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Flat Top Grill offers vegan meals that can be customized for variety

Looking for more inspiration for vegan dining around the Bend, I came across the VegGuide page for our part of the world.

As my college-aged children are home for a short break, I planned to stop by Flat Top Grill after a scheduled visit to the University Park Mall to replenish their wardrobes.

At first it was a little bewildering as interactive dining, especially at this level of customization, is not something we are accustomed to. For vegans and vegetarians, the trick is not to read the menu, which is really too-much-information, but jump right into choosing ingredients.

First specify to the server that you are vegan, and they will give you a “stick” that specifies “no meat” to put in your bowl. (Meat is chosen from the menu, and the cook adds this to the ingredients during preparation of the dish.)

You can choose a variety of veggies, beans, noodles and other ingredients from a bar, top it off with some sauces and then the kitchen makes your dish in your chosen preparation — burrito, roti tacos, traditional bowl, stuffed sandwich, lettuce wraps, etc.

The cost of lunch is $9.99, and dinner is $12.99. You can go back for seconds for an additional $4. I think this is bit steep, considering that it is not all-you-can-eat, as in other places like Sweet Tomatoes.

What’s exciting about Flat Top Grill is that the relatively large offering of mock meats — Quorn, Veat, Seitan, BBQ Tempeh, Vegetable “Pakora” and a few others depending on the rotation.

This is a savvy move for Flat Top Grill, as in the future we will be eating a lot more of these mock meats (although being a pioneer also comes with some risks).

From my point of view, it’s great that we have a chain such as this being an early adopter, legitimizing the role of mock meats and introducing a broad swath of people to this new way of eating “meat.”

The chain goes out of its way to address different dietary preferences, which is also a point of confusion of information overload. But a laudable concern for vegans is shown in that they prepare vegan meals in a different cooking surface from meals that contain animal ingredients. 

What might be confusing for vegans, though, is that not all of the mock meats are dairy and egg-free. I knew to be suspicious as I have written before about non-vegan ingredients in Quorn. Conversely, some of the offerings like Veat are listed as not vegan, but now the chain is sourcing a vegan Veat.

As it happens, the day we went the manager told us they were waiting on vegan Veat, which was being held up at customs (it appears that Veat is manufactured in New Zealand). But seitan is fully vegan, and the manager confirmed this. This is what we chose for our bowls, and I assure you that it was delicious and satisfying.

Another thing confusing for vegans is that it is not always clear which of the sauces are fully vegan, and this has to be determined by a combination of reading the labels, asking the servers and doing some research.

Our server was quite knowledgeable, but on the whole, the staff was not really clear on vegan requirements. At one point the manager of the store was summoned out to advise on which of the meat substitutes were truly vegan — without dairy and egg additives. I also had to ask repeatedly as to whether the roti and prata were vegan. The ingredients for the roti are flour, oil cornstarch and water; but for prata, it also includes butter.

Aside from the price, another drawback is that visuals of the ingredient bar could be more appealing. The lighting was rather low, and the counter was untidy. But Flat Top Grill does offer a lot of options for vegans to customize a relatively large variety of meals. My dinner was really very delicious!

For more tips and tales of dining vegan in Michiana from Rama Ganesan and her fellow meatless maven Crystal Hallwood, sign up for the Vegan at the Bend email newsletter.

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