Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vegan Dinner Club at Cafe 5501

A few days ago, I discovered a wonderful movement in Little Rock, the Vegan Dinner Club.  I was so happy to realize they were having their 2nd dinner at a local restaurant.  Daniel, the local organizer, is super enthusiastic about promoting veganism, and he shared the mission statement with me:

Establish a loose organization to encourage vegan options at local dining spots thereby
supporting small businesses, inspire chefs and restaurants to consider healthy, humane
choices outside their normal offerings and to make this a viral movement of encouraging others
to start Vegan Dining Clubs in their area. This is not a political organization as there are many
reasons to be vegan. This is a friendly assembly designed to bring vegans and aspiring vegans
together for a wonderful meal

He has also outlined some helpful tips if you want to promote a Vegan Dinner Club in your area.

How to Organize:

1. Identify a community organizer. This person will be responsible for soliciting local
restaurants to offer a vegan option or vegan menu for one night with the promise
that said organizer will bring enough hungry vegans to make it worth their while.

2.  Use Facebook for means of organization.  Create a group on Facebook and name it
Vegan Dinner Club – (Inserting your city at the end). Grow your Facebook page by adding
anyone you know that is vegan, vegetarian or “Veg Curious”, leaflet coffee shops, health food
stores etc to expand your dinner club. And make sure to keep your page about the food! Leave
issues for another day or group.

 3.   Enlist a restaurant. Contact a perspective restaurant and coordinate a day.  It’s a good
idea to pick a restaurant who normally does not offer vegan options. This way you can guide
them on what constitutes a vegan ingredient and what does not.  Make sure you know the
restaurant's menu and politely suggest vegan alternatives they can offer. Remember,
restaurants are very proud of their menu. It is not our goal to change them only to suggest some
vegan choices.

Helpful Notes:

Businesses get a lot of solicitors and may assume you are one. It is
important to establish early that you are bringing them business they normally
would not see. Encourage them to look at your Vegan Dinner Club Facebook page or at an
established club’s Facebook page to help them get the full picture.
Be very polite and appreciative of cooperating businesses. Make them want to ask
you back. During the dinner acknowledge their effort to the group and most importantly, have fun
with this!
Establish a plan with your restaurant cohort, developing a menu and negotiating a meal price you
can share with your club; people won’t attend the dinner until they know how much it will cost
them. Let the restaurant know how many people you estimate will attend.

For this event, Cafe 5501 hosted our group.  The owner was enthusiastic to cook vegan meals and challenge his kitchen staff, and the decor was beautiful.  I had never been there before, but I know I'll be going back.

Josh and I headed to dinner to meet our friends Erin and Phillip and the other LR Vegans!  Cafe 5501 is in the Heights, and we had a nice walk in the cool night to the restaurant.

We walked in to an enthusiastic group and sat down in a beautiful side room.  The waitress took our drink order and we decided to try both appetizers.

We mulled over the menu while we waited for our appetizers.  I got the tofu lollipops with assorted sauces, and Josh got the hummus.  When they came to the table, I was intrigued by the tofu and eager to try the hummus!

The tofu lollipops were amazing.  Even Josh split every one of them with me, and he and tofu don't exactly get along.  The pesto sauce was my favorite, and I definitely think it's as good as any non-vegan one.  The sweet chili sauce was delicious, and the soy was great too.  I was a little more apprehensive when the hummus arrived, because there was quite a lot of it and not that many zucchini slices.  It was a little on the runny side, but the flavor was good, and we ended up just eating it with a fork when we ran out of "chips."  Next came the salads, which were grilled and topped with raw veggies.

After the light salad came a HUGE bowl of carrot soup.  Oh man, I should have approached this soup with more caution.  It was SO delicious that I ate all of it, but it really filled me up for the rest of the night.  It had tons of ginger, as well as many other spices, and everyone at the table enjoyed it.  Apparently, they had a few less people than they had accounted for, so the portions kept getting bigger as the night went on.  Erin was smart enough to bring some soup home.

It was quite a decision when it came down to the main course.  I was torn.

The lentil loaf jumped out at me immediately, and we all kind of thought that's what we wanted to get.  However, since there were 4 of us sharing, we decided to mix it up.  Erin and I went for the curry, Josh got the lentil loaf, and Phillip got the lasagna.  As they started placing our dishes, we were all shocked at how much food we got.

Lentil Loaf with Mashed Potatoes and Greens.  I think we all agreed, Josh's dish was the winner.  The mashed potatoes were AMAZING.  The lentil loaf was a little on the soft side, but the hot chili sauce on top made up for any textural short comings.  The greens were good too, although a little smokey.  My dish didn't come out right away, so I "helped" Josh with this one quite a bit, and we still took over half of it home.

Lasagna.  Phillip got the lasagna dish, and although I think he might have been a little apprehensive about the vegan cheese on top, the dish was good.  Instead of pasta, they used eggplant and zucchini, and the sauce was rich and good.  We all had bites, and I scored a big piece to take home.

Tofu Curry with Peas and Couscous.  I didn't immediately pick the curry, because I can get some pretty good curry around the city, but I was intrigued and decided to go for it.  The coconut broth was very tasty, with a hint of spice, and the Israeli couscous underneath soaked it up and made for a nice base.  Unfortunately, I was so full by the time the main dish came that most of this went into a box for the house.  I guess that isn't so unfortunate, is it?

We got our entrees boxed up while we waited for dessert.  The fixed price menu was $28 dollars (each), and we probably have at least 4 more meals out of the leftovers!  I always want to do special menus when I see them at local restaurants, but they never have vegan options.  This was a real treat.

My dessert came (the strawberries), and after 1 bite it went in a to go box.  Josh powered through his peach pie dish, and I may have helped with a bite or two.  I was really impressed by how diverse the menu was for the whole night, and I think Cafe 5501 did a great job cooking for unconventional dining guest.

At the end of the night, the owner came and talked to us for several minutes.  He expressed how much fun it was to create these items, and how he and his kitchen staff had been working on the menu for days.  He even told us that his kids tried and loved everything!

Starting on Thursday, Cafe 5501 will be adding more permanent vegan items to their menu, but they already have several items that can easily be made vegan.  They even have some tasty sounding vegan brunch options!

Overall, I think the Vegan Supper Club event succeeded in what it set out to do, promote veganism to a local restaurant and encourage them to add more options on their menu.  It also ultimately ended in a lot of very full, happy vegans.

So, if you're in the area, join the facebok group so you can come to the next dinner!  If you want to get a dinner club started in your area, follow Daniel's steps from the beginning of the post.  I think it's a great idea, and I hope it spreads across the city and beyond!

Cafe 5501 in The Heights on Urbanspoon


  1. Everything looks so great, Dana! Thanks for sharing! I really hope Drew and I can come next time! Also, I've not eaten at Café 5501 yet. Obviously, we need to check it out!

    1. it was so yummy! i really hope you guys can come next time :)

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