Plenty of color, not much form to this vegan, gluten-free, organic Southern bowl.
“Food Coffee Love,” promised the chalkboard sign in the window, clarifying all was, “Vegan Organic Gluten Free.”
Really? I thought.
“Yes,” it pledged, “Everything.”
3864 Mission Boulevard, San Diego
No one else was taking a late lunch in this newish Mission Beach eatery, so I had my pick of seating, ranging from desks repurposed as dining tables, to high bistro tables and a cushy lounge section in the back. Little signs scattered among the pastel décor offered affirmations: “Grow through what you go through,” “Never stop making wishes,” and “Smile every day.”
It’s pretty cute. I grabbed a seat at one of the desks before noticing another sign that read, “Do what makes your soul shine.” So I stood my jaded soul up and moved to a patio counter overlooking the sidewalk. The foot traffic along Mission Boulevard wasn’t offering any cheerful advice.
Of course, the restaurant is called Soulshine, so I’m clearly the sore thumb in this scenario. However, I do enjoy good plant-based cuisine, so I perused the menu looking for dishes without cauliflower or button mushrooms — not my personal favorites. Those were hard to come by, so I put aside my biases and opened my heart to inspiration (#blessed).
Leery of vegan tacos and enchiladas, I found myself choosing between the macaroni with “cauliflower cheese,” and the southern bowl: a bed of braised kale topped by tofu steak, “pulled BBQ mushrooms,” and biscuits slathered in white bean gravy. The mac cost $14, and the bowl $15, so I went with bowl, which sounded more like a more well-rounded meal.
What I was served is everything omnivores fear when they hear the words vegan or gluten free.
The gluten-free biscuit was denser than a scone, with a hard, thick crust marred by a mild burnt flavor. The white bean gravy had a decent, floury viscosity, but, like so many trite motivational wisdoms, contained altogether too much sage. The tofu steak had the dried-out skin of an overcooked omelet, and little to flavor it beyond a questionably tangy slathering of what passed for BBQ sauce.
The braised kale and, surprisingly, the “pulled mushrooms” were the salvageable parts of my meal, though the latter were chopped mushrooms that had set their intentions to manifest as pulled.
Smiling, happy, and tan people strolled in and out of Soulshine while I chewed and swallowed organic ingredients. Wishful thinking might make it taste good to people who prioritize ethics, health, and positivity over enjoyable dining.