It’s a rainy Friday night in LA.; a rarity, for sure. Nothing in LA seems prepared for the rain when it decides to show it’s face. There are no drains in the streets in the Valley. Mini lakes begin to form. Drivers, well, they just freak. And despite a never ending draught, most folks seem downright put out when the waterworks come. I’m enjoying it this evening, getting lost in the rain drops out my car window when Natasha gets in. She pulls me out of my daydream and into the nights’ adventure. We’re heading downtown to try a strange, curious and exotic cuisine: Vegan food.
I start with the obvious questions, “So, in order to be a Vegan, was there some horrible crime or wrong you committed as a child, and now you’re paying for it?”. “Is it a requirement or is it just tradition that Vegans wear patchouli?”. “Tribal piercings, tattoos, beards on men, all enforced, yes?”. Lucky for me, Natasha finds my questions humorous and not obnoxious. At one point she says, “Oh, we’re gonna go through all the stereotypes?”. And she reminds me she’s no longer a Vegan, now a Vegetarian but thrilled that someone was interested in going out for Vegan food. “So, is that like being on parole; you have to check in, can’t travel and if you’re bad then, you have to be Vegan again?”. I think I’m starting to get it.
Natasha is a friend from my days spent behind the bar at the Fat Dog. She’s a regular there but as far from your image of Cliff and Norm as one could be. She designs clothes, travels the world, sports a social conscience and has a great sense of humor. She’s all around cool. Her achilles heel? Meat. We don’t want for conversation on the ride downtown, even as we sit in loads of traffic because, LA and rain. I ask her what made her become a Vegetarian (Vegetarian first, then Vegan, back to Vegetarian if I have it correctly). She tells me it’s not political, that a friend was giving it a try and she decided to, as well. She felt better physically without meat. Traveling the world, (as I mentioned), she did indulge in meat feeling as a traveler, at times, it was rude or impossible not to. But she felt the change in her body and really just feels better without. She never had any taste for fish or seafood. And she explains there is something about eating tendons or muscle that bothers her. We’ve spotted the restaurant and circle for parking. Begrudgingly I decide to give in to a lot. Besides I see one for $5. Never mind; $10. Apparently $5 is only if you stay for ten minutes. “Who stays for ten minutes?!” I not so politely ask. We park on the roof and get treated to a janky, piss smelling, “you might get assaulted”, stairwell that leads us down to the street. Beelman’s here we come!
Beelman’s is Vegan pub and sports bar. Drink a beer, watch a game, eat some plant based food. That’s the pitch. Caroline Concha, the chef, was named Best Female Chef in Los Angeles by Locale Magazine for her cooking. Beelman’s certainly looks just like any other LA sports bar. Dark wood walls and tables, plenty of TV screens, dimly lit, a Lakers and Eagles banner hanging from the ceiling. We grab a table and peruse the menu. To my chagrin, all the patrons look pretty average downtown LA faire tonight. Truly nothing broadcasts “we don’t eat meat” about the place. The only thing I find odd, they are playing movies, Horrible Bosses to be precise, on the TV’s. All the nights games are over, but usually Sportcenter and other late night ESPN and similar channels would dominate the screens at a pub. I say this from vast experience. Moving on, it’s order at the bar as is trendy these days. After we order our food I ask the bartender which wines are Vegan. He proudly proclaims they all are. Except, they’re not. Yes, I’m sure. He’s pretty cool about it and really just wants to know why would a wine not be Vegan? Most commonly, egg whites are used to filter excess tannins (tannins bind to proteins; heavier they sink to the bottom of the barrel or cask), and gelatin is sometimes used as a fining agent (to strain naturally occurring particles and sediment) is the quick answer. I select a wine I don’t know, hoping it is Vegan, the Parker Station Pinot Noir (light bodied, mild acid, cherry, blueberry, wet leaves, gentle spice finish).
The meal is on. Wonton Mee Bites are the appetizer. Next, fried, smoked tofu over a balsamic reduction and Sriracha aioli. “You can’t go wrong with fried tofu”, Natasha comments. And she’s right. Score one for the plant people because it’s a really tasty app. Next comes my That’s a Tasty Burger; Impossible meat & plantains, shredded kale, gochujang aioli, pineapple, slaw & housemade pickled jalapeno on pretzel bun. Natasha is geeked for me to try the impossible meat burger. She’s had before and swears not only is it great, but that other non-Vegan friends have tried and loved it. Working at a lot of restaurants, I’ve tried several Vegan patty creations and, well, let’s just say this: when I’m behind the bar and someone says “is the alternative burger really great?”, I say, “do you eat meat?” and if they say, “yes”, then I say, drenched in Brooklyn attitude, “no”. But I’ve got an open mind and I am ready to be blown away! And away we go. Truthfully….it’s fine. Let’s say good. Mostly I get a hint of the sweet burst of pineapple, mixed with the creamy heat of the aioli, playing off the vinegar spice of the jalapeño all contained in the warm savory pretzel bun. I wouldn’t know the impossible meat patty was there if the menu didn’t tell me. And because of that, somethings feels missing; like it’s good bread and fancy condiments. I mean, I was really hungry and I do eat it all. Like I said, it’s fine. I just wouldn’t seek it out again though. You know? And ultimately that’s the mark of something special to me. I honestly feel awful, like I am letting Natasha down. I wanted to love it. She’s so ready for me to love it. But to her credit, she takes it in stride. We eat, we drink, we joke and laugh. Towards the end, a group comes in that is EXACTLY the picture of the stereotypical Vegan I have in my mind. Natasha chuckles in agreement. It can’t be denied and, frankly, is the perfect send off. If you’re looking for this kind of food, or just feel like a healthier sports viewing experience, I’d highly recommend Beelman’s. Good atmosphere, cheerful service and some tasty food. And for an added bonus if you’re a meat eater like me, and some guy across the bar is cheering for the opposing team, you can look at him, smile, take the high road and think to yourself, that poor bastard can’t eat a steak.