During my brief flirtations with vegetarianism I worked hard to embrace the experience and really focus on the ingredients in their original form as much as possible. I didn’t want to just replace all of the meats with vegetarian/vegan substitutes and truthfully I’ve always been leery about the quality and taste of them compared to my beloved meats of all kinds. Even though I pride myself in being adventurous, I had never really given them a chance, but when my new blog friend Chris from Exploring Upstate (updated to reflect his current blog venture) wanted to visit the all vegan Red Fern just off of Park Ave on Oxford St, I jumped at the opportunity to see what I’ve been missing. For those that are connected with the vegan scene, the owner of Red Fern was a part of The Owl House at launch and eventually ended up leaving in 2012 to expand upon her vegan and specialty diet friendly options at this new place which launched a couple weeks ago. FYI, If I mention anything through the article that would usually have meat related or dairy items, there was a vegan substitute used.
After a brief chat with the owner (Chris is friends with her), we took a seat in their outdoor area and grabbed their Pickled Things (actual name on the menu IIRC) and Kale Chips to start our meal. I’m a big fan of pickled items in general and Red Fern’s selection didn’t disappoint. A wide variety of fresh veggies including cauliflower, brussels sprouts, carrots, hot peppers and corn were pickled in a vinegar based solution to a good balance point where they remained crisp and didn’t cross into the overwhelming vinegar flavor that can often happen. Although I prefer a fermented pickle over the vinegar variety, this was a good version of the latter and I would order it again. The kale chips were nicely crunchy and had a good amount of garlic and salt seasoning for me. It definitely concentrates the kale flavor so if you don’t like greens I’d shy away from these but they were on point for my tastes.
I used the quesadilla as my main course and although it appeared similar to the traditional version, the ingredients were not. Starting off with the brown rice tortilla which was well toasted and the thin crunch without gluten was good texturally for the dish. The fillings were vegan cashew cheese, faux italian sausage, pickled peppers and Small World Foods fermented garlic. Another textural success with cheese that felt right and between the seasoning of the sausage chunks and the fermented garlic a very full flavored and well developed dish. You could tell that it was thought out in advance with intent to make sure you aren’t missing anything by not having meat. Well done and this dish made me a convert at least when the execution is this good. The lemon mayo was thick and had plenty of lemon and the salad was acceptable with a good balsamic dressing.
My meat loving compatriot ordered the steak bomber made with seitan steak cooked with mushrooms and a savory sauce served on Flour City Bread foccacia bread. He was more leery than I was about the vegan concept, but he ended up enjoying his sandwich a great deal. From the bite that I had, I could really taste the mushrooms and although the texture of the steak was a bit lacking compared to the real thing, I would still be happy eating it. The cold, chunky sweet potato salad was just barely sweet, studded with veggies and had the feel of a hearty mashed potato more than what most people think of as potato salad.
Our dessert was a peanut caramel apple pie bar that was a bit of an up and down affair. I enjoyed the raw oat combined with the dark flavors of the roasted peanuts and the caramel sauce but the other Chris had a bit of difficulty reconciling it as a real dessert which I can understand. It definitely errs toward the health food side of things despite what I would consider to be a decent amount of sweetness.
The meal was a solid success in my book and I’ll be headed back again soon to see what else they have in store for the fall and winter seasons. The interior of the restaurant was a good balance between modern and rustic and had a comfortable feel to it and I’d have no issue sitting in there for my next meal. Check out Red Fern for some well made vegan food and another good option on Park Ave!