Yes, even vegan soul food can give you the itis. After a surprisingly satisfying lunch of collard greens, potato salad, cornbread and other soul food standards sans meat, my coworkers and I were dreading returning to work. I could never be vegan but Souley Vegan in Oakland is one of the few vegan places I would revisit.
Unimpressive from the outside, the restaurant blends with the other white-washed, barred storefronts on Broadway. But do not judge a restaurant by how it looks as the inside is large, clean and organized. With a mini banquet hall in the back with enough room for groups of 10 and more, the space is hardly a hole in the wall
Once inside, you are greeted by owner Tamearra Dyson, who works the front of the house taking orders and serving food. With a small staff, there is no waiter service. Rather, you order at the register, get a number and take a seat. The staff will deliver water, utensils and your food. Service is friendly and fast as it actually took longer for us all to order than it did to get our food.
The menu, written on a blackboard behind the register, is simple, and tax is included in the price. Choose from three types of tofu burgers or side dishes a la carte. Burgers start at $6 and add $2 for any side. If you want a la carte, the first two items are $4 and any others are $2. Sides include collard greens, black eye peas, yams, lentils, mac and cheese, potato salad, okra, BBQ tofu, southern fried tofu and beans and rice. If you want a bit of everything, get the aptly named Everything Platter for $19. It easily feeds two and you get what I consider the best the restaurant offers. The highlight for me was the BBQ tofu that looked and tasted like BBQ meat, sweet and tangy, which may not be for some vegans.
For those who do not want their food to resemble meat at all, order the sides, which are as creamy and flavorful as any soul food I have had. I was anxious to try the mac and cheese, and it did not disappoint. The vegan variation had the creaminess I would expect from real cheese and a heavy hand of garlic. The only thing that would have made it better was if it were baked with a breadcrumb top.
While the sides were delicious, the burgers were a letdown. After seeing amazing pictures on Yelp, I ordered the crispy tofu burger. The tofu was about a half-inch think and the other 2 inches batter. There were too many carbs, from the bun to the breaded batter, that it was like eating a breadcrumb burger. My advice is to skip the burger and stick with the Everything Platter.
The idea of vegan soul food seems like an oxymoron, but it works at this Oakland eatery. The food is flavorful, delicious and filling, and the price is a bargain with dinner for two less than $20. Vegan food doesn't have to be raw, tasteless or expensive, and Souley Vegan proves that.
301 Broadway, Oakland
Photo: Carren E.