When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Location: 5555 North Seventh Street, #108
Open: About five months
Eats: Plant-based starters and main
Price: $18 to $30 per person
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Before the first taste, you get a first look at Verdura. And while that’s true for every restaurant, this place definitely takes a few seconds to process. It’s filled with natural light, the large dining room containing several sets of tables and chairs spaced apart like a well-planned neighborhood. There’s an open kitchen, plants and lava lamps, and big framed photos of The Boss, Prince, Bowie, and a seriously hot Joan Jett.
As we reported in February before the plant-based eatery's opening on March 1, Verdura was established by Julia Chugerman and chef Chris Gruebele. The co-owners have been busy putting out top-notch vegan food for their vinyl-themed restaurant, along with event planning, like game nights and film screenings.
But beyond the dedicated owners, cool dining space, and on-point playlist, the food is what will keep customers coming back. We’ll put it this way: You can lose hours here, because it takes time to savor the look and first bite of each dish. Vegan or no, it’s hard to not over-appreciate everything you’re eating.
Upon entering the old Pomegranate Cafe spot, you realize decisions must first be made at the counter. Because despite the modern-cool restaurant feel, this is a counter-service eatery. However, during a lulling lunch hour, employees are quick to notice your drink running low, and will bring out starters and desserts seamlessly.
One of the challenging appetizers, or so skeptics would think, are the carne asada nachos. The seitan may look almost spongey atop the chip heap, but they are anything but a sad substitute. The chunks of wheat gluten are savory, well-seasoned, and could be eaten alone. But then you’d be ignoring the crunchy tortilla chips, fresh jalapeño slices, pico de gallo, chimichurri, black olives (a few too many), and black beans.
The pile is made malleable thanks to drizzled-on queso, creamy Verdura sauce (which is fucking excellent), and some of the best guacamole you may have ever tasted. It’s bright, almost fruity, and makes you wish they just had guac and chips as an appetizer choice.
Next, mains are named for fun but made in all seriousness.
I’m Just A Po’boy is a plant-based take on a po’boy sandwich, and if you’ve spent any amount of time on the Gulf Coast, you know a po'boy isn’t just any old handheld. A Noble baguette comes piled with flash-fried mushrooms, and dressed with shredded iceberg, purple onions, tomato, pickle, tarta, and nori. It’s a mouthful, but the best part — as with any shrimp po’boy from back home — is pinching up the fallen fried pieces to pop in your mouth.
This is a big sandwich, so may we recommend the side salad instead of fries? Greens are topped with a light, heavenly dressing, and little colorful veggies add some texture while making the whole thing pop.
One of Verdura’s plates is the London Calling — a.k.a. “phish” and chips. The dish looks, smells, and tastes like anything you could get in Big Ben country. The flash-fried phish, wedge potato fries, cup of tartar sauce, and sizable lemon slices are served on newspaper, the fries adding most of the weight. The fish alternative tastes so much like fish, you struggle to imagine what this could be you’re eating.
And despite the ample portions, even sans starter, you may not want to sleep on dessert.
There’s been a lot of hype about the Goth Waffle, and a lot of that has been coming from us, but this dessert is a must-try.
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A big plate is laid on the table, along with a much-needed second spoon. You’re now looking at a Japanese-style bubble waffle, black in color because of the activated charcoal. It’s topped with raspberry sorbet, sprinkled with shaved coconut, and drizzled with raspberry sauce.
As with any a la mode dish, coupling the teeth-aching cold of the raspberry sorbet with the fresh warmth of the bubble waffle is ... well, it can only be described as a yummy sound. The waffle is airy, chewy, and the raspberry sorbet is simultaneously tart and sweet. You find yourself taking forever to eat it, just because you want a little bit of each element in every bit.
Verdura has a lot going on, but it’s effortlessly pulling it off. There are whole other components we didn’t touch on, including the band-themed table markers (we got Bauhaus), the craft cocktails and drink specials, the available beer, wine, smoothies, and coffee. The patio. The weekend brunch. The easy parking.
It’s deservedly a hit, but again, the food is what everyone will come back for, making the question not "Should I stay or should I go?" but more simply, "When are we going again?"