Restaurants take a break from meat and dairy for occasional all-vegan menus

March 14
Todd Gray's vegan macaroni and cheese is one of the options you might find on the rotating menu at Muse Cafe’s weekly vegan brunches. (Emily Clack Photography)
Todd Gray’s vegan macaroni and cheese is one of the options you might find on the rotating menu at Muse Cafe’s weekly vegan brunches. (Emily Clack Photography)

Ellen Kassoff Gray dreamed of opening a restaurant to serve Washingtonians delicious vegan cuisine. She finally realized that vision — once a week.

In the summer of 2012, Kassoff Gray, with her husband chef Todd Gray, decided to offer a monthly, vegan brunch at their Muse Cafe, which is located inside the Corcoran Gallery of Art (500 17th St. NW; 202-639-1786).

“I was setting out to prove that vegan food is really good,” says Kassoff Gray, who has been vegetarian or vegan (meaning she does not eat meat, fish, poultry, eggs or dairy) for nearly two decades.

Mission accomplished. “We were turning people away because we were taking an entire month of demand and putting it into one day,” says Kassoff Gray, who also owns the restaurants Equinox and Watershed with her husband. So in May 2013, Muse Cafe began serving a vegan brunch every Sunday. Reservations continue to be a must. (Kassoff Gray says if the Corcoran’s new ownership affects Muse, the brunch will move to Equinox or a new location.)

“They bring the Equinox standards to the vegan brunch,” says avid Sunday Muse-goer Beth Preiss. “It’s different than just your typical tofu scramble.”

Rather than trying to imitate scrambled eggs or sausage, Gray presents a buffet of seasonal, locally sourced dishes. You might find a farro salad with grilled asparagus and pickled ramps in the warmer months, and a roasted chestnut and apple soup in the fall or winter.

It’s not just Muse Cafe that’s going a part-time-vegan venue. Across town near Eastern Market, The B Spot (1123 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-546-7186) — an art gallery, juice bar and tea room — offers a vegan jazz brunch the third Sunday of every month. Every Friday night, the Catering Company of Washington turns its event space, Elizabeth’s on L, into a raw, vegan restaurant called Elizabeth’s Gone Raw (1341 L St. NW; 202-347-8349). (“Raw” food is heated to no more than 118 degrees.)

“Most of our diners are omnivores,” says Elizabeth Petty, creator of Elizabeth’s Gone Raw. “I think there’s an element of curiosity. People who come say they had no idea it was going to be this good.”

Todd Gray's barbecued tofu at a Muse Cafe brunch. (Emily Clack Photography)
Todd Gray’s barbecued tofu at a Muse Cafe brunch. (Emily Clack Photography)

She serves vegans and omnivores alike dishes like eggless, milkless, granola-crusted French toast and mushroom stems transformed into faux scallops served with sprouted quinoa, dill, pink grapefruit and citrus vinaigrette.

Petty came up with the concept of an upscale raw, vegan restaurant after she was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago.

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, no one’s even touched this yet. It’s really, really new territory.’ ”

So new, in fact, that not all chefs appreciate vegan cuisine, Kassoff Gray says. But her husband saw potential.

“My entire team is really psyched to learn about this type of cooking,” Todd Gray says.

Now that Kassoff Gray’s mastered the once-a-week vegan thing, she has a new project in mind.

“They’ve got [upscale] all-vegan restaurants in New York, which is my dream,” she says. “I’m gonna open one of them here.”

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