138 W. Grand Avenue, Escondido
Driving along the main drag through downtown Escondido this week, I spotted a sign I’d never seen before: Vegan Soup Bar. I’d been planning on a burger, but it was raining and my feet were damp and cold. The consummate soup scenario.
I stopped to check out the small, casual eatery. There’s not a lot to this vegan soup bar, which goes by the name California Homemades. It’s just a small counter shop, and while there are a few tables to sit and eat, most of the food is served in cardboard take-out packaging. Proprietress Shanti Clayton opened the place in late December, having previously cooked out of a commercial kitchen for her conceptually similar farmer’s market and a catering business.
That concept is organic vegan. In addition to soups, there are salads packaged to go, cold-press juices, vegan baked goods, and toast. That would be the not-quite-an-open-face-sandwich kind of toast, topped with things such as peanut butter or avocado. For about six bucks, I could not resist ordering one with tomato and pesto.
But I would not be deterred from that soup. Two kinds were available this day — split pea and lentil. I tried a sample of each and settled on the lentil, spiced with a warming, cumin-forward curry.
The lentils were pleasantly earthy, with mild spice, and it helped that there was a soup add-ins menu to make it a little more interesting. For 50 cents each you can spruce your soup up with the likes of spinach, garbanzo beans, or red pepper. A buck fifty hardies it up with quinoa, rice, or assorted vegetables.
I kept it relatively simple, adding rice and — hoping for a little crunch — sunflower seeds. The rice filled out the texture of the soup, while thinning out the spice a bit. With a dash of salt and pepper I found it warm and comforting.
That toast proved a perfect foil. I received two pieces, made with a terrific light sourdough from Prager Brothers, an organic bakery in Carlsbad. The pesto had a somewhat creamy texture to complement the crusty chewiness of the bread, and both set up the savory sweetness of the tomatoes. The ripe, red slices burst with bright flavor to contrast the earthy soup, and a dusting of faux Parmesan contributed a sufficiently cheese-like tang and texture. Not exactly the classic grilled cheese and tomato soup combo but a close and comfy approximation.
Unless you stick to the coast, there’s not a lot of dedicated vegan in North County, and that may be reason enough for veggie diners in the area to pay California Homemades a visit.