Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin: Vegan Oasis with an Awkward Name
|A customer talks with owner Hakin Hill.|
"Every day except Saturday," answers owner Hakin Hill, his hair pulled back in a bulbous black Rastafari cap.
"The busiest day," scoffs the woman.
"Not here," Hakin answers calmly.
Things aren't all done by the book at Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin (yes, that's actually the name). The servers double (quintuple?) as cooks, dishwashers, busboys, and clerks. There's no set order of service; you may get your entrees before your silverware, for example, and maybe no one will remember to ask you if you want something to drink first. However, many starved Miami vegans may be prepared to make these small sacrifices for the rare meatless gems found behind the unobtrusive glass doors.
Absolutely everything on the menu is vegan. Well, make that everything on the white board --- as yet another unorthodox element, the place actually has no printed menus (Hakin says "they're coming this week"). So anyway, here, cruelty-free eaters are eligible to enjoy Philly "cheese steaks," "fish" sandwiches, "short ribs," and many more mock meats (each $8.95), made from seitan (a wheat gluten-based product) and tofu, and expertly flavored with anything from ginger and fennel to seaweed (for the faux fish). A dozen Short Order writers did a blind taste test of the restaurant's "no bull" short ribs last week.
For veg heads who have chewed enough seitan for this lifetime, Hakin's got a dish that's impossible to find elsewhere in Miami (except at Apple a Day, which buys its supply from Hakin). It's the savory pastries, empanada-like pies filled with ackee (the national fruit of Jamaica, which has a scrambled egg-like taste), spinach, soya, and yes, curried seitan. Our ackee-stuffed pie was delivered piping hot, too hot to even taste upon the first bite. But as it cooled, we were hit with the buttery flavor (we believe it's not butter, but it's not easy!) of the thick whole wheat crust, and a thick creamy blend of vegetables --- carrots, peas, corn, and ackee --- reminiscent of a hearty legume soup.
Speaking of soups, the restaurant has those too, and we paired our pastry up with one: the garden vegetable.
The broth is a substantial potato puree with a robust, meaty flavor. Bits of kale, carrot, yellow squash, and potato float in the mix. It made a great complement to the ackee pie.
As we excitedly sipped our soup, a lone diner to our right, a Jamaican-born reggae musician by the name of Raga-Z, informed us that he eats at the Caribbean- and vegetarian-themed restaurant nearly every day.
"I try to stay away from dairy products because they're bad for your voice," he said. "I need to protect that. And when I come in here, I'm so inspired when I see the foods, 'cause I only know them from Jamaica," he said.
Meanwhile, our next dish arrived. Pancakes and "eggs" ($7.50 to $8.95) may seem like a non-sequitur to our first courses, but in the spirit of disorganized dining, we said screw it.
The blueberry pancakes had a nice, smooth consistency, not at all grainy or heavily flax-flavored like a lot of vegan pancakes can be. They were, however, too dry, and even the accompanying cup of organic agave nectar wasn't enough to save them.
The tofu scrambled "eggs," on the other hand, were the best we've ever had. Spiced and colored with turmeric and cooked up with diced red and green peppers, they were fluffy, flavorful, satisfying, and... gone.
A baker friend in the neighborhood supplies the shop with a host of vegan cakes ($4 to $5 a slice), including coconut, pineapple, chocolate, and carrot flavors. The house favorite, though, is the tofu-based tiramisu, according to Edwin, a smiling employee of Trinidadian descent.
We, however, had our eyes on the muffins (about $4) in the case at the front of the shop from the moment we walked in. These the restaurant makes in-house, in an ever-changing array of flavors. Too full to eat one directly after our meal, we take a zucchini, pineapple, cherry, and walnut one to go.
Later, picking up the weighty muffin, we thought to ourselves, "Vegan or not, this thing is way too big and heavy to eat in one sitting." Upon breaking the baked good in two, however, large luscious chunks of cherries and pineapple revealed themselves from the center.
Considering it was actually half fruit, we didn't feel so bad gobbling the whole glorious thing down. Best vegan muffin ever --- leagues ahead of the doughy blueberry ones Whole Foods puts out.
So what if the silverware isn't gleaming and the service is far from seamless? True, it would be better if things were more uniform and streamlined at Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakin. But those who appreciate an eclectic, homey scene and inventive green food will enjoy a seat at this unlikely vegan haven in North Miami Beach. Toast a glass of Hakin's freshly extracted cucumber, green apple, wheatgrass, sunflower green, and ginger juice, and chill to the meditation music while the Caribbean crew cooks you a meal that nobody died for.
The restaurant is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday & Sunday.
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