“Did someone order a Sweet Sadie?” asked our young waitress dressed in a pastel pink shirt adorned with the slogan, “Let’s all root for each other & watch each other bloom.” My six-year-old daughter nodded her head, her tiny fingers reaching for the intense chocolate milkshake. What she didn’t know: the drink, like the entire menu, is vegan.
Root & Bloom Cafe in the Elmwood Village neighborhood of Buffalo, N.Y., opened in May, on Mother’s Day. Tucked at the back of a brick building between a barber parlor and an art gallery, it has a casual, hippie-ish vibe. Plants surround a wooden gazebo with a dining area that seats 50 during the warmer months; patrons place their orders at a counter.
A minimarket area was crammed with local products: hand-poured candles from Linwood Candle Co., coffee from Tipico, planters from Mainly Macrame and the cafe’s cultured cashew cheese spreads, cookie doughs and jackfruit jerky.
The plant-based menu is delicious and quirky. I ordered a giant roasted cauliflower floret smeared in a spicy Cajun rub accented with caramelized maple syrup, coconut sugar, a thick lemon cream drizzle and swaths of massaged kale. It was beautifully tender, the spices livening up the vegetable. The crunchy bed of corn nachos studded with a light but textured “quinoa meat” smothered in cashew cream and guacamole sounded ideal for a vegan version of a Super Bowl party.
The husband-and-wife owners, James Ernst and Sarah Sendlbeck, tested the appeal of a vegan-only restaurant in a city best known for its chicken wings, with a series of eight pop-up dinners from June 2016 to this past February. “These were ‘underground’ ticketed dinners, and people wouldn’t know where they were going until the day of,” Ms. Sendlbeck said. The demand was indeed there: The couple ended up catering six-course meals for up to 40 people a night.
Then they took a break and drove across the country with their young daughter. While camping in Joshua Tree National Park, Ms. Sendlbeck came up with the idea of opening Buffalo’s first fully plant-based restaurant. “Joshua Tree is the perfect place to find yourself,” Mr. Ernst said. “The recipes were always there in our minds, but being in someplace so barren but filled with life helped make them perfect.” While several city restaurants — Amy’s Place, Merge, Breadhive, Swan Street Diner — already serve vegan and vegetarian options, no one had taken the plunge to commit to a restaurant completely free of meat, dairy and honey.
But the couple has taken pains to keep the place approachable for hard-core vegans and rookies alike, largely thanks to a light, West Coast-style menu, which includes items like slow-roasted barbecue jackfruit sliders.
The route to achieve that lightness can be work-intensive, though. “The cashew cheese, for instance, take three days to ferment to achieve that tangy, fully-rounded palette,” Ms. Sendlbeck said. Because of this, not all items are made in-house. The chocolate blackout cake comes from Happy Cakes in nearby Lancaster; kombucha is sourced by from Buffalo’s Bootleg Bucha; and milkshakes are crafted with nondairy scoops from Perry’s, a local brand.
In early October, the restaurant will move indoors at the same address, into a building that recently housed Thinking Elvish, a vegan chocolate shop. The new kitchen is tiny and the space only accommodates 36 diners; there will be a grab-and-go option. “But,” said Mr. Ernst, “the mission will remain the same.”
Root & Bloom Cafe, 423 Elmwood Avenue; (716) 768-1878; rootandbloomcafe.com. An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is $80.