Western New York's first entirely vegan restaurant has opened on Elmwood Avenue.
Root & Bloom Café is currently serving customers in a large gazebo behind 423 Elmwood Ave., a building whose interior is currently occupied by Thinking Elvish Fantasy Chocolate, a chocolate maker.
Root & Bloom expects to move inside this fall, as the chocolate maker plans to move out, said James Ernst, who owns the restaurant with chef Sarah Sendlbeck, his wife. The gazebo seats about 50, and the restaurant should hold 100 when the interior space is available.
The restaurant is serving a limited menu during limited hours, but plans to expand in coming months. Its full menu should be available starting June 1.
At present, Root & Bloom offers dinner Thursday and Friday, and brunch Saturday and Sunday. Every third Saturday will be Uprooted, a vegan "guilty pleasure" experience that isn't so focused on nutrition. It includes versions of fried chicken and waffles ($11), and cheesesteaks ($11).
"If you want to bring your aunt or your cousin in who's never had vegan food before, these are the menu options we don’t advise eating on a regular basis, but we indulge in from time to time," said Ernst.
Its first trial by fire was Mother's Day, serving about 95 people. It took an hour to get dishes out of the kitchen, teaching the restaurant rookies that they needed more help. "We hired more staff members for the kitchen," he said.
Ernst is a graduate of St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, and met Sendlbeck while she attended Mount St. Mary's Academy.
Her family's been in restaurants and food service for generations, with her family running a Niagara Falls catering company, he said. He worked for a vegan cheese company in California, and then Trader Joe's here.
"Food has always been our calling, and when we had our daughter Stella three years ago, we decided to go into food," Ernst said. They rented a house in Joshua Tree for six months and did recipe testing to come up with the Root & Bloom menu.
We knew that Buffalo needed more vegan options, after seeing different vegan and plant-based communities in the different places we'd lived."
There are numerous Buffalo restaurants with vegan options. After extensive research, Root & Bloom is the only one Ernst knows of with no dairy, meat or honey on its menu.
At Root & Bloom, much of the menu uses cultured cashew cream in place of dairy products like cream. It's made from soaked raw cashews that are blended and fermented to give it a tangy flavor. "It gives you that creamy, tangy flavor you're looking for in cheese," he said.
Seitan, which is wheat gluten, and jackfruit, a tropical tree fruit, are used and building blocks of vegan dishes like barbecued jackfruit sliders and vegan versions of macaroni and cheese, chicken wings ($11) and more.
Perry's Ice Cream's new plant-based ice cream is making its way into a series of milkshakes ($7), like chocolate peanut butter, and banana bourbon.
"We want to show that vegan and plant-based foods don't have to be this alternative category," Ernst said. "There are some unique ways to make fruits and veggies into delicious meals, and I want people to try them."
Hours: dinner 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, brunch 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Phone: 971-983-7517.
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