Only a 20-minute walk away from the hustle and bustle of the Bryan Center Plaza is Pure Vegan Cafe, where guests can find a robust vegan menu without the expense of variety or flavor. This is Pure Vegan Cafe’s (PVC) first year participating in Triangle Restaurant Week (TRW), which took place from Jan. 23 - 29, 2023. TRW is an annual week-long celebration of culinary experience in the Triangle area. Participating restaurants offer two to three-course dinners and/or lunches. For TRW, PVC offered a $20 lunch or dinner, both with the choice of one burger or sandwich plus one side and one smoothie, juice or dessert. Just in the category of burger and sandwich, there were 11 different options.
Why does this tucked-away gem in Erwin Terrace manage to serve so many different 100-percent plant-based items? The answer lies in PVC’s innovative combination of varied ingredients, sauces, condiments and cooking styles. Their “chik’n” and alternative burger patties are made from mostly soybeans and black beans, respectively, and their plant “cheeze” is made from cashew. The cafe has versions of common sauces such as BBQ, chipotle and buffalo, making their flavors accessible to even non-vegan and non-vegetarian customers.
Some of their most popular items include the PVC Tikki Burger, Chipotle Chik’n, Buffaloe Ranch Fries and PB&J smoothie. All dishes are made to order except the desserts on the counter.
The PB&J smoothie is surprisingly refreshing at first sip, most likely due to the almond milk and strawberry inside. This berry tartness keeps the smoothie from being too heavy. The mellow and rich flavor of the peanut butter, as well as the creamy banana, give the smoothie a milkshake-like quality.
The main entree, Chipotle Chik’n, did not disappoint. Chipotle sauce on soy patties is a match made in heaven. The chik’n patty has a crunchy and slightly spicy outer layer. Its tender and chewy texture could well be mistaken for an actual chicken patty at first few bites, but it has definitive soy undertones. The creamy, cheesy chipotle and avocado spread seeps into the ridges of the outer layer of the chik’n patty and adds a saucy pizzazz to this veggielicious sandwich. All of that is topped with fresh-cut tomato and onion dices and a generous slice of avocado.
The Chilli Cheeze Fries are perfect for indulgence, vegan-style. The cashew nacho cheeze is superior in taste to most vegan cheese in the market – rich and nutty. It is not necessarily a substitution for nacho cheese but possibly a better alternative with a lighter aftertaste. The chilli is hearty, with thorough seasoning and a filling bean flavor. Underneath this cheeze and chilli layer are potato fries, brown-golden and crispy just as promised on the menu.
Veena Birajadar, founder and owner of Pure Vegan Cafe, shared how her passion for growing fruits and vegetables in her backyard has influenced the way she runs her business. “I start everything from my own seedlings and I grow them into the final product. So it's basically love [and] care,” Birajadar said. For a long time, she made juice and smoothie from the food she grew in her near-2000 square feet backyard garden. This long standing hobby and her encounter with Gerson Therapy after her father-in-law’s cancer diagnosis, made her realize “food makes a lot of difference.” As a result, PVC is conscious of food integrity and strives to source from local, transparent sources.
Birajadar quit her job in IT shortly after coming across Gerson Therapy and transitioned to the culinary business, starting from “ground zero.” As a partner at Lime & Lemon four years ago, she familiarized herself with many concrete aspects of running restaurants and started to plan for her own business.
Pure Vegan Cafe is now in its third year. It is not only health-oriented but also customer-oriented. Birajadar is on-site in her Durham or Raleigh location almost every day. In her own words, she is “completely hands-on.” During those hours, she often asks guests for feedback on existing menu items and suggestions for future dishes. Recently, she is trying to incorporate more Indian dishes into the menu, in addition to its current five Indian fusion options.
Now that the PVC business is more settled, Birajadar realized that the annual TRW is a good opportunity to spread the word and share the joy of eating fresh plant-based food with more locals. Though TRW has now ended, all of the dishes on PVC’s TRW menu are still available for customers. So, if you are ever curious just how varied and tasty vegan food can be, Pure Vegan Cafe awaits on the lower back side of Erwin Terrace.
Pure Vegan Cafe’s Durham location is at 2812 Erwin Road 104, and it is open from Monday to Sunday, 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. Its Raleigh address is at 8369 Creedmoor Road, Raleigh, NC, and is open from Monday to Sunday 9:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
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Katherine Zhong is a Trinity junior and local arts editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.