Vegan Mario’s  
625 N. Ventura Ave.
Oak View   

I must disclose that I am not a vegan. There, I confessed. And so I must compare the food of Vegan Mario’s with regular old normal nonvegan cuisine. This may taint my taste buds I realize, but there it is. Now you know.

For now Vegan Mario’s offers cold-pressed juices, a few dessert items, and condiments. First you must know all of his juices and condiments are sold in Ball Mason glass jars of different sizes. The experience of opening one of these jars, instead of using a can opener or cutting open a plastic wrap, adds enjoyment to the experience from the get-go. If you bring your own container, he’ll fill it up for you. So on to the food.

Not everyone is a fan of sauerkraut. The mystical process of taking a bland basic cabbage and turning it into a delectable, tart and healthy edible delight (Can you tell I like sauerkraut?) is a mystery to me, but Vegan Mario has the magic perfected with his pink probiotic sauerkraut. He must use a little bit of beet juice or some other red or pink veggie to turn his probiotic sauerkraut into a gorgeous festive light fuchsia color. It comes in a small jar, the perfect amount to add to several hot dogs — oh wait, I forgot we are going vegan — soy dogs or it works great on its own, as I finished the jar for a snack. The aroma is important with sauerkraut; it needs to be spicy, and fresh, no icky stagnant smell allowed. And Vegan Mario’s has a light fresh scent of vinegar, salt and spice. A few carrot shards are added to the bright mix. In the mouth it is tart, crisp and not overpowering. Shhh, don’t tell Mario but I might be putting some on my next organic, grass-fed, all-beef hot dog.

Next are the probiotic pickles. If you are a fan of sauerkraut you probably also have a taste for pickles. Again the pickling process escapes me, but I’m comfortable leaving it up to Vegan Mario. Most might be used to the clear liquid in the jars of store-bought pickles, but have you ever read the ingredients? No high-fructose corn syrup here, and to me the briny, lime-green, partially opaque fluid the pickle slices are swimming in is appealing. The pop of the Mason jar emits a fresh dill, vinegar scent, and do I detect some garlic too? The thick slices of pickle are perfect to pair with a cracker or on a sandwich. While I would like a snappier crunch upon biting into the pickle, the flavor does not disappoint — tangy and tart together with dill and the sure presence of garlic (confirmed by a slice or two found inside).

Now for the desserts — first the raw, dehydrated-strawberry-walnut-date cookies were my least favorite. And this could be where my nonvegan status rears its ugly head and my vegan friends may come after it, but I just didn’t like it. The slice of strawberry dried to what looks like a pulp is not the most enticing cap to the dark-brown base of the cookie. The cookie was bland, lacking in resemblance to what I could say a cookie should taste like. To be totally honest, I wanted a bit more cookie in the cookie, a bit more sweetness and less heavy.

Next the brownie. The marquee bills this as the world’s healthiest brownie. OK, that could be true, but this is not a brownie. When I hear brownie, my brain sends signals to my mouth and tongue putting in place certain expectations — a cakelike creation, maybe a little gooey but above all, in order to be called a brownie it must taste completely and irrevocably of chocolate. This imposter is no brownie. It is a brown bar of sorts, with different seeds scattered throughout. My overall impression visually, nasally and orally is that it is in the inside of a fig newton cookie, but much less sweet. It is not totally bad. In fact it felt fresh in my mouth, smooth, and I love the taste of dates and it did satisfy my sweet tooth — the seeds gave it an interesting texture. I suggest a change in the name on the marquee for this number and another attempt at a true brownie.

The fabulous juices were not a surprise. These cold-pressed potions are delicious all around, and as I drank them in I felt as though I was drinking in the flowers and fragrance of the fruits they are made from. The carrot and hibiscus tea were superb, both fresh and fragrant, and the color of the hibiscus tea is so pretty to look at, you might forget to drink it. But the household favorite here is the apple, a blend of Fuji and Granny Smith. This is an apple juice with the perfect sweetness, just how the apples come off the tree. No sugar is needed or added. Perfection.

Now for the big surprise, the chia seed pudding topped with mulberries. First, I have no idea what chia seeds are (well, now I do, because I’ve Googled it) but the pudding is fantastical and delicious. Through the jar it is a white pudding with small round dark beads, and the mulberries on top are a deep ruby color. The fragrance is subtle and nutty. I dive in, expecting something like tapioca. Wow. I am pleasantly surprised. This is a thicker pudding, and I don’t feel the seeds at all in my mouth. The pudding is reminiscent of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the ever-present date influence is there too. It is surprisingly delicious. And the mulberries on top add just a kiss of berry influence for a fabulous summer desert.

I’m looking forward to heading back for my chia pudding fix, and to try the zucchini noodles and raw manicotti that will be part of the menu when the official grand opening occurs next month.