Longform

Green’s Damon Brasch wants to bring vegan comfort food to the masses

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Along with running his businesses and staying involved with The Center Bistro, a new organic restaurant owned by Robert Black and Austin Vickers, Brasch does restaurant consulting as well as high-end catering.

And he's married, with two little kids. And he's in two bands, Vine Land and Misr Wat. And he writes for a local zine called Hoozdo. In recent issues, he reviewed legendary Phoenix steak house Durant's — from a vegan perspective — and wrote about his "chef crush" on acclaimed pizza guru Chris Bianco.

And did I mention he's been thinking about writing a cookbook, too?

Brasch has even more projects in the works, although he'll share that stuff off the record only. Still, I think it's fair to say he's remarkably plugged in to what's current — he's already proved that.

The Center Bistro is only the latest example. Have you found yourself hearing, saying, thinking about the word "organic" more often than you used to? Have you eaten anything organic lately?

Brasch already has you figured out. His dishes at The Center Bistro are 95 percent organic. And although they aren't vegan, you can order vegan versions of them.

"I just saw that as the next step," he says. "It starts out with people being a little bit open-minded."

The Center Bistro is noticeably more upscale than Green or That's A Wrap, with sleek, contemporary décor as well as a higher price point (no doubt due to the higher cost of organic ingredients). Instead of simple, cheap eats, expect something more sophisticated: a $12 free-range organic roast beef sandwich with organic beets, or perhaps a $6 organic soy-coconut smoothie boosted with a $3 shot of pure açai juice.

The Center Bistro is deliberately more healthful than Green, too. "We don't have any deep-fryers there," he says, laughing. Two years ago, his discovering that he's diabetic gave him "a new perspective on creating healthy food," he adds.

It's an altogether different kind of approach to shifting people's attitudes. While Green gets you by the jugular with its guilty pleasures, Center Bistro goes the intellectual route, tempting you to try dishes that aren't just organic, but often raw.

Yes, raw — another healthful food trend. Originally, Brasch thought he'd try doing an all-raw menu.

Proponents of raw foodism claim it has numerous health benefits, but at its extreme, the diet can go to absurd lengths to mimic the cooked foods that diners are familiar with. The results can be off-putting, if not pretty disgusting — how about "living" pizza made with flaxseed, or "ricotta" made from puréed nuts and raw garlic?

Gratefully, The Center Bistro doesn't go that far.

"We thought it would spook the people who could benefit the most," he says.

That echoes the attitude he'd expressed when talking about bringing vegan cuisine to the masses.

"The best way to solve a problem is to do it from the inside — brow-beating people to not eat meat won't work."

For that reason, I think Green is Brasch's best idea of all. He's taking something we all know and love — comfort food — and using it to usher in the next big thing. He knows what we crave.

That means that even if you don't give up meat entirely, you might find yourself eating less of it. Maybe you'll go for a salad instead of a steak. Or perhaps you'll find you can inhale a plate of vegan buffalo wings just as easily as the chicken version.

Anecdotally, I can definitely attest that people are eating vegetarian food more often.

Brasch is counting on it.

"I'm laying the groundwork to make Green more than just one unit — probably in the next year or two," he says.

Don't be surprised if, someday, you see a Green alongside the Subway at your neighborhood strip mall.

I'm crossing my fingers it has a drive-thru.

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Michele Laudig
Contact: Michele Laudig