The Caulifire sandwich
Spike Mendelsohn, chef, The Chickery, Washington, D.C.; Toronto; Palo Alto, Calif.
The Chickery, a new “better chicken” concept by renowned restaurateur Spike Mendelsohn, follows the fast-casual gospel of “doing one thing and doing it well.” But that doesn’t mean there’s no room to do that thing a little differently for plant-preferring guests. “We’re a chicken place that focuses primarily on sandwiches,” Mendelsohn says. “We wanted to showcase a vegetarian option that had similar appeal. Mendelsohn has long been a member of the cult of cauli: “Cauliflower takes well to roasting and sauce and has quite a great texture when lightly fried in batter … what’s not to like?” Well, when you put it that way, and top it with a fluffy shred of lettuce, a shake of hot sauce and a good amount of buttermilk ranch dressing, who needs chicken? As The Chickery’s off-premise sales coordinator Julia Lindley points out, “We didn’t want anyone to think they were just eating cauliflower, but rather an exciting sandwich that makes them forget it’s not chicken.”
David Burke, chef, BLT Prime by David Burke, Washington, D.C.
The sacred act of hovering over a plate with a knife and fork and feeding your desire to treat yourself in a luxurious setting is most often associated with a steak. Lucky for plant-based menus everywhere, cauliflower can do that, too. At BLT Prime by David Burke, the luxe steakhouse vibe never breaks its stride with the plant-based version of that experience. “It’s a nice, hearty vegetable dish that we treat like a steak and as a result, it eats like a steak,” Burke says. Cauliflower also takes on the form of couscous in this dish, bolstered with the extra dimension of raisins, apples and almonds.
Clark Barlowe, chef-owner, Heirloom, Charlotte, N.C.
Price: part of tasting menu $70
Clark Barlowe has said if his restaurant doesn’t work out, he’d go back to nature and become a park ranger. With Heirloom’s success and accolades, that seems unlikely. So in the meantime his outdoorsy foraging obsession shows on his hyper-local North Carolina menu, and his reverence for nature’s beauty manifests itself on artful plates like this: beet-poached cauliflower with cauliflower “couscous” on purple cauliflower purée with garnet mustard and nasturtium. It makes sense that Barlowe has worked at The French Laundry and El Bulli, which explains something of that intersection of art and produce. That said, his childhood background of foraging with his grandfather and canning summer vegetables with his grandmother is the thing that gives his interpretation the edge.
Asian fried cauliflower
Jeff Chanchaleune, chef, Goro Ramen, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Ramen is the star at Goro, but Jeff Chanchaleune never overlooks snacks, the kind of addictive munchies he’s found in his travels take up the first section of the menu. Korean, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese flavors can be found here, all mixed up with a fun Midwestern bar food vibe. You’ll find Brussels sprouts with miso vinaigrette, and chicken wings with gochujang fish caramel. It’s an umami appetizer extravaganza, including this fried cauliflower that’s inspired by Japanese bagna cauda, a traditional veggie dip. The cauliflower is fried in bonito-furikake-seasoned panko and served with a punchy anchovy vinaigrette, pickled fresno chiles and chives. “One challenge I gave myself when opening Goro was to change people’s minds about cauliflower the way I did with Brussels sprouts when I had my food truck [Kaiteki Ramen Truck],” Chanchaleune says.