Ten years ago, Los Angeles looked a little bit different. The differences weren’t drastic, but it was decidedly not the vibrant food lover’s playground that we know and love today - and it was a lot less friendly to those with dietary restrictions. Dining out as a vegan in those days meant one of two things: either you’d order a disparate collection of side dishes (holding the butter, of course) while you watched your pals chow down on meaty entrees, or you’d drag your open-minded friend to one of the handful of vegan Thai restaurants in town and have yourself a soy- and wheat-laden feast (orange crispy “chicken” still haunts my dreams in all the best ways). And while a fine dining experience was available if you were willing to travel, celebrating a special occasion with a memorable meal was a very rare occurrence - and in many cases, that same restaurant would be gone by the time you were ready to return for your next birthday (RIP Ubuntu, Cru, Madeline Bistro). More often than not, a vegan foodie was forced to rely on the good graces of a chef at a “regular” restaurant to create something free of animal products for them, silently hoping that someone in the kitchen actually knew what vegan meant, and that their meal wouldn’t contain any hidden chicken broth, gelatin, or fish sauce.
As a former vegan, memories of meals like those flooded back as I eyed the menu at Crossroads Kitchen, L.A.’s first full-on-fancy plant-based restaurant. It’s easy to imagine how refreshing a visit to Crossroads must be for a longtime vegan; here, the world is your [artichoke] oyster, and the entire Mediterranean-style small plates menu is fair game. And that menu is exciting: by applying traditional French cooking techniques to healthful vegan ingredients, founder and chef Tal Ronnen's cuisine breaks free of the dreaded "hippie food" reputation that most vegetarian cuisine suffers from. Complete with a robust cocktail program and glamorous old-Hollywood style interiors, Crossroads provides an opportunity for vegans to indulge in the same decadent nights on the town that their carnivorous friends do. The icing on the cake? The food is delicious enough that said carnivorous friends will gladly come along for the ride, if they’re aware at all that their entire meal is animal-free.
While plant-based dining options are becoming more abundant as the movement gains traction, a satisfying vegan brunch still remains somewhat elusive. Casual cafés with avocado toasts and almond milk lattes are a dime a dozen, sure, but what of those beloved leisurely brunches spent sipping mimosas with good friends? To enjoy such a luxury, a vegan is often relegated to a bowl of plain oatmeal and fruit, or a bagel if she’s lucky. Fortunately, Crossroads offers reprieve on weekend mornings, as well, with a brunch menu replete with vegan versions of all the good stuff: Bloody Marys, “Chicken” and Waffles, French Toast, Shakshuka.
Crossroads’ small-plates concept carries over to its brunch offerings, which, if you share our point of view, really just translates into a good excuse to try more dishes. For something sweet, we began our meal with the Kolache, a Czech sweet bread stuffed with jammy blueberries and drizzled with a bright lemony icing. As much as this little beauty may look like a donut, do not be fooled: the Kolache’s dough is dense and almost bread-like, which while surprising at first, offers a satisfying counterbalance to the sweet, almost syrupy filling.
The Savory Crepe was certainly the most visually impressive of the group, stuffed with vibrant green peas and drenched in a luscious, creamy sauce, then sprinkled with micro greens and chopped herbs. A traditional crepe’s eggy, elastic quality is absent here, but is not missed - this version’s crisp edges and thick, savory center recall a chickpea socca, and offer an absorbent canvas for the cheesy Chardonnay sauce. Inside are mounds of crisp English peas, delicate pearl onions, and soft, nutty morel mushrooms, offering both depth of flavor and a lively contrast in texture.
For reformed fast food lovers, there is the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich: a vegan answer to the Egg McMuffin if there ever was one. Palm-sized, portable, and immensely satisfying, this is the kind of thing we’d dream of eating on our way out the door in the morning (pssst, Tal, consider setting up a grab-and-go breakfast café - we’ll be first in line!). The sausage patty is by far the most convincing meat substitute we’ve encountered (which is no surprise, considering the hype surrounding the Impossible Burger), and the crisp layer of chickpea panisse is reminiscent of a deep-fried hashbrown. To seal the deal, a thick slice of vegan cheese (one of Ronnen’s many fortes), melts gently below a fresh, soft English muffin.
If you’ve got room for dessert (and we almost always do, let’s be honest), the Cookies and Milk is a charming throwback to a favorite childhood treat. Our plate included a decadent fudgy brownie, a cacao-chip cookie with a spot-on ratio of salt to sweet to bitter, and crumbly fig fennel thumbprint cookie that was just a little bit salty and absolutely melted on the tongue. For dipping, it came with a little glass of vanilla coconut milk that made for a delightfully creamy accompaniment.
If a trip to Crossroads Kitchen can teach us anything, it's that brunch needn't include eggs and bacon to be satisfying. So every once and a while, do your vegan friend a solid, and take her to a place where she can order something other than oatmeal - you may just enjoy it yourself, too.
8284 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046