Choices Café's Vegetarian Meats Are No Imitators; They're Ingenious

The next time you think about mocking your vegan friends, consider this: They live in a self-imposed prison in a mostly meat-centric world loath to accommodate their preferences. They have to be ingenious inventors, in other words.

Those devout, plant-based acolytes have to find or create new kinds of sustenance. That's why one day while tooling around her home kitchen, Lori Zito, president of Choices Café (choicescafe.com), stumbled upon a combination of mashed chickpeas, vegan mayonnaise, and mustard. The results tasted strikingly similar to tuna salad.

So she brought the mix into the restaurant's original, now-shuttered location near Brickell Avenue to see what everyone thought. "People add their input of spices and flavorings," she says of the early collaboration. Into the dish went a dash of paprika and nutritional yeast for a savory zap. Thus, Choices' "No Seas Tuna" was born.

Today you can get it wrapped up or served over rice or quinoa with sprouts, carrots, sautéed onions, and cashew cheese ($15.13). As the company has grown in recent years to four locations in Miami and one in Broward, it has centralized the production of all its "meats" at Choices Kitchen on SW 27th Avenue on Little Havana's northern boundary.

Here, 55-year-old Beatriz Herrmann oversees a staff of three that spends all day every day turning walnuts into toothsome sandwich fillers and shredded soy into fragrant, spicy chorizo. First they toast and blend a pungent combination of onions, garlic, cayenne pepper, allspice, and cumin. Then it's added to a bucket of what looks like flaked tofu. Soon the kitchen is overwhelmed by the nostril-stinging scent of all the spices.

But as you taste a fresh spoonful of this so-called chorizo, you quickly realize it's all worth it. It's salty. It's spicy. And it has all the complexity of its porky sibling but with none of the guilt.

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