Those poor vegans. They choose (choose!) to live their lives without the carnal pleasures of biting into a juicy, beefy burger. And let’s not get started on the fancy cheeses and bacon. Enjoying a diet devoid of any animal products seems impossible for someone who’s lived his entire life consuming some sort of meat at just about every meal. But my recent visit to Tacoma’s Quickie Too, an all-vegan restaurant, suggested maybe I lack imagination.
Ayinde Howell, who was born just down the street at Tacoma General, runs the Hilltop restaurant. “The biggest misconception is that people think it’s less than what it is. They say, ‘Oh I guess I can have a salad if I’m vegan. No. It’s more,’” he said. The proof is in the proverbial pudding here. The menu is full of familiar flavors such as quesadillas and burgers (the jalapeno mozzarella burger, made with “tofustrami” is one of the most popular). Most items utilize protein-rich grains such as lentils and quinoa or meat substitutes such as seitan, a hand-made, wheat-based product that has a similar texture to many cooked meats. Seitan may sound bizarre to the uninitiated vegan diner, and admittedly this writer was skeptical, until I tried the Seitan Parmesan. The “filet” is crusted with herbs and slathered in luscious tomato sauce and parmesan and mozzarella cheeses (yes, cheese made from plant products). Chicken or veal parmesan are not items I regularly order from restaurants, although I do enjoy them. But this version was far superior to any in recent memory — full of flavor and unexpectedly satisfying.
The focus is on taste at Quickie Too. “Being a vegan, you run into a lot of bad food,” Howell said. His personal goal is to expand vegan options, providing more flavor for those used to finding “bad food” elsewhere and to rope in new believers in this food lifestyle. Howell cited integration as an important factor in what he does, and believes getting people to incorporate more plants into their diet is not only healthy, but opens up a world of flavor possibilities as well. “Think about it. Most people eat four kinds of meat — beef, pork, chicken or fish. That’s four things. How many veggies are there out there?”
Howell also runs a vegan lifestyle website called ieatgrass.com.
Check it out to learn more about ingredients, cooking methods, videos, pieces on popular culture and food and to find new recipes.
Howell and his siblings were raised as vegans. His family has owned the Quickie Too property for more than 20 years, and he grew up helping with the family business. The space wasn’t always a restaurant — the family used the kitchen primarily to do food prep for sandwiches and similar fare for their food-distribution business. The family filled a serious void in the South Sound for good vegan food, and fulfilling that need led to the opening of several restaurants, including Plum Bistro and Hillside Quickie in Seattle and Quickie Too in Tacoma
10 years ago.
Howell started cooking professionally when he was 20, and decided to stick with it. He spent eight years in New York, where his food drew critical acclaim. A couple years ago, he decided to return to the Northwest to help his family by running Quickie Too. He was eager to press his skills at the Tacoma restaurant, but impressing his parents and meeting their high standards for vegan cooking would prove to be no easy task. “I told them I’ve been profiled in The New York Times. I’ve got this.’” They aren’t easily impressed.
Quickie Too has grown in popularity as more and more South Sounders seek healthier lifestyles. The restaurant is likely to see more regulars in the area as it is developed. Some parts of the area, also dubbed the Medical Mile because of the proximity to the hospitals and clinics, is expected to see incredible growth in the coming years.
So how do you become vegan? Howell says when people transition to a vegan diet, they often make things too difficult for themselves. “You don’t have to look for a camp to join, there’s no need to ditch your meat-eating friends,” he said. His biggest piece of advice? Simple research — use the Web to find hundreds of excellent sites full of tips and recipes, so you can try new things at your own pace. You never know what you may discover about your tastes.
When You Go
1324 Martin Luther King Junior Way, Tacoma
11am to 8pm, Monday, Wednesday, Friday
11am to 5pm Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday