The name of this vegan venue might sound a bit, well, functional. But enter this Sherbrook Street resto, with its friendly, relaxed vibe and fun, tasty, reasonably priced plant-based cuisine, and you’ll realize it’s all about enjoyment.
As vegan eating becomes more mainstream, Roughage is a welcome addition to the city’s expanding scene.
Offering house-made small-batch nut cheeses and seitans — plant-based versions of dairy and meat staples — the menu will also appeal to a lot of omnivores, flexitarians and the vegan-curious.
126 Sherbrook St.
Go for: vegan comfort food
Best bet: super-tasty nachos with cheeze sauce
Tuesday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-9 p.m.
★★★1/2 out of five
When thinking vegan, one doesn’t usually conjure up visions of charcuterie, with all its meaty, porky connotations. But Roughage pulls off a nice plant-based board, offering one evening some almond feta, with complex salty, tangy flavours, and a convincingly creamy vegan brie, as well as two seitan-based deli slices.
(Seitan — sometimes called wheat meat — is a high-protein food made from wheat gluten that can achieve surprisingly meat-like textures and tastes.)
We got strips of sweet-savoury Haam and some UnTurkey, along with walnut halves, sunflower seeds, olives (these could be upgraded), roasted peppers and a little pickled veg.
Everything is served with crackers and some fabulous and chewy sourdough from Eadha Bread, given a quick grill.
The nachos are another treat. They start with La Cocina tortilla chips, an absolute stand-out made-in-Manitoba product, and include black beans, tomato and onion and a vinaigrette with hits of citrus and chili.
The real kicker is the plant-based "cheeze" sauce, which is tasty and just a little trashy — and I mean that not as a back-handed compliment but in the best possible sense.
The Roughage kitchen understands that nacho cheese sauce, vegan or otherwise, should be a bit orange and enthusiastically over the top.
Roughage, situated in the former Khao House, is basically the main floor of an old home, so you feel like you’re eating in somebody’s pleasant, wooden-floored, slightly creaky West Broadway dining room.
The small, intimate setting is matched by a tight menu, which features a couple of starters, a few mains, some changing daily specials and a trio of sandwiches and salads.
Vegan mac ’n’ cheese is very good, the sauce rich but not stodgy with a nice smoky note. It’s topped with broccoli and more bits of that Haam.
I think the current mania for bowl-based cuisine can be overrated, but Roughage’s burrito bowl gets things right with fresh, clear flavours and textures. Comforting brown rice, black beans and roasted sweet potatoes are contrasted with crushed tortilla chips and tied up with a lime- and jalapeno-spiked vinaigrette.
The soups change. A carrot, ginger and coconut option had bright, fresh flavours, though the texture could have been smoother.
There’s also a roasted beets and arugula dish. The menu calls it "a mix" because it’s "so much more than a salad," and it is packed with seeds, nuts, hemp hearts and a lot of flavour, including a well-balanced maple and Dijon dressing. It’s served with more of that good sourdough.
Sammies, served on soft baguettes, include an UnTurkey option, which augments a pretty persuasive turkey substitute with lots of crunchy vegetables and loads of taste from walnut pesto and a salty, nutty cashew parm.
The desserts also rotate, with maybe one or two options of rather sweetly old-fashioned vegan baking available.
On one night, it was homey lemon pudding cakelets, and on another, the cookie of the week was peanut butter, rich and crumbly and just like mother used to make — if your mom was a good vegan baker.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.