vegansaurus!

01/19/2009

Counterpoint: Mission Street Food  »

Last year this project began on the street; flatbread sandwiches served out of a taco truck parked just off Mission. It took off immediately, popular with omnivores and us vegans, thanks to Wonderful Person Anthony Myint’s crispy scrumptious king trumpet mushrooms + roasted garlic + triple-fried potatoes number. Oh it was heaven on flatbread, and even $1 less than the posted price when we asked for it vegan-style, without the creamy sauce. (for pictures, revisit Laura’s review)

After just a few weeks (and only one public fuss), the taco truck line grew too long, and the street food moved to a borrowed restaurant on Mission. This is where they started to lose me. First, they expanded the menu, which ought to have been a boon, but this meant they eliminated their two vegetarian items, and introduced a “meat-smoked rice” dish. The next week, it was rare beef with glass noodles. I kept track of these changes through the Mission Street Food blog.

On the last December night of business, MSF offered their first new vegetarian entree since leaving the street: smoky rice with shiitake, cauliflower, and tofu tempura. This in contrast to the smoky rice fried in duck fat with duck confit AND duck “cracklins.” Had you gone the previous week, you could have enjoyed the return of the mushroom sandwich, or pie with “bacon ‘snow,’” your choice.

Now Mission Street Food leaves me conflicted. I love the idea of a line cook at an established restaurant wanting to create his own menus, without the funding—or even desire, I don’t know—to open his own restaurant; Myint established a little place in his (our!) neighborhood where he could serve whatever food he wanted, and collaborate with other chefs to make fun crazy meals with bacon! and rabbit! and whatever the hell else they felt inspired to make that week. The community-togetherness part is integral to this Mission ideal so many of us love idealize, and the inventive-food part is integral to our stomachs.

Misson Street Food is a project that brings the Mission closer to being that creative, unpredictable, community-oriented neighborhood it’s supposed to be. I would sincerely recommend it to anyone who enjoys tasty plates of murder. But OK, glibness aside, when the MSF crew began eliminating their vegetable dishes and expanding their meaty foods, they disappointed me. I read the menu every week, hoping for something vegan or at least easily veganized, but until recently the best we’ve been given is an occasional side dish. I love my neighborhood, but I do not love it enough to wait an hour to split three orders of the same single side.

Do I think that MSF is obligated to “cater to all of us” and all of our diets? Not necessarily. Still, the Mission is full of vegan-friendly restaurants, and hungry vegan people, so in that spirit of community and neighborliness, it makes sense to offer a vegan dish. Cooking without animal parts doesn’t limit a person’s choices so much as shift your focus to other ingredients—not that I wanted to make that argument, but it bears repeating—and with the variety of dishes the MSF crew has offered so far, I’m sure they’re capable of making some good vegan food as well. Why they haven’t so far, I don’t know; then again, I haven’t asked, either. Clearly the demand from the omnivorous crowd is high enough that they haven’t needed to court us, and if business keeps on hopping, they may not ever have to.

So Mission Street Food is a success! I’m happy for them. Of course, I wish they that they needed vegan community support. I also realize that the vegan community is small enough that our support wouldn’t mean much either way, and I wish that were different too. I wish I had a satisfying, full-time job and health insurance. We all wish a lot of things. In the community spirit, perhaps if we ask the MSF people nicely, they’ll put more vegan-friendly dishes on future menus. They just announced that from now on all MSF profits will go to charity; they are obviously really good-hearted people. There’s no harm in asking, anyway. 

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