Fast food favorites get the vegan makeover

Vegan dining has come a long way in Columbus. Not that many years ago, only a few restaurants regularly offered vegan dishes, and even then the fare rarely ventured far from salads, squishy bean burgers and dubious tofu experiments.

Nowadays, it's the odd eatery that doesn't offer any decent vegan food, and more and more places are completely dedicated to the cholesterol-free, plant-only method of cooking. Among the latter group is Eden Burger, an energetic establishment just south of the Ohio State campus whose cuisine might seem unlikely for a restaurant with an all-organic, all-vegan menu: fast food-style burgers, fries and shakes.

As its utopian name suggests, Eden Burger has high ambitions for its lowbrow dishes. The business even announces on its website that “Eden Burger has one mission: Save the world.”

I'm going to assume that was written while someone's tongue was exploring their cheek. Still, reading deeper into the website shows that Eden Burger has its heart in an idealistic, “go green” and “zero waste” place. Good for Eden Burger, an eatery that recently reopened after temporarily closing to makeover its menu and dining room, and has itself come a long way.

It originated as a roving pop-up that eventually settled into a permanent space next to the Village Idiot bar — a friendly-if-not-so-utopian-minded campus hangout. Initially unable to provide customers with much seating, Eden Burger began serving its food in Village Idiot from a window that connected it to the bar. This window service still exists, and is convenient for diners who enjoy an adult beverage and tavern setting with their meal.

Although tiny, Eden's revamped counter-service dining room is distinct, stylish and coheres to the company's plant-embracing identity. Live greenery is lavishly displayed in the upbeat space that also features a concrete floor painted green, wood, exposed brick walls and a small, outgoing staff. A spacious, nice patio likewise decorated with plants is available, too.

The basis for all burgers on the tiny menu is the pleasant house veggie patty, which — unlike most veggie burgers — is structurally sound and has an appealing mushroom-derived “meatiness” stabilized by rice and lentils. They're modest-sized and griddled like diner-style burgers, so folks with larger appetites should order a more filling double burger for $2 extra.

All sandwiches come on puffy, good-quality toasted buns, and most are adorned with leaf lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, red onion, faux melted cheese (it's almost like Velveeta) and Eden sauce — a peppery and very likeable amalgam of vegan mayo, ketchup and mustard.

When decked-out, the relatively healthful burgers can sate the desire for a fast-food splurge, and I enjoyed the heavily garnished, messy burgers I tried: the BBQ Western ($10), with fried onion chips, fiery fresh jalapenos, sweet-and-smoky barbecue sauce and gobs of fake cheese; the zippy California ($10), enriched with flavorful guacamole; and the Hawaiian ($10), with grilled pineapple and barbecue sauce.

You do want fries with that ($3), because they are wonderful. They're skinny, golden-brown, super-fresh, and so addictively crispy that they hold up under a barrage of toppings when ordered “loaded” ($6), which includes half an Eden Burger, Eden sauce, gooey fake cheese, plus diced pickles, red onions and tomatoes.

Tempeh shows up coated in breadcrumbs and fried to crisp in fun-to-munch Nuggets ($5) and the spicy slab gracing the not-cheap Buffalo Sandwich ($10), with house Buffalo sauce and a relatively believable house ranch dressing.

I was told the house-made soft-serve shakes ($6), which are sweetened with dates, are meant to mimic a Wendy's Frosty. Although grainier and with enjoyable coconut notes (coconut milk is in the recipe), they do. This just goes to show you that, sometimes, coming a long way is like going back to where you started.