Pleasant surprises are always welcome. I entered Veg to get a routine food review in and eat some brunch. I exited, inspired with a real story.
Suleka Sun-Lindley quietly opened Veg at 2431 J Street (above Thai Basil) this January following the November closure of Level Up. To Sun-Lindley, this endeavor is so much more than a new restaurant concept to try on for size. It is the culmination of a lifetime of experience in the restaurant business, the realization of her true self and a humble expression of her intrinsic and learned values.
Veg is (duh) a vegetarian restaurant, and its entire menu stems from ayurvedic diet principles. That’s pretty cool; Sacramento could use more good dining options for vegans and the health-conscious epicure. The ingredients at Veg are sourced locally and the dishes change with the seasons—an initiative shared by a growing number of farm-to-fork restaurants that understand the environmental, economic, community-building, health and flavor-enhancing benefits thereof. But it’s Sun-Lindley’s conscientious decision to integrate her beliefs about an ideal food system as a whole, and her joy in witnessing the health and happiness the experience brings to her customers, that makes Veg unique in our cluttered culinary landscape.
Sun-Lindley’s family began the Thai Basil family of businesses in Suleka’s youth. Her own Thai Basil was opened in 2002 to rave reviews, and its flag is planted firmly in Sacramento soil as a mainstay—an institution even. Yet she had available space upstairs that was being underutilized, and she also had a hard-to-come-by liquor license to cash in on. Well-meaning friends, family and patrons advised her to open a bar, and she obediently opened the doors to her second business, a modern cocktail lounge and dance club that served Thai and American inspired bar eats—and so Level Up was born.
However, owning a bar just wasn’t something that resonated with Sun-Lindley. Night after night, she closed down the bar, eventually retiring at 3 or 4 a.m. She never got used to the vampiric schedule or the challenges of owning a nightclub … and Level Up never really leveled up. She tried hiring DJs to get people in, and the bar did become somewhat of a dancing destination, but the business wasn’t making her happy. So she closed the doors and took a trip to Thailand to regroup and rethink her next upstairs undertaking.
Already regularly practicing yoga and ayurvedic fundamentals in her personal life, Sun-Lindley’s observations while in Thailand led to an epiphany that informed the creation of Veg. She noticed that in Thailand, people paid attention to their food and ate with intention, rather than here where we so often eat when we’re not even hungry. And people took care regarding what they put into their bodies—eating as preventative medicine as opposed to thoughtlessly hoovering “comfort” foods that later required antacids or other pharmaceutical fixes. And she paid attention to how people seemed to be so positively affected mentally, physically and spiritually by their dining differences. The entire experience of eating was like night and day to the western approach.
Upon her return, Sun-Lindley resolved to open Veg, and share wellness and wisdom with her patrons.
While the atmosphere at Veg is clean, comfortable, well-lit and inviting, the focus is meant to be on the food rather than moody and thematic decor. Mindful eating and sharing conversation with your dining companions comes naturally in this no-frills, distraction-free environment. However, rotating art displays give the space interest and a platform for local artists to engage a captive audience. The sunroom, lined with windows and casual seating, overlooks J Street’s old-growth oaks and offers a relaxing bird’s eye view for people watching.
Veg serves up weekend brunch, weekday lunch, and is open for dinner Thursday through Saturday nights (they’re closed on Mondays for now). Sweet and savory menu options are available at every meal. Spices known for their healing properties like ginger, coriander, cardamom and turmeric are incorporated whenever possible. The food is priced affordably—expect to spend about $10 a plate.
Prior to knowing we were about to have a rad interaction with the owner and get schooled about ayurveda, we ordered a few brunch items to get a feel for the fare. The spiced, earthy Potato Hash included peppers, onions, tomatoes and green chutneys, and our super nice server upsold me avocado on top. The Savory Breakfast Crepe (yes, the crepes are vegan!) enveloped mixed vegetables in a panang curry sauce within a turmeric coconut crepe. The Sweet Crepe was tart, tropical and fresh, filled with a seasonal fruit salad, a spiced fruit puree and toasted coconut. Everything was delicious with skillfully balanced flavor profiles and satisfying without leaving you with a stuffed-to-the-gills, impending food coma sensation.
Although beer, wine and a craft cocktail list are served, attention was also paid to the non-alcoholic beverage menu. We washed down brunch with Blue Butterfly Tea, a chrysanthemum-infused cold tea with a hint of lavender bitters; and a Green Tea Lemonade which was sweet, herbal and citrusy with lemongrass notes. OK, and a coffee and IPA, too. They arguably have health benefits, too, right?
The restaurant’s menu is mostly vegan with options for vegetarians, but it’s not all about politics. Explains Sun-Lindley, “For me, it’s more about health. You have to take care of yourself first, and then you can take care of others. Animal byproducts like ghee and eggs can be used from the animal without killing them. What we need to do is less commercial raising of animals and mass production. But vegans have to be so extreme—activists—to spread the message. They are the voice of the animals. We respect that, but for us the vegan and vegetarian menu is more about the health benefits.”
Sun-Lindley is careful about who she hires and has curated a staff that shares her values. Last month, she hired Gabriel Crocker, an experienced vegetarian chef, to continue to improve upon the existing menu, oversee seasonal updates and bring even more good energy to the restaurant. “The person who prepares the food is the one that gives their energy to the food, the person that you are connecting with. You feel the aliveness of the food that you eat, and that’s how food can heal. I believe that food can heal, restore, nourish—and you don’t need medicine.”
The highest compliment for Sun-Lindley is when people come to the restaurant from outside of the Midtown area as a deliberate pilgrimage. They’ve heard about the ayurvedic menu and share with her their appreciation for a dining option that incorporates ayurvedic principles and ingredients that help keep their doshas in balance. With the realization of Veg, she has found happiness.
She proudly shares, “You can’t be everything to everybody. I had to become myself rather than try to cater to everyone. Being in the hospitality industry, you’re made to respond to what other people want. My mom owned a restaurant, so I learned this. But now, I want to be who I am, and this is my offer to you. I do my best to accommodate you within that—who I am.”
Veg is located at 2431 J Street in Sacramento. For more info, go to Vegmidtown.com. After this story was published, Veg changed their hours to include dinner service. For up-to-date hours of business, check out Veg’s Facebook page, or call them at (916) 448-8768.