Down on Eagle Rock Boulevard lives Abby’s Diner. It’s classic: a little grimy with minimal seating and maximal soul. As charming as Abby’s is, however, everyone gets a little more excited for the funky, stylish, vegan pop-up Friday through Sunday evenings: The Vegan Hooligans.
While the style of the staff says ’50s meets grunge, the vibe is more Morrissey than Buddy Holly in their truly sweet and tender hooligan-esque dispositions. (And yes, the Smiths were playing as we enjoyed our food.) The smaller space makes for compulsory but comfortable intimacy among staff and patrons, which only adds to the illusion of family togetherness brought on by the atmosphere and hot, yummy comfort food.
Vegan comfort food, you say? How can that be, you say? Well, I say believe it, baby. I, too, was a skeptic. Comfort food is often synonymous with heart-clogging amounts of cheese and enough butter to bathe a child in. Sure, there are vegan alternatives to those products, but they never fully measure up to their less humane counterparts. As my brother says, cashew cheese doesn’t taste or act like cheese … but what else are ya gonna call it? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it is rarely done respectably when it comes to vegan mimicry. Fear not, for the menu of this little operation is full of decadence fried, griddled and/or blended with beauty. These aren’t just slightly less good versions of carnivorous dishes; these are a whole other animal (pun intended).
As with any good evening of indulgence, my pal and I started off with some loaded fries. A well-seasoned, bean-based chili drenched crinkle-cut fries nestled in a basket lined with checkerboard paper. Undeniably, crinkle cut fries and paper-lined baskets make everything more nostalgic and, therefore, more enjoyable. Soy-based cheese lay unfortunately solid and sweaty among the morsels, but it was no bother, because a deliciously creamy vegan spicy aioli swooped in to save the day. With a sprinkling of chives on top, the flavor balance was clearly more thought out than your run-of-the-mill ballpark chili cheese fries. As far as decked-out fries go, have I had better? Yes. Have I had worse? Absolutely. Have I had better meat- and dairy-free chili cheese fries? Nope. Hooligan fries are, at the very least, top in their weight class.
Of course, what are fries without a shake? The Berry White Shuga Shake is one of the most delicious things I have consumed that is what I like to call Eagle-Rock-Proof: soy free, dairy free, gluten free. Only those suffering from nut allergies beware. What really makes this shake impressive is that no non-vegan substitution or alteration could have made it any better. The almond milk was a delicious companion to the macadamia nut in the cookie (that’s right, there’s a cookie blended into this shake), both of which rounded out the sweetness of the white chocolate and strawberry. Oh, and from now on, I’m going to need whipped coconut cream on everything. Game changer. My biggest concern as an ice-cream-loving omnivore was texture, but I should never have second-guessed the geniuses behind the counter. Despite there being no actual cream per se, there was no lack of creaminess. The plant-based, the lactose intolerant and the human being in general should hit up The Vegan Hooligans for a shake.
On to the creme de la creme (again, pun intended) of this little pop-up: The Flaming Melt, a toasty sammie of “meat” (bean curd), “cheese” (soy-based) and grilled onions and peppers on sourdough slathered with that scrumptious spicy mayo. Hot pickled carrots were an unannounced but very happy addition to the melt, though I wish they had been crunchier as some textural intrigue would have been nice. Everyone knows that a grilled cheese with spicy mayo and grilled veggies is going to be great. The important question here is: How was the meat substitute? My answer? Excellent. Though it possessed a chewier texture than meat-eaters are used to, the schwarma-style shavings of bean curd tasted like awesomely marinated flank steak. This is the crowning glory of The Vegan Hooligans. This “meat” headlines many of the entrees here, and it not only exists but contributes. I take back what I said before; vegan mimicry was successful here.
Finally, the Sugar Mits: sugar-sprinkled empanadas with a “cheese” and green onion filling. I get the intention. I love salty-sweet deep fried cheese products as much as (probably more than) the next gal. This was, unfortunately, not my jam. Based on recommendations from the staff and reviews from Yelpers, I am a minority. Still, I stand by my opinion that the filling of these empanadas tasted like cheese powder reconstituted. If you share my distaste for that fake nacho cheese that is mysteriously liquid at room temperature, I recommend saving room for a second shake rather than sampling the Sugar Mits. The red cabbage slaw on the side added a necessary freshness, but I do wish there had been more of a vinegary bite to it in order to cut through the cheese dust flavor. I will say this: The empanada dough was of commendable flakiness and was generally enjoyable. I’d love to see it filled with vegan cream cheese (of which I am a big fan) instead.
So all you plant-based hipsters looking for something hearty to lay a base for a raucous night of craft beer, all you conscious consumers who want a comforting and caloric night out with pals, all you folks who like food: grab a shake and a melt down at Abby’s this weekend. The hooligans will serve you well.