So, how long have you been vegan? is often asked of me.
The most accurate answer I can give to this question is, “Oh, since high school, so I guess about…[count on fingers]…nine years. Nine years? Jesus. Nine years.”
But the most honest answer to this question is: “Too fucking long. Really.”
Don’t get me wrong: I love being vegan. I love what I cook, I love what I bake, I love that I can look upon fields of grazing cattle and squeal at their cuteness and anthropomorphize them and never have to think, “Hey, I eat you.” I also love that I can maintain a healthy weight while eating (vegan) pizza with (vegan) ranch dressing at least twice a week. The perks of a vegan diet vastly outweigh the detriments, and even though it has been too fucking long, really, since a devilled egg (or a similarly cholesterol-laden food item) has crossed my lips, I don’t look back on any of these herbivorous years with regret.
Part of being a vegan old-timer is that I remember how things were, and reminiscing about that is liable to invoke “back in my day” speeches not unlike those your metaphorical grandfather would tell you about walking shoeless in the snow whilst defying natural law (really, grandpa, I know I was four years old but I wasn’t stupid enough to completely disregard Newtonian physics). And let me tell you: back in my day, soy cheese was scarce, and it was rock-hard and crumbly, and it tasted like the plastic in which it was packaged. Vegenaise was a twinkle in a food scientist’s eye. Soymilk tasted like soy (ever thought about blending a block of silken with water and then using it to douse your cereal? No, because that sounds disgusting? Well. That’s what it tasted like).
I suppose part of this can be explained because I cut my teeth on veganism in the Inland Empire, where vegan options are rarer (although: Baker’s continues to be an IE-exclusive phenomenon. And I’m calling Baker’s a phenomenon because it is phenomenal: salty-to-the-point-of-hypertension TVP tacos, and fries, and from a drive-thru? Be still, my heart!),
(No, don’t really do that, heart; I’ll do some cardio soon, I promise.)
So, when I first made the vegan conversion as a gastronomically clueless 17-year-old, my newfound vegan diet consisted of…bread. Sometimes the bread was spread with barbecue sauce, since it was the one condiment I trusted. After several weeks of severe fatigue, Clif bars were added to my dietary regimen (don’t ask me where, oh, fruit and vegetables were at that time; that much common sense eluded me).
And forget about restaurants. Vegan options were usually limited to French fries and iceberg lettuce “salads” without dressing. I was probably vegan for two full years before I ever saw a specifically vegan item on an omnivorous restaurant menu, and regardless of what that item was, I ordered it (it’s just a giant mushroom? Mushrooms are fungus and that is gross? Fuck it, it’s vegan!). Which brings me to the topic at hand: Blue Dog Café.
Blue Dog Café is sort of a gastropub. They have burgers, a couple of non-burger sandwiches, a lackluster vegan menu, and beer. I say that it’s “sort of a gastropub” because really, calling a burgers-and-beer joint a gastropub feels inaccurate; there is nothing gastronomically innovative about pairing greasy finger foods with beer.
Anyway, they have a lot of beer. And it’s well selected. Their beer list consists largely of brews that cause you to exclaim, “Hey, they have _____! That’s my jam!” (Well, maybe you don’t exclaim “that’s my jam”, because you are not a dorky white girl with a seven-year lag on colloquial trends. But you know what I mean). They have Old Rasputin on tap. They have Raging Bitch in the bottle. They have a plethora of other beers that I have never tried, because I am a creature of habit and Flying Dog Brewing Company is a rare sight in a bar, or a restaurant, or an establishment that is not my apartment.
Just like me.
Basically: you do not go to Blue Dog for the food.
Actually, that isn’t true: an omnivore probably would. Having been accompanied by a meat-eater to this joint, it’s clear that Blue Dog makes some crazy-decadent, likely-exceeding-1,500 calories-per-entrée burgers. But for us vegans, beer is the main draw. Because Blue Dog’s vegan options are reminiscent of vegan fare of yesteryear: the “vegan special” amounts to a hummus sandwich. It’s pretty tasty: toasted multigrain bread, a generous spread of silky hummus, tomatoes, fresh basil, and (sometimes) avocado. But—it’s a hummus sandwich. On the scale of culinary creativity, it ranks somewhere between a Subway Veggie Delite and, I don’t know—something that I would actually be excited to eat.
Ooh yeah, give it to me, baby.
They also have a vegan chili I have yet to try, and some of the most glorious fries in the Valley (hand cut; fried in peanut oil; oh my god), and if you’re into commingling the foods on your plate, they offer chili fries.
Here's a close up of them fries.
I believe there is a “spa” salad, but since I’ve never been inclined to pair rabbit food with my beer, I’ve only given it a cursory “Oh hi we’re both vegan so it’s nice to make your acquaintance” glance.
I hope this review does not seem excessively critical. I am delighted that there are establishments in the Valley that have explicitly vegan, non-sketchy (oh, hello, questionable meat at every Thai vegan place ever) options, and beer, and my dog is welcomed.
Translation: Fur babies welcomed.
Did I forget to mention that tidbit? It isn’t called Blue Dog for no reason: pictures of pups adorn the walls, which provokes a litany of squeals every time I enter. And they allow dogs to chill on the patio while their owners get appropriately soused, which means that on nice days, my spoiled fur baby can accompany me on my descent into afternoon alcoholism while I feed her inadvisable quantities of fries (I sometimes feel like the unfit parent of an obese child on a daytime talk show who rationalizes overfeeding their offspring with the proclamation that “THEY’RE HUNGRY!”).
There is little else to add to my review of this place (the music is okay, sometimes: on a good day they play Otis Redding, but it more than likely will be circa-Blue Album Weezer–not the worst auditory fate but I’ve been over Blue Album since Rivers stopped being bone-able; the servers range from being genuinely nice to oddly unfriendly; the clientele ranges from cool-ish to “I am silently judging you”). I did manage to embarrass myself in front of some actor the last time I went: the actor, who is moderately famous, but whose name I don’t know–essentially Katherine Heigl with a penis–walked directly into a drunken impromptu photoshoot of me and my dog, in which my pup refused to reciprocate my affections (bitch!).
Luckily, all of my dignity had been (blessedly) exhausted long before this occurrence.
So anyway, if you have a dog, and/or you emphatically appreciate hummus and/or beer, and/or you are irrationally excited by lukewarm actor sightings, Blue Dog Cafe is worth going to. If not: eh. At least you won’t be there to call me out on contributing to my dog’s weight problem.
She's just big boned.