Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Bluff City Vegan Eats: LYFE Kitchen

Believe it or not, Memphis is now the headquarters of LYFE Kitchen, a vegan-friendly, healthy fast-casual chain founded by former McDonald's executives with menu assistance from vegan chef Tal Ronnen (and non-vegan chef Art Smith).

The company's HQ was relocated to Memphis from Chicago last year, and they already have many locations across the country. But when LYFE moved its corporate offices here, Memphis didn't have a LYFE restaurant. But we do now! They immediately got to work on concepts for two LYFE locations here. One will be downtown in the old Chisca (close to my office!), but construction on that is a ways off. However, our first LYFE location officially opens on Wednesday morning in East Memphis! And I got a special media sneak-peek today (because in real life, I'm a newspaper reporter).

My editor Susan and I headed to LYFE for lunch. The first Memphis location is at 6201 Poplar in East Memphis. The restaurant is all modern and zen-like inside. Check out the herb garden!

While LYFE isn't a totally vegan restaurant, it's VERY vegan-friendly. All vegan menu items are marked with a V. And many non-vegan items (including the buffalo chicken wings!) can be made vegan. They also have lots of gluten-free items.

What I love the most (besides the awesome menu) is that LYFE is a counter-service joint. I much prefer fast-casual places. No need for servers. Susan and I placed our order at the counter, and then we went to fill up our glasses at the water station. Look! You can choose between Chilled, Ambient (room temp), and Sparkling. We got sparkling because we were feeling fancy.

Susan is vegetarian, so we decided to try more things by splitting a few orders. We started with the Spicy Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps made with Gardein beefless tips, wheatberries, scallions, thai basil, and chile-ginger sauce. Y'all know Tal Ronnen loves his Gardein, so all of their faux meats are Gardein. Yay!

We got the LYFE Veggie Burger with smoky pepper aioli and avocado. And we added Daiya cheddar because we could. They use Gardein patties, of course! And man, is this burger SOLID! The vegan bun is all soft and wheaty, and that smoky pepper aioli really adds fantastic flavor. On the side, we picked a salad with dried cranberries and pickled onions.

And we got the Thai Red Curry Bowl with Garlic-Lime Tofu. This had broccoli, eggplant, peppers, peas, thai basil, wheatberries, and coconut curry sauce. Wheatberries are pretty much my favorite grain, and I forget to use them at home. I love how chewy they are. The tofu was pan-fried and the sauce was just spicy enough to be palatable for anyone.

Because this was the media preview, the LYFE staff sat out a bunch of prepared dishes for us to photograph. It was a food photographer's dream! Most of those were the non-vegan dishes, but they did have this vegan one sitting out — Ancient Grain Stir-fry with Gardein beefless tips. I'll definitely be checking this one out on my next visit.

Our friend — and former co-worker — Pam was there, too. And she ordered the vegan Quinoa Crunch Bowl — quinoa tabbouleh, veggies, avocado, edamame hummus, greens, and hot sauce. It looked so fresh and healthy. Can't wait to try this!

While we dined, there were people walking around the restaurant handing out bite-sized samples of menu items. Some of those weren't vegan, so I passed on those. But I did grab one of these vegan Banana Date Shakes. Wow! It's just a banana soft serve shake with date syrup, but they make their own date syrup. And it's amazingly thick and creamy.

The Memphis location is the first LYFE restaurant with a full bar! For now, the others just serve wine and beer. But ours has fancy cocktails. It was lunch time, and we still had to go back to the office, but that didn't stop us from ordering booze. So Mad Men! I had a Grapefruit Paloma with organic tequila, grapefruit and lime juice, organic cane syrup, club soda, and a pinch of salt. It tasted like a grapefruit margarita!

Susan ordered a Perfect Storm, LYFE's spin on a dark 'n' stormy — rum and house-made ginger beer. This is some seriously stout ginger beer! So spicy and gingery!

I'm just so excited about LYFE Kitchen! I've been counting down the months for the grand opening, and it's hard to believe it's finally here. As much as I love supporting local businesses (and I do all the time!), I also have a soft spot for chain restaurants with vegan options. I think it's so important that, as vegans, we show our support to big business that supports us. Restaurants like LYFE have the power to push vegan and healthy food to the masses, and that's what we need. I'm thrilled that a healthy food chain like this would choose Memphis, which isn't exactly known for health food, as it's HQ. Despite our reputation for barbecue and fried chicken, there's really a hunger for healthier fare in this town. And I have a feeling LYFE is going to feel very welcome here.

LYFE Kitchen is located at 6201 Poplar Ave. 


Christine (The Raw Project) said...

Everything looks great, wish we had one here! Love the water station! Agreed on supporting big businesses with vegan options too.

Barb@ThatWasVegan? said...

I love the Lyfe Kitchen here in Denver, I've eaten there lots of times (including a couple freebie events bc I'm a super awesome vegan blogger). LOVE that water station, it's so smart! The sweet corn chowder and the (vegan) art's unfried chicken are my faves!

Susan S said...

Ooh, I ate at the Lyfe Kitchen in Denver!

The sweet corn chowder ISSSSS delicious! I also had the stir fry with the beefless tips and it was so yummy!