has a very high number of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure. I think that we don’t realize that a lot of these diseases come from what we eat. I’m not trying to make anyone a vegan, I just wanted to give people another option, and hopefully by them trying vegan food they will be able to change their eating habits,” Beener says.
The stuffed avocado ($10) features a sliced and pitted avocado, filled with almond meat, cashew cheese, and pico de gallo, which sit on a bed of greens. The crunchy almond meat, with the texture of coarsely ground almonds, is tossed in spices. The avocado and cashew cheese add an appealing creaminess, while the pico de gallo and the vinaigrette the greens are tossed with add tangy, smoky overtones.
The lemon crusted “fish” steak ($18.50), a broiled, fermented soy patty topped with lemon breadcrumbs and black sesame seeds, is wrapped in seaweed.The steak is generously sized, with a firm, flaky texture; the seaweed gives the dish a pleasing oceanic flavoring and the breadcrumbs deliver welcome zest. Given the choice of two sides, we chose the baked macaroni with vegan cheese and string beans with potatoes.
Zucchini noodles with homemade raw tomato marinara ($11) feature julienned zucchini, a wheat-free substitute for traditional pasta. It’s a simple and pleasingly light combination, with crisp zucchini and sweet, fresh tomato sauce.
These dishes are a great place to start with Seasoned Vegan’s menu. Another notable dish is the “raw” burger (which means the mixture isn’t heated above 118 degrees; $14), composed of two pumpkin seed, mushroom, and pecan patties topped with dried onions, raw tomato sauce, sliced avocado, cashew cheese, and herbs on homemade flaxseed bread. The flaxseed bread is thinly sliced and chewy, with a dark, nutty taste, and the cashew cheese lends a creamy, buttery note.
More:Vegetarian and Vegan