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So Fresh

A vegan cafe in Cooper-Young; Church Health Center's farmers market.



If you're a vegan in Memphis, your experience with restaurants consists of at least a few weird looks, mixed-up orders, and hummus sandwiches. Now imagine a place where none of this happens, where vegan food is the norm, and where nary a hummus plate is served.

Owners Kristie and Adam Jeffrey had this in mind when they decided to open Imagine Vegan Café in Cooper-Young. They wanted a place where vegan families like their own could order anything on the menu without hesitation, and, more importantly, they wanted a menu to satisfy their vegan junk-food cravings.

"There are really great places in Memphis where you can get hummus and tofu and stuff like that," Kristie says, "but we've stayed away from that. We tried hard to focus on food that, as vegans, you want to junk out on sometimes."

Vegan versions of comfort foods abound: cheese sticks, chicken and sausage gumbo, beef tips and rice, tacos, barbecue pulled pork sandwiches, and pizza. You can build your own chilidog and your own pizza. (Using Follow Your Heart brand cheese.)

The sandwich menu offers more than a dozen favorites, from Buffalo chicken to mock egg salad to Philly cheese steak. Imagine's desserts center around ice cream, with banana splits, brownie sundaes, and a variety of milkshakes, but they've also got Southern classics like pecan pie and double chocolate fudge cake with double chocolate icing.

Kristie says they also plan to serve vegan beer. Vegan beer might seem an unnecessary distinction, but a number of beers are clarified using isinglass, obtained from dried fish bladders.

The Jeffreys have two vegan daughters and another on the way, so they want Imagine to be kid-friendly as well. And you don't have to break your bank: Everything on the menu, except the mock crab cakes, rings in under $10.

Imagine Café is set to open on April 18th in the former location of Casa Grill. It will be open every day (but Tuesday) from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Imagine Vegan Café, 2156 Young

The Church Health Center will open its own farmers market on April 26th, bringing fresh produce to the parking lot outside its Wellness Center at 1115 Union. Every Tuesday after that, until the end of September, three or four vendors will be there from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. selling locally grown fruits and vegetables. Jones Orchard, Susan Piper of Mammaw Melton's Heirloom Gardens, and Dolly Gray are already lined up for the Tuesday market.

Rebecca Greer, the registered dietician at the Wellness Center, says they will limit the items sold at the market to produce. "No honey, no granola — just fresh fruits and vegetables," she says. "We wanted it to be a clear message to promote produce. We didn't want to get into that gray area of having white bread and honey and that kind of thing. Not that those things can't be included in a healthy diet, but we just wanted it to be a clear and simple produce market."

MIFA will provide a shuttle bus for seniors interested in attending the market, and the Church Health Center's Tuesday morning cooking class will now be free and open to the public. Each recipe they prepare will incorporate at least one item found at the farmers market, so class attendees can then purchase some ingredients immediately after class.

"It's been something that the Health Center has been wanting to do for a very long time," Greer says. "We see this as another wellness service for our members and our patients — an access point. If they've gone out of their way to get here on the bus or some other form of transportation, they'll be able to get fresh fruits and vegetables."

Greer says she hopes the market will also be an access point for people in the Medical District, which doesn't have its own market, per se. On days of inclement weather, the market will take place inside the Wellness Center.

Church Health Center Wellness,

1115 Union (259-4673)

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