NuVegan: A Plant-Based Soul Food Brunch

I love meat. I also love dairy, but I can’t eat it (boo). I’ve always hesitated when given the option to order the vegan version of a traditionally dairy or meat-rich food because, in my opinion, they never really taste that great. They pale in comparison to the real deal and just leave me disappointed. Non-dairy ice cream usually tastes like cardboard. Vegan cheese usually tastes like cardboard. And don’t even get me started on oat milk (cardboard). I poopoo’d vegan food for a long time until local restaurant NuVegan Cafe, formerly Woodlands Bistro, showed me the light. There’s a reason why NuVegan has been voted best DC vegan/vegetarian restaurant in Washington City Paper in both 2018 and 2019.

Cafeteria style seating at NuVegan

NuVegan is a vegan soul food restaurant owned by chefs Vernon and Mickiyah Woodland who set out to redefine how people perceive vegan food, especially within the African American community. And boy are they rocking it! NuVegan’s cafeteria style cafe lays all the yumminess out for you to see, with many, many, many mouth-watering options to choose from. They’ve got a ton of flavor-packed salads with chickpeas, tofu, kale, yuba, and collards; savory sides like sweet potatoes, cabbage, and mac and cheese (my personal favorite); and protein-packed vegan burgers, chicken tenders, fish, and crab cakes. How’s a girl supposed to decide with so many great options!? What I’m trying to say is: if you like good food, vegan or not, you’ll like NuVegan.

Combination meal from NuVegan: one entree with two sides. Cheesecake sold separately. Cocktail is homemade.

For this particular brunch, I really wanted their crab cake sandwich — my go-to entree, which I highly recommend — but they ran out. I was forced to try something new, so my entree for the day was their barbeque tofu. I generally don’t order tofu because not everyone gets the consistency right, and I hate gooey tofu. NuVegan’s tofu is firm enough to make you feel like you’re chewing on some chicken, but soft enough so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. For me, the tofu is really just a way to get more of the barbeque sauce into my mouth. Their barbeque sauce is delicious! It’s a perfect blend of tangy and sweet. I could drink it by the bottle, and I most certainly licked every last drop off my plate.

Barbecue tofu from NuVegan

The most surprising part of this meal for me was the red wine kale salad. I couldn’t decide on a second side, and feeling anxious about holding up the line I shouted, “THE KALE SALAD!” I figured it would be a safe bet. I find it hard to really screw up a kale salad since I like kale so much. But that first bite, and this is going to sound corny, was like an explosion of flavor in my mouth. Tang, citrus, and savory are the three words that come to mind.

Red wine kale salad from NuVegan

THE MAC-A-RO-NI-AND-CHEESE. This, my friends, is the star of every show at NuVegan. I was devastated when I had to give up real mac and cheese. I spent years searching for a non-dairy mac and cheese that could live up to the real deal with little success. I assumed NuVegan’s mac and cheese would be just another disappointment, but I was so wrong. I don’t know what they put in this thing, but it is magic. It’s more textured than a traditional mac and cheese, and the color is off, but you’ll forget all about that once you take a bite. The flavor is on point and actually much more flavorful than real mac and cheese. Surprise!

Macaroni and cheese from NuVegan

While leaving the restaurant, I noticed NuVegan’s display of cheesecake slices near the cash registers. I looked at the slices, looked at the cashier, looked back at the slices, and asked, “Are these vegan?” The cashier replied, “Everything is vegan at NuVegan.” My question was, obviously, stupid, but the cheesecake slices didn’t look vegan — they looked like cheesecake! Whatever that means. I added a slice of blueberry cheesecake to my order.

To be completely honest, I’m not in a position to compare this vegan cheesecake to regular cheesecake because I didn’t eat much cheesecake before I went non-dairy. Whenever dessert came around I’d go straight for the ice cream. I can only vouch for the flavor, texture, and consistency. My first reaction when I bit into this cake was: how did they do this?! It’s creamy and smooth in texture, and melted in my mouth. The crust had the right flavor and consistency — no soggy vegan crust here! The flavor was great — zesty and not overly sweet to make up for the lack of dairy. It tasted like blueberry cheesecake (from the few times that I’ve tasted cheesecake).

Blueberry cheesecake from NuVegan

My NuVegan brunch cost me about $20 before tip. That includes an entree (barbeque tofu), two sides (red wine kale salad and mac and cheese), and a slice of blueberry cheesecake. That’s already a stellar brunch deal in DC, but their generous portion size makes it even better. You can really turn this into two meals (one for now, one for later) or share it with a friend.

NuVegan Cafe has three locations, but I’ve only been to the one in Park View on Georgia Avenue. You can order online or visit their cafe to eat in-store or take out. The cafeteria style cafe is just that — a cafeteria. If you are looking for some high-end decor and ambiance with your brunch, this isn’t the spot for you. I grabbed this brunch to-go (indoor seating is not currently allowed due to COVID-19) and took it home, but I sometimes pack it up and take it to a nearby public park, like Rock Creek Park, and have a brunch picnic.

If you order online just note that not everything they have available is listed. For example, the barbeque tofu I had today wasn’t online, but was available in the shop.

Homemade Lavender Grapefruit Greyhound

Heads up! NuVegan doesn’t serve alcohol, so if you’re looking for a boozy brunch you’ll have to make your own cocktails. They do offer a range of locally made, fresh pressed juice. I was pleased to see some of my Caribbean favorites, like soursop and guava.

Since no brunch is complete without some sort of libation, I paired this meal with a homemade Lavender Grapefruit Greyhound. More on that here. Cheers!

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