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The Brunch Report: Pop-up vegan soul food leaves us wanting (and waiting for) a little more

On Sunday, The Lantern brunch squad took its food expertise to Two Dollar Radio Headquarters for its Willowbeez Soulveg pop-up brunch. Willowbeez took over the cafe for the morning and afternoon to serve up its best vegan soul food brunch options, including waffle bowls, wraps and French toast.

Here are our takes on our latest brunch adventure: 

Jerk Tofu Wrap and sweet and purple potato hash from Willowbeez Soulveg, $10. Credit: Sheridan Hendrix | Oller Reporter

Sheridan’s pick: Jerk tofu wrap combo with sweet and purple potato hash, $10

I came into this brunch uncertain of what to expect. I am not a vegan. I am not a vegetarian. I really love bacon. I thought I was allergic to dairy for a week last year and I cried. That said, I love to try new foods and vegan soul food definitely piqued my interest. I like to get the most bang for my buck, so I opted for the tofu wrap combo. Good news first. I loved the potato hash. The potatoes were tender and the mix of the sweet and purple potatoes was fun. I like tofu and while the jerk seasoning wasn’t as spicy as I was expecting, I was still pleased. The portions weren’t huge though, which if you’re a big eater like me, be aware. I felt like I had to really savor my food to make it last.

The atmosphere also was awesome, with a beautiful open space, a live DJ and great books to browse while we waited. It’s like everyone and their mom were there to check this place out. My biggest complaint was the wait. Clearly, people are into vegan soul food pop-ups in Columbus. We waited in line for about an hour and a half and then waited for another half hour for our food. Since I ordered first, I got my meal first, but everyone else was waiting for another 15 minutes for their food. No one likes staring at their own food trying to be polite.

Willowbeez Soulveg is an awesome concept, but pop-up restaurants are tricky in general. Depending on the space you’re in, seating and wait times can be a nightmare. That’s what we experienced at Two Dollar Radio Headquarters. Overall, I liked this brunch. Would I try it again? Maybe. Definitely not at noon though. Should I have ordered more food? Absolutely.

Sweet and purple potato hash, $4. Credit: Sara Stacy | Assistant Arts and Life Editor

Jerk tofu wrap, without wrap, $7. Credit: Sara Stacy | Assistant Arts and Life Editor

Sara’s Pick: Jerk tofu wrap combo, hold the wrap, with sweet and purple potato hash, $10

When I saw the event for Willowbeez Soulveg on Facebook, I eagerly asked the brunch squad if we could check it out. They were on board. While plant-based brunch options are growing in Columbus, it’s still a rarity, so I was pretty hyped to try this one out. Unfortunately, when we got there in the early afternoon, the place was packed. I’m talking line-wrapped-around-the-entire-space packed. Additionally, there were less than 10 tables in the whole space and very few chairs, so we had to do some work just to get enough chairs at our table. On a positive note, the DJ was stellar and we were jamming the entire hour and a half we waited to order.

I went with the jerk tofu wrap –– hold the wrap ––  because I love tofu in just about any form, and the purple potato hash, because I also love potato hash of all kinds. The hash was awesome — it was nicely cooked, hearty and well seasoned. The jerk sauce on the tofu was good, but I was not a fan of just having tofu dumped on a bed of spinach. I imagine it wouldn’t be that much better in a wrap. I think if there had been less spinach, and if it had been lightly sauteed, I would have enjoyed that part of the meal a lot more. I also was able to try a bite of the plantain fritters and a bite of the French toast. The fritters were pretty good, although the price for two fritters was $3, which is a bit much. The French toast tasted like it wasn’t vegan, which is pretty great for a vegan rendering of a nonvegan food, and the candied walnuts and caramelized banana were an awesome touch.

Brunch pop-ups can be very hit-or-miss, which is always important to keep in mind when checking one out. The prices set for this one were a bit steep for the servings, but that’s to be expected for food businesses that don’t have a brick-and-mortar establishment. I also was pretty disappointed with how long we waited from entering Two Dollar Radio to receiving our food, which ended up being about two hours. I’m excited to see how Willowbeez grows in the future since Columbus needs a good take on vegan soul food, but I might be weary to try pop-ups at this particular space again. However, the beautiful, airy space filled with interesting independent books to look at and good music to jam to is not the worst place I can think of to spend two hungry hours.

Sweet and purple potato hash with a side of plantain fritters, $7. Credit: Ghezal Barghouty | Arts & Life Editor

Ghezal’s pick:  sweet and purple potato hash with plantain fritters, $7

At first, I thought we were going to Oddfellows liquor bars’ infamous “Classy as F–– Brunch,” however, Sara imposed her vegan agenda on the group and I was compelled to be vegan for a few hours. Despite walking into a packed house at the Two Dollar Radio HQ, my first impressions of the cafe were great. The interior had an artsy vibe, filled with books, board games and plants –– for the aesthetics, of course —while a DJ played ’90s hits throughout the afternoon. The downside, however, was waiting in line for about an hour and a half to order our food, and by 2 p.m., I was starving.

Eventually, I was able to order, but I definitely did not get what I wanted. After peeking at the menu before heading to brunch, I knew I was going to order the waffle bowl and fruit. Sadly, they were out of fruit and I went with the potato hash and plantains. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to grab a table after ordering, though the seating arrangements were definitely not made to accommodate more than 30 people. A half hour and four glasses of water later, I got my food –– long after the rest of our brunch squad had finished their meals.

As far as the food goes, the hash was delicious –– crispy, yet soft on the inside and full of flavor, just how I like my potatoes. Thankfully, the potatoes alone were delicious enough to fill me up. I did have an issue with the plantain fritters. Usually, I enjoy plantains of all kinds, but this time was a no from me. Not only did they come out about 15 minutes after my potatoes, but they were mushy, cold and a little too sweet for me –– I definitely prefer some savory seasoning on mine.

As someone who isn’t afraid to try any type of food, eating vegan wasn’t an issue for me.  Though the idea of vegan soul food sounds delicious, I have to say I was not a fan of Willowbeez’s execution. The food was OK, but I definitely think I would’ve enjoyed brunch a little more had we gone to Oddfellows. With good company and a good atmosphere, brunch is always a hit, but I would not recommend this week’s food adventure.

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