Brad Wegelin remembers when the new owners of Guru Donuts showed him the space where he would later open the vegan restaurant Toasted in the Idanha Building.
"The curtain and the paper on the window literally made me blind to the space," he said. "We were talking about burning the curtain, it was so ugly."
Within a few weeks of that dubious-sounding introduction, Wegelin opened the doors at Toasted, and it's as attractive a space as the food is delicious. As Boise's food scene grows and becomes more sophisticated, there's a temptation to describe every new restaurant as a watershed moment, but Toasted follows a national trend. Go to Seattle or Portland, and one will come across plenty of places that specialize in toast. It also follows a local trend: It's the latest in a growing list of restaurants betting on vegan and vegan-friendly customers.
"The vegan community is more passionate and loyal to food," Wegelin said. "Every day, I become more vegan curious."
Everything on the menu is plant-based. The bruschetta with its dairy-free parmesan, garlic oil and pea shoots ($6.50) was a striking take on the Italian small plate, the tomatoes having a distinctive and unusual character. The "Obligatory Avo" ($6), a sarcastic nod to the near-ubiquitousness of avocado toast, was an innovator. On the menu, it has vegan sriracha aioli, sesame, cilantro and, of course, a guacamole spread, but Wegelin is a hopeless tinkerer, and he served Boise Weekly an avocado toast that had subbed the aioli with kimchi. It worked.
- Harrison Berry
"Being a craftsman is what I was trained to do. Being an artist is what I'm good at," he said. "All I'm saying is, don't try this at home."
Wegelin's penchant for putting contrasts into his concoctions is fireworks in his banana bread ($9.50), which is three slices of grainy—but notably not crumbly—banana bread. On slice number one is a fig/chocolate/sea salt marmalade that has a rich, earthy flavor and uses the sweetness of the bread as a backstop. Slice number two is a riff off a classic combo: peanut butter, banana, maple syrup and chia seeds. The peanut butter and banana are unexpectedly cool, again in contrast to the heat of the toasted bread. Finally, there's the coconut oil and vegan sugar, a slice that's sure to bring out the kid in practically any eater.
That's on purpose. Wegelin said the way he cooks for his own children has been a strong influence on his cooking at Toasted, and he hand-mashes guacamole and slices bananas for every order. It's a painstaking process, and some armchair chefs may find his cooking slow, and have ideas for how his operation could be more efficient. In time, Wegelin may indeed find ways to economize, but in his tiny kitchen, hunching over slices of toast, Wegelin cuts the perfect figure of a dad making a snack for his children, and the love and care he puts into making every slice of toast attractive and flavorful shows.
Wegelin isn't a vegan himself. Rather, he and Toasted have allied themselves with a growing plant-based movement in Boise. In April, another restaurant, High Note Cafe, announced it would totally remove animal-derived food products from its menu. Other restaurants, like Kibrom's, Lemon Tree, BBQ For Life and Wild Root Cafe, have strong plant-based options on their menus. Still more are likely considering how they can fit vegetarian options on their menus.
- Harrison Berry
Toasted's plant-based mission started when Wegelin was the writer and operator of the TwoZeroAte food blog spotlighting Boise eateries. He soon noticed a trend in the restaurants he featured, and realized that what happened to him and his eating-out habits was a generalizable principle among Boise diners, and he struck outside of Boise for a restaurant concept that would be innovative and have mass appeal.
He then counted his friends who subscribed to plant-based diets and saw the relative paucity of restaurants where they could reliably find vegetarian and vegan options. The plot thickened as he started developing plant-based menu items, and saw animal-based products crop up in unlikely places, like sugar. (Many vegans reject sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup and white sugar because they lack nutrients, and honey is an animal product.) He added alternative breadstuffs from Gluten Free Galaxy, and now does independent research on all his ingredients to ensure they meet a rigorous standard. Now, whether he's talking about making food for his children, his friends or his customers, he can say he's doing the same thing.
"Toasted is a vehicle for me to be able to spread joy in the community," he said.