A new restaurant and lounge called Crate is trying to debunk the myth that plant-based diets are boring and flavorless. Two and half years ago, Crate co-owner Anselmo Di Virgilio Hernandez got frustrated when he couldn’t find a good vegan restaurant in Miami.
“I literally one day said, ‘You know what? I’ve got to get going. I’ve got to get something built up [where] vegans and vegetarians can actually eat the normal foods that normal people eat. You know, burgers, tacos, burritos,’ ” Hernandez recalls.
Hernandez, who co-founded Barú and Tu Candela in Brickell, traveled around the world in search of a chef. After visiting places such as Thailand, China, Japan, France and Spain, he found his guy, a San Diego native, in Bali, Indonesia in a small vegan restaurant.
That chef, Christopher Baugh, creates meals combining family recipes with global flavors he picked up from his international travels.
“I’ve always been a big traveler, and I love to experience new food around the world,” Baugh says. “[From] all my experiences, all my travels, I’ve picked up a few little recipe ideas and twists here and there.”
When Hernandez tried Baugh’s food, he knew Baugh’s approach at health-conscious food would fit with his vision of “bringing healthy food to the masses.”
Baugh’s menu is filled with plant-based protein that’s rich in flavor and has a meatlike texture. It’s nearly impossible to tell that the chicken “wings” are made of cauliflower, and that the jackfruit asada tacos or any of the four burgers are meatless.
“The burger patty was originally my grandmother’s recipe that I tweaked and changed,” Baugh says. “It used to be made with organic soybeans, but it was hard on my digestion. I found the most easily digestible bean, the mung bean, [organic brown] rice and roasted veggies, and that is the base of our burger. … And the roasted beet gives it a meaty, red color.”
The menu at Crate is the same during lunch and dinner. Diners sit in a chic but unpretentious atmosphere, among animal-friendly polyurethane couches, upcycled tables and mismatched rugs. A 10-foot-by-22-foot projection screen displays a lush Indonesian waterfall, though Hernadez says the screen will be used for big sporting events, as well. The room’s focal point is the chandelier, where a 3-foot disco ball rotates inside a cage of hanging jars filled with olive oils from around the world.
“Olive oil is cleanest,” Hernandez says. “It’s healthy. It’s probably one of the healthiest, if not the healthiest, oils that exists. … And a lot of the things that we cook actually use olive oil.”
Crate closes its window curtains at 11 p.m., when the restaurant transitions to a posh lounge, though the bar starts to fill up well before that. A DJ plays an open format of Latin and house music, and a small-bites menu is available.
“My whole idea is to promote healthy eating, basically,” Hernandez says. “It’s about making people aware that veganism or vegetarianism is not about eating salads only or eating raw vegetables. It’s about tasty food.”
Crate is at 901 Brickell Plaza, in Miami. The grand opening will take place Friday, Aug. 4. The restaurant is open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday and 11 a.m.-4 a.m. Thursday-Saturday. Happy hour is 4-7 nightly. Call 786-534-2536 or go to CrateMiami.com.
TJMedina@SouthFlorida.com, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.