R: Just like airline pilots find the runway via its flashing lights, the VIP birds homed in on VEGISOUL guided by an enormous, bright, yellow banner that stretched across a twenty-foot length of wrought iron fencing. One simply cannot miss the huge red letters that practically shout the word "vegetarian." Beneath the giant "vegetarian" letters we read "VEGISOUL Gourmet Vegetarian Soul Food Take-out" in large green letters.
Z: Located on West Jefferson between Normandie and Vermont in the West Adams area just a few blocks from USC, the Staples Center, and Exposition Park, VEGISOUL is a vegetarian oasis serving tasty, good old fashioned soul food. This take-out soul food leaves its high-fat counterparts in the dust.
R: Attracted by the humongous yellow banner, we parked in the lot behind the sign and approached the take-out window at the front of the building. Ptni Hotep, a tall, attractive young man, greeted us with a vibrant, welcoming smile and happily offered some suggestions for our informal Southern feast.
Z: Reuben chose the Stuffed Yams, while Hotep suggested I try the BBQ Chik'n. And I knew a side of Greens was a must if I was really gonna feel some soul. A Cucumber Strawberry Drink and the Blueberry Lemonade completed our selections.
R: Though Hotep's present focus is take-out, he makes use of a long, narrow space between his building and the structure next door to create an eating area with two tables that he plans to someday enhance into real patio dining. For now, it's a bare bones environment punctuated with the sounds of a relentless barking dog from the rear building and the steady whirring of streaming rush-hour traffic. From our little "Hernando's Hideaway" spot, our only outside view was Bravo's Hardware store across the street.
Z: Our drinks arrived in clear plastic cups with my Cucumber Strawberry choice wearing an appealing shade of pink, while Reuben's Blueberry Lemonade donned a pastel purple hue. As we sipped our refreshing and fruity-sweet beverages, we learned everything was made to order using distilled water for all the food preparations including beverages.
R: Hotep, who refers to himself as the cook, the clean-up help, and the server, delivered our entrees in styrofoam containers, complete with plastic forks, knives, and paper napkins. Not a meal one approaches as gourmet dining, this food insisted we drop the fancy words and just feel the soul in each forkful while enjoying these tasty "fixin's." My Stuffed Yam, one of the most popular dishes on the menu, consisted of a split yam topped with hearty chunks of sautéed red bell peppers, broccoli florets, red onions, chunks of vegetarian sausage, and a flavorful sauce, the chef's best kept secret. A mountain of well-seasoned red beans and a heap of vinegar-doused, thickly sliced cucumbers, hearty chunks of tomato, and chopped parsley filled the styro box. Sometimes you just know with that first bite that you're in a groove totally in sync with the guy that did the chopping, mixing, and stirring. That's how my yam dish spoke to me.
Z: The unmatchable flavor of home cooking is revealed with the BBQ Chik'n dinner composed of a generous quantity of brown rice, a hill of perfectly cooked red beans with a gentle hit of spice, and a serving of freshly steam-cooked spinach. Sitting on top of the heap was a chik'n patty smothered in BBQ sauce.
R: While both dishes truly had the feel of Southern cooking, their wholesome ingredients were pure vegan. No pretense here--this was simple, down-home eating. Everything on the menu is vegan with the exception of two items--the veggie burgers that contain cheese and the ground beef that has egg white. Many items are organic.
Z: Those who don't grow up chowing down greens on a regular basis may consider their bitter bite somewhat off-putting. Guess I'm the exception. My side of steam-cooked kale was tender and delicious. While the familiar sharp bite I was expecting didn't materialize, the Greens were a tad on the salty side.
R: Hotep was trying out some new beverages and brought a Virgin Mojito for us to taste. Definitely a winner with its base of mint-flavored lime juice and a few secret ingredients our smiling host wouldn't divulge.
Z: After reading the Bhagavad-gita during his teen years, he refrained from meat eating to the dismay of his family and gradually turned to a more plant-based regimen. He's been vegetarian for 18 years.
R: The base of many of his entrees consists of brown rice, red beans, and greens with the addition of "ribs," chik'n, and variations on that theme. Featured dishes include the Taco Plate, See Food Gumbo, Teriyaki Chick'n Meal, and Vegan Delight. For the chili aficionado who doesn't mind fanning the flames off his tongue, the fiery hot Habe Burger awaits.
Z: Menu prices at VEGISOUL are quite reasonable with lunch specials an exceptional value. Hotep infuses the food with love and serves it with a smile.
1436 West Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067
Reviewed August 2005