IF YOU think vegan junk food is an oxymoron, you've obviously never had a dairy-free "Twinkie" from the Vegan Spot. So great is the public desire for them that Silver Lake's newest vegan destination -- it's been open for three months -- regularly sells out of the golden-cake tubes filled with rich white frosting.
"I hadn't had a Twinkie in probably 25 years," says the restaurant's co-owner and chef, Sara Radovanovitch, about her first taste when the baker brought them in. "It was amazing. I'm eating something that totally tastes like my youth and it's not going to give me a heart attack."
The 31-year-old Radovanovitch has been a vegetarian for 20 years and a vegan for 10. Her robust complexion, tan skin and long, shiny blond hair repudiate the old myth that you'll waste away if you don't eat meat or dairy.
Still, Radovanovitch found she couldn't shake a hankering for all the forbidden foods she grew up with in the Midwest.
Like many vegans, she spent much of her time cooking for herself and became an expert at making what she calls "vegan comfort food."
She opened the Vegan Spot with her friend Miranda Megill, who owns a popular vegan restaurant near Sunset Junction called Flore. Radovanovitch was waiting tables there when the two hit on the idea of opening another restaurant with more playful, less straight-up healthful leanings.
At first glance, the menu makes die-hard vegans feel guilty just for looking at it. Roast beef and cheddar sandwiches, Philly cheese steaks, corned beef Reubens, turkey dinner sandwiches, nachos and French bread pizza are listed alongside a lengthy roster of salads, wraps and shakes that include decadent-sounding flavors such as orange cream and chocolate-banana-peanut butter.
Radovanovitch says the most popular menu item is the roast beef and cheddar sandwich. Made with homemade seitan (gluten flour and seasonings), sliced deli thin and marinated in a browning sauce to give it a beefy color, it's served on a crusty French roll and smothered with a cheese sauce made from nutritional yeast, flour, pureed carrot and soy margarine.
The result is eerily addictive but pleasantly light.
As Radovanovitch says, "I want to give people what they miss and what they crave. Only I want to give them a healthier version."
Vegan Spot, 3206 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A.; (323) 667-0116. Sandwiches, salads and wraps $8.95 to $9.95; shakes $4.95; street parking; open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; delivery available.