Sure, you might think of Los Angeles as a mess of freeways, traffic and smog… an urban sprawl nightmare. And you’d be right. But along with our near-year round perfect weather (present incoming storm not withstanding), we Angelenos have a few other gems to boast of which help give us the fortitude necessary to stay here. One of those is Griffith Park, the largest urban park in North America. People who do not live here don’t realize that along with all the car chases and crazy city hustle & bustle, our humble metropolis is also home to this wonderful natural wilderness area right in our own backyard (well for some it’s actually their front yard).
Just off Los Feliz Blvd., turning north onto Fern Dell Drive sets you on your way to exploring the various trails the park has to offer, including the hike up the mountain that will take you straight up to the Griffith Park Observatory and it’s accompanying spectacular views of Hollywood and all the way out to the sea. But what’s a hike without some nourishment in your belly first?
That’s where The Trails Cafe comes in. The Trails is located in a converted old snack shack along the left side of the main road leading up the Observatory, almost directly across from the shady fern forest. The setting is really beautiful, situated in clearing among the trees. They’ve taken the concept of a snack shack and kicked it up a quite a few notches… instead of serving crappy junk food they serve freshly made baked goods such as fruit & savory pies, muffins and scones along with other stuff like avocado sandwiches, salads and chili. There’s also all the coffee drinks you might expect from a cafe such as lattes and espressos (though I didn’t check to see if soy milk was available, sure seems like it would be).
The big news as far as we’re all concerned here today is that they’ve got a few vegan specialty items on the menu which are great, and much higher quality than you’d ever expect to get from a shack in the woods.
What we’ve got here is the Vegan Pie, the vegan version of their savory meat pie, which if I remember correctly was made with mushrooms, tempeh and cashews, yummy spices and baked in a flakey vegan crust. This seemd to be slightly different from the vegan pie described on their menu, but it was really good all the same… I think they often come up with new stuff that’s not going to be listed on their permanent menu. It came with a dipping sauce which I think was also mushroom based. It was fantastic. One bite and I could tell that the person who made these really knows how to cook, this tasted like something created by a real pastry chef.
The flavors were unexpected and complex, the texture was meaty and hearty, and it was heavy on the rosemary, which I love. The crust was indeed flakey and just perfect, it’s tasted just as buttery and decadent as I’m sure it’s non-vegan counterparts do. It was just like the sort of delicious food I’d expect to be served in a cute little sidewalk cafe in Paris… only it’s out here in the middle of L.A. and more unexpectedly, in the middle of the woods. The words ‘rustic’ and ‘quaint’ don’t even come close, and do not do justice. My pie (which is really more of what comes to mind when I think of a turnover) was a particularly good one because I could tell it had only recently come out of the oven… what lucky timing!
This is one of the other main vegan entrees they offer, the Vegan Chili: a traditional chili with kidney and pinto beans, tomato, onion, tempeh and spices. It came served with a hefty slice of vegan blueberry cornbread.
The chili ingredients were big & chunky, and there were peppers in there which are not listed on the menu. The consistency was a bit watery, almost more like a thick soup or stew. The flavor was excellent, not too spicy yet not too mild.
The cornbread was great too… I liked that it was thoroughly purple from the blueberries and I could tell from the yummy and authentic taste that it had been made with real berries, not frozen or artificially flavored. The only thing that could have made this that much better would have been a nice pat of Earth Balance vegan butter. Yup, that would have hit the spot.
The Trails is such a fun place to visit, whether you’re heading up (or back down) the mountain to refresh before or after an invigorating hike or bike ride, or even if you just drive up and park in their lot for lunch and then leave, you’re bound to be taken in by the charm of the place. They’re often playing classic rock out by their picnic tables, where you can stay and linger with your treats and enjoy the view of the park for as long as you like, or, you can even bring your work with you and enjoy perhaps one of the coolest free WiFi spots in the entire city.
With all of this, keep in mind that they make all their baked goods right there, from scratch, and it’s not an exaggeration to call the place a shack either… it’s quite tiny, so they sometimes (often) run out of things (and it can get pretty busy, especially on weekends). I’d actually attempted to eat their three times previous before I finally got to, as each time I’d gone before they were out of the vegan baked stuff. I highly suggest calling ahead to ask what vegan items they still have before you go, that way you won’t be disappointed if you go all the way out there and all they can offer you is a salad. But I also highly recommend that you persist until you do get to try this stuff, because it’s damn good. Remember, it’s not a restaurant, it’s the equivalent of a whole-in-the-wall in the middle of nowhere… don’t go expecting much and you just might get more than you expected.
There’s usually at least one or more sweet & fruity vegan pies available as well, sometimes they’re in the form of really cute mini-pies. They’ve also got a darn tasty looking pastry-wrapped veggie dog, but vegans should note that it is a Morningstar weiner, and therefore not vegan… which sucks because I really want one!
- Happy Vegan New Year!
- Happy World Vegan Day!
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