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Table for two: Veggie tale

Brent Holmes
Brent Holmes

A practiced vegetarian takes a lifelong carnivore to VegeNation, Downtown’s new meat-free eatery

TABLE TALKHeidi: This is a vegan restaurant, not vegetarian, so there are no animal products at all. Which I have to confess gave me pause — I’m not a huge fan of vegan food. I like cheese. I like eggs. I like dairy. So I was a little leery.

Scott: If I have one reservation, it’s the thought that this is gonna be bland. I don’t know why I assume that meat equals flavor, except that in my life it always has.

Heidi: For me it’s usually more a question of … richness? To me, dairy tends to equal creamy, and I like things that are creamy and thick and voluptuous and smooth. And I’ve had a lot of vegan food that just doesn’t have much texture.

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Scott: I think of vegetables and salads as sides. So pivoting to think of them as the whole meal isn’t easy.

Heidi: Another thing — I’m not a huge fan of soy. One of the misconceptions that people have about vegetarians is that they eat a ton of tofu or soy products. When I do eat soy, I like it in small quantities. I’ve been to vegan restaurants where everything is soy-based. That is not the case here.

Scott: My ground rules are: No okra, no collard greens, especially no kale.

THE MENUScott: I’m interested in the meatball grinder, because it’s analogous to something I might eat in the non-vegetarian world.

Heidi: Their meatballs are very good. My husband got the meatballs with spaghetti, and they were unbelievable. I think I’m going to try the VegeNation burger. ( Glances at specials board: some kind of salad.) When we’re all going out to a restaurant and are trying to decide if it’s vegetarian-friendly, people always say, “Well, it has salad.” But I eat salad probably four times a week. So it’s not special to me to go out and eat a salad.

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Waitress: All set? Need a minute?

Heidi: I think we’re set. I’ve had the My Little Dumpling, but I haven’t had the Mexican hummus. Which would you recommend?

Waitress: I prefer the Mexican hummus.

Heidi: Okay, we’ll try that.

Waitress: Are you …?

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Heidi: I’m vegetarian. He’s carnivore.

Waitress: That’s okay! We welcome everybody here.

Scott: I’m looking to expand my comfort zone, let’s say.

Waitress: We have tons of people who aren’t vegetarians or vegan who eat here all the time.

Heidi: I’m going to try the VegeNation burger. What is your burger made of?

Waitress: The patty is made of chickpeas, onions, herbs, spices, chia seeds, hemp seeds …

Heidi: I want to ask the same question about the meatballs because he’s going to get the meatball grinder.

Waitress: The meatball is made of soy and wheat gluten. I don’t know how they do it, but it tastes exactly like a meatball. Some vegans don’t like it because it’s too similar: “Ooh, it’s too meaty.”

MORE TABLE TALKScott: Is switching to a vegetarian diet inherently more healthy? Is there such a thing as a bad vegetarian diet?

Heidi: Yeah, there are bad vegetarian diets. I know people who are vegetarians who are very much overweight. I know people who are vegetarians who have cardiac problems, high blood pressure — many of the same health problems as carnivores.

THE FOOD ARRIVES( Waitress brings appetizer.)

Heidi: Mmm!

Scott: Got a little spice to it.

Heidi: Black bean hummus, I guess? I don’t like the color; I don’t like the presentation of the dark chips and the dark hummus. I would serve it with a white corn chip. But this is a good black-bean puree. With lots of garlic.

Scott: Nothing wrong with that!

( Waitress brings entrées.)

Scott: This is an impressive-looking meatball sandwich! ( Looks at Heidi’s burger.) That looks like a burger that needs to be cooked.

Heidi: I’ve eaten a lot of veggie burgers and I can tell you right now that as soon as I take a bite or two it’s going to fall apart.

Scott: I would think it would be a little off-putting (to a vegetarian) because it looks like raw meat. I don’t know, maybe a hardcore vegan can find a certain amount of ironic satisfaction in that …?

Heidi: It looks like steak tartare. ( Bites into it.) It’s interesting. I don’t dislike it, but I’ve had veggie burgers I liked better. You should try it; it’s an interesting flavor.

Scott: I only had half a meatball in this bite, but so far, so good. It’s a nice transitional dish (for a carnivore sampling vegetarian) because it certainly tastes like I’m eating a meatball.

Heidi: It’s got a really good texture. If you’re going to do a meat substitute, it should be meaty. It should hold together.

Scott: ( Sampling Heidi’s burger “meat.”) I like it; I just don’t know why you’d arrange it into a hamburger.

Heidi: Exactly. It reminds me of pâté. It should be served with toast squares. ...

Scott: ( Admiring the texture and density of his meatballs.) I’m genuinely blown away by these meatballs. It’s not a ball of real meat, but I wouldn’t know that.

Heidi: On principle, one of the things I love about this place is that they support local gardens.

Scott: I noticed on the menu that a number of items say “local greens.”

Heidi: I kind of wish that we had small meat-growers here, because I would support them. People who raised grass-fed, humanely slaughtered animals — I would support them.

( Restaurant goes silent as all heads swivel to Heidi; chairs are pushed from tables as angry, murmuring mob forms …)

Heidi: ( to waitress) We’ll also try the blueberry cheesecake. 

Scott Dickensheets is a Las Vegas writer and editor whose trenchant observations about local culture have graced the pages of publications nationwide.
Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.