Firm, glistening cubes of watermelon bear a striking resemblance to high-end raw tuna, which is precisely why chef Todd Erickson chose the juicy fruit as the foundation for the restaurant's vegan poke ($7). To make the dish taste like the Hawaiian raw fish salad, he enhances the watermelon with Asian ingredients such as kombu broth, yuzu vinaigrette, sweet tamari, nori shavings, and sesame seeds. Baby mushrooms and crunchy lotus flower root help round out this refreshing, umami-laden starter.
Erickson is the executive chef at GLAM, which is short for "Green Living Animals Matter." It opened in midtown earlier this summer, marking the well-known toque's first foray into helming an exclusively vegan kitchen. Erickson isn't vegan, but the restaurant's vegan owner, Janette Miller, sought him out, and the two instantly connected. A former interior designer, Miller recognized that Miami lacked an eatery serving elevated plant-based fare that was also approachable and affordable.
The menu includes everything from chilled kelp noodles to a jackfruit taco al pastor alongside avocado miso toast, pear flatbread, and farro risotto. The place serves meticulously plated food, offers beer and wine, and has a sleek, minimalist décor. It's one of a few eateries to fill the void between casual juice bars and vegan cafés. Soul Tavern and Crate Plant-Based Kitchen, Bar & Lounge are two others.
Like GLAM's Miller, Jason Gordon noticed opportunities in this gap. So this past July, the doctor of Chinese medicine, who has been in the health and wellness industry for nearly 20 years, opened Soul Tavern in South Beach's Sunset Harbour neighborhood.
The gourmet vegan and vegetarian gastropub was designed to provide customers with a temporary retreat from their hectic lives. Both the tranquil interior and picturesque Zen garden beckon diners to linger over homemade herbal elixirs or craft cocktails rather than stare at their cell phones. Hospitality doesn't take a back seat at Soul Tavern, where the staff promptly informs guests about the restaurant founder's background and the fact the cuisine is rooted in the ancient five-element principle intended to create peace within the mind, body, and soul.
For example, the earth pizza ($16) gets its moniker because it features a miso base as well as chickpeas and caramelized onions — ingredients that Gordon says create harmony. The pizza contains mozzarella because the eatery serves eggs and dairy in an effort to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. That said, any pie can be made vegan and/or gluten-free upon request.
But you don't have to believe in Soul Tavern's guiding principles to enjoy the earth pizza. It tastes good, plain and simple. The crust is thin, lightly oiled, and perfectly crisp, and even the seemingly out-of-place garbanzo beans add a pleasant crunch.
Rather than rely on meat substitutes made from gluten or soy as sources of protein, Gordon prefers to use plant-based proteins such as jackfruit for Soul Tavern's vegan dishes. The jackfruit gyoza ( $12) is one of his best sellers, and indeed the exotic fruit does a prime job of mimicking the hearty flavor and chewy texture of animal meat. Like everything served here, these delectable Japanese dumplings are made entirely from scratch using only unprocessed ingredients.
Also popular are the eatery's vegan maki rolls. Gordon, who is a vegan, wanted people to get excited about the selection. So in the It's Good to Be a King maki ($15), ponzu-marinated king oyster mushrooms are paired with burnt eggplant, spinach, cucumber, asparagus, and avocado. Though the asparagus is overkill, the smokiness of the rich eggplant sauce adds a level of drama uncommon in vegetarian rolls.
Gordon says he chose the name "Soul Tavern" to signify a destination where "health and hang" happily coexist. His goal is for the venue to be a gathering place for lunch, happy hour, dinner, and late-night libations.
South in Brickell, Anselmo Hernandez had a similar vision. So this summer, he opened Crate Plant-Based Kitchen, Bar & Lounge, where vegans and nonvegans can socialize while enjoying plant-based cuisine and cocktails.
But whereas Soul Tavern's vibe can be likened to that of a Japanese meditation garden, Hernandez's Crate could be mistaken for a sexy supper club. The 152-seat concept in Mary Brickell Village features a massive full-service bar and an even larger projection screen that was playing a fashion show during a recent visit. Hernandez's background is in furniture design, and he's behind many of the plush sofas and armchairs that make up Crate's retro-style lounge. There's also a modest patio.
Unable to find a quality vegan restaurant in the city, Hernandez (who cofounded Barú Latin Bar and TuCandela Bar) decided to take matters into his own hands. He's billed Crate as "Miami's first vegetarian and vegan culinary and nightlife experience" and teamed up with chef Christopher Baugh to develop a menu best described as a plant-based take on American classics. The two met in Bali, where Baugh still operates the casual vegetarian restaurant Sage.
Eating a nonmeat Reuben sandwich ($13) in a glamorous lounge is certainly atypical, but the oddity of the situation dissipates once you take your first bite and realize Baugh knows what he's doing. Made with grilled tempeh, sauerkraut, avocado, vegan cheese, and homemade Thousand Island dressing on rye bread, Crate's Reuben is heavy on flavor yet unsurprisingly lighter than the original.
Apart from sandwiches, there are custom taco and burrito options, as well as soups, salads, organic juices, and smoothies. Cheese is the only nonvegan item offered, but once Crate is able to make all of its nondairy cheeses in-house, Anselmo plans to make the eatery completely vegan.
Crate is also becoming known for its burgers, composed of a patty made with mung beans, organic brown rice, and roasted vegetables. The mushroom Swiss burger with caramelized mushrooms ($12) is an excellent choice regardless of whether you go with vegan cheese. Dip the accompanying sweet potato fries into the vegan ketchup and call it a day.
Midtown's GLAM, a stylish order-at-the-counter concept suitable for a laid-back date night or dinner with friends, serves the most memorable postdinner treat. The matcha tea pot de crème ($6) is a rich and creamy custard enriched with the bold, acidic flavors of passionfruit and mango. It incorporates a bit of South Florida and a bit of Japan, and the combination is positively seductive.
Miami's new plant-based restaurants are gourmet in nature, fairly priced, and unique in their offerings. They generally boast a more upscale vibe than no-frills vegan favorites such as Choices Organic Cafe, Eden in Eden, Della Bowls, and the Honey Tree.
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Indeed, GLAM, Soul Tavern, and Crate are legitimate dining destinations where the overall experience counts for just as much as the food. Thanks to them, the city's dining landscape is looking brighter than ever.
GLAM. 3301 NE First Ave., Miami; 786-864-0590; glam-vegan.com.
Soul Tavern. 1801 West Ave., Miami Beach; 305-925-0799; soultavern.com.
Crate Plant-Based Kitchen, Bar & Lounge. 100 SE Ninth St., Miami; 786-334-5408; cratemiami.com.