LANSING — The jalapeno popper mac and cheese on the menu at Veg Head starts with a sauce made of root vegetables, then Chef Kari Magee adds jalapenos and vegan cream cheese to the dish and tops it with bread crumbs.
“It’s spicy delicious,” Magee said.
Even if you don’t eat a plant-based diet, she’s sure Veg Head’s creative take on comfort food — which includes a sweet potato burger and tofu salmon with a sesame glaze — will win you over.
The completely vegan restaurant will open in a 132-year-old building at 208 S. Washington Ave. in downtown sometime this week, although Magee, an executive chef with Michigan State University, doesn’t have a firm opening day.
She promises there will be something for everyone on the menu.
“Every single dish on it was well-thought through and a reflection of my own culinary experiences packed with different flavors,” Magee said. “The idea was to make a space that everyone can walk into and find something they can relate to or want to eat or try.”
Changing perceptions of vegan food
Inside Veg Head’s 3,000-square-feet space, the exposed brick walls showcase paintings by local artists. Plants decorate counter space and sit on top of the dining room fireplace.
The interior remodel utilizes reclaimed wood for the restaurant’s curved bar top. There’s seating along the brick wall and a large mural fills another wall inside the front entrance.
Veg Head’s feel is intended to be “light, airy, sharp and clean,” Magee said.
The eatery is inside the historic Ranney Building, built in 1890 and named after its original owner Dr. George E. Ranney, an advocate for public health who left the land that became Ranney Park to the city.
Magee teamed up with Shawn Elliott, a partner in Midtown Brewing Company and real estate developer, to open the restaurant. She started eating a plant-based diet three years ago. Veg Head’s menu was inspired by her own efforts to make vegan food taste amazing.
Before deciding to cut out meat, Magee enjoyed eating it.
“And I loved cheese,” she said. “I loved those flavors. They’re delicious. When I became plant-based, I was like, ‘This doesn’t taste as great,’ and so that started my whole spiral into how can I make vegan food good?”
Veg Head’s menu is the result of several years spent pursuing that goal, Magee said. Winning over people who are apprehensive about trying vegan dishes is a challenge she says she’s up for.
“The fuel of Veg Head is just to change the mentality of plant-based,” she said. “Plant-based is delicious. It can be with the right flavors.”
The lunch menu will come first
Veg Head’s menu will include crabless cakes made with heart of palm, cauliflower wings, roasted Brussels sprouts, street tacos, seitan steak with asparagus and smashed potatoes, and a Nashville tofu sandwich.
Customers will be able to pick up items like wraps, green bowls and salads from a “grab-and-go” section.
“This menu is me and I’m so excited for that,” Magee said.
Veg Head will open first to serve the lunch crowd, and add dinner service soon after, Magee said. Nothing on the current menu is priced above $18.
She hopes to secure a liquor license as well.
“We’re hoping to add that into it with a phased approach and adding in different seasonal specials,” Magee said.
There will be seating for 40 people inside and there are plans to create a patio outside the front entrance.
Veg Head is still hiring staff; Magee hopes to have between 20 and 25 employees. Anyone who’s interested in applying can email Magee at email@example.com.
Contact Rachel Greco at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ .