When the Daily Grind on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard closed last fall, so did its vegetarian deli. Grant Dixon, who had supplied the deli's hot food since 2005 and who owns a local soy company (Papa G's seasoned tofu), opened Papa G's Vegan Organic Deli on Southeast Division Street in February. With Bhrigu Das, head vegetarian chef of Reed College; John Hamilton, formerly of the Paradox and Vita cafes; and Dixon all passing the toque, Papa G's promises vegan nirvana.
The salad bar and deli counter are the hub of the small, low-key space. Decorated simply with bamboo, Papa G's is less about style and more about sustainability cred, including recycled-blue-jeans insulation, recycled paint and Energy Star kitchen equipment.
When Papa G's opened, there were grumbles about the pricing, which is based on weight: The entrees and salad bar were $8.75 a pound, and sides $4.99 a pound. The scale is still in service, but they've added some fixed-price throwbacks—the Daily bowl ($4.99) with an entree and side, the Daily plate ($7.99) with two entrees and two sides, and plenty of grab-and-go food.
The tempeh Reuben ($4.99) looks tiny but packs a filling punch—a fluffy scallion biscuit slapped with vegan Thousand Island dressing and It's Alive! local kraut, and topped with a meaty wild rice tempeh burger. The spicy barbecue tofu sandwich ($4.99), on the same biscuit, is just as tasty stuffed with extra firm sliced tofu in a sweet-heat 'cue sauce.
Entrees and sides change daily, so ordering counter-side can be overwhelming. Just remember the staff is generous with samples, and they'll pass a spoonful over the counter in a heartbeat. On one visit, a dinner of savory shiitake mushroom stroganoff, nutritional yeasty mac 'n' cheese, skin-on mashed potatoes with ginger gravy (there's also mushroom gravy), and coconut milk-stewed greens wasn't the prettiest plate of food, but the flavor of the fresh herbs, quality vegetables and grains made up for it.
On another visit, a tempeh, shiitake, spinach, polenta sauté was pure coconutty goodness. The creamy polenta was studded with juicy sweet corn, and the spinach and shiitake were cooked just right. Sometimes with deli reheats texture gets macerated before your teeth even have a chance at 'em, but here hot dishes have bite and heft.
The salad bar ($8.75 a pound) stocks all sorts of rarities, in addition to standbys. Choose from watermelon radishes, golden beets, hijiki seaweed, mango and canisters of crunchy toppings, such as veggie bacon bits, sesame and flax.
Papa G's is the kind of place where you hear an employee rattle off a list of unusual items in order to jog a co-worker's memory on a delicious vegetable she can't remember the name of: "Is it yarrow?" "No, no, it's not yarrow. But, you know, finding a new vegetable is just such a...phenomenon."
No, yarrow is not a vegetable, it's an herb, but there might be some culinary discoveries for you at Papa G's—things like housemade dairy-free kefirs, nut and hemp milks (all $3.75) or raw sunflower-seed cheese, which crumbles like ricotta. Whether or not you seek a vegan phenomenon, Papa G's is definitely worth its weight—even if you've just laid a pound-pushing slice of vegan walnut loaf on the scale.
EAT: Papa G's Vegan Organic Deli, 2314 SE Division St., 235-0244, pappags.com. 10 am-10 pm daily. $ Inexpensive.