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Cafe’s vegan offerings hit or miss

“Oooh,” my friend said, as we perused the list of sandwiches at the Bronze Cafe. “You have to try the Tree of Life.”

Tree of Life? Hmmm. I read over the ingredients, saw that it was vegan. Clang! Clang! Clang!

“Maybe not,” I said, opting instead for the LGBTQ Sandwich ($9.95), which she also recommended and which held the promise not only of maple-glazed bacon but also bacon jam. Mmmm, bacon; it’s not that I don’t care about my arteries, but … well, so far, so good.

Anyway, I figured, if the Tree of Life ($9.95) was so great, why didn’t she order it? And then she did.

The Bronze Cafe is a counter-service place, so we placed our order at the counter, specified that we wanted to eat it at one of the tables in the spacious, airy lobby of The Center (the abbreviated name for the sparkling new Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, open to the public daily except Sundays) and took our seats. Pretty soon the sandwiches arrived, one half of my LGBTQ facing upward to display all of its bacony glory.

“Wow,” my friend said, looking at my plate. “That sure looks good. Wanna split our sandwiches?”

Well, not really; there was that vegan thing, after all. But I try to be a good sport, so sure.

She handed me half of her pita and I bit in. And wow. Not only was she right, but the LGBTQ, in all of its bacony goodness, paled in comparison.

Although I’m an omnivore, I do love vegetables and am not one of those people for whom every meal has to include meat ( such as bacon). I even get cravings for tofu now and again. But what I don’t like about many vegan dishes is their ersatz nature, and there we were, with the sandwich description listing the dreaded “ ” words, in this case vegan sour “cream” and Brazil nut “Parmesan.”

But in this case, I didn’t even taste the ersatz ingredients. I did taste the roasted red pepper, avocado, tomato, mixed greens, mango-cilantro ginger vinaigrette and housemade pickled onions that had been tucked into the softish pita that was the perfect vehicle for all of it, and the whole that was so much more than the sum of its parts. This is an excellent sandwich, and an example of the culinary arts that proves it is possible to create an excellent vegan dish simply by showcasing the best nature has to offer.

But while we’re on that subject: The Vegan Specialty Cake ($4.95) was an example of the other end of the spectrum. I asked what it was and was told the predominant flavors were chocolate and coconut, which sounded good to me. But the coconut flavor was so faint as to be nearly undetectable, the cakey layers and the mousselike mixture between them — which did remind me of tofu, and everything people don’t like about it — the sort of compromise that gives vegan dishes a bad name.

But back to the LGBTQ: Although it may have been somewhat outclassed by the Tree of Life, this was a very good sandwich, the bacon crisp, the housemade bacon jam an appealing if offbeat condiment, both complemented nicely by a garden’s worth of mixed greens, tomato and cucumber, plus a mild aioli. It was served on ciabatta, a wise choice because the Italian peasant bread was substantial enough to contain it all.

We also had a couple of side dishes. The baba ghanoush ($3.95) was rich with the flavor of extra-virgin olive oil and a wisp of tahini, with warm pita triangles for dipping. The beet-quinoa salad ($3.95) was quite tasty but somewhat overpowered by the beets, revealing little of the promised carrots, parsley and lemon vinaigrette.

Service was kind of a mixed bag. Ordering was smooth and easy, and our food arrived promptly. But there tends to be a backup at the register for people trying to pay.

The upshot? This is a great place for a quick — maybe even healthy — lunch, whether you’re gay or straight or just kind of cock-eyed. As for the vegan aspect, which is so often overlooked in Las Vegas: The desserts need work, but the Tree of Life is the kind of food that makes life worth living.

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com, or call 702-383-0474.

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