Serving Salt Lake City for 15 years, Sage’s Cafe has made a name for itself, offering organic, local vegan food. Chef Ian Brandt’s dishes are consistently innovative, delicious and healthy. As the popularity of vegan food exploded, Sage’s experienced growing pains. A small kitchen, an intimate (sometimes cramped) dining room and zero parking were things you just had to deal with to enjoy the food. Eventually, the lease was running out and decisions had to be made.
When the Jade Cafe, a Chinese-American restaurant built in 1956, became available, Brandt saw the opportunity to reinvent Sage’s Cafe and become an important part of an up-and-coming area of Salt Lake. Reopening in early 2014 with a fantastic menu update, Brandt has certainly increased the restaurant’s appeal. The new location has plenty of parking (and is just a short walk from Trax), lots of kitchen space and ample seating. And here are the best parts: an updated menu boasting delectable small plates, an impressive vegan wine list and a full bar. A vegan restaurant with a full bar? Yes, please.
Progress pays respect to its roots—you’ll notice Jade’s influence in the diner. Brandt even named the back room after the Jade. Guests can explore a fully stocked bar and new menu of small plates in this fun speakeasy. The exterior of the restaurant has a fresh coat of mossy, sage-green paint, accented with maroon. Though the original sign has been renovated, it retains an Asian theme. Their new digs are spacious and modern, with black-vinyl booths and bar stools complemented by silver chrome, creating a cool, comfortable atmosphere.
Weekend brunch at Sage’s Cafe is my favorite time to visit. Options range from überhealthy to decadent (pancakes topped with tofu scramble and smothered in mushroom gravy, anyone?). Local favorite Caffe Ibis coffee is served, as well as mimosas. Old-time favorites are still available, like The Mountain ($10). My husband and I have ordered this thousands of times, and we still love it—it’s the stuff of Salt Lake vegan legend. Hash browns are the foundation, and next comes a layer of seasonal veggies and tofu scramble. Here’s where it gets fun: Choose a protein from their famous house-made sausage, crisp, slightly sweet tempeh bacon, or sautéed mushrooms (Hello, umami!). It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but with breakfast food. Top it off with guacamole, mushroom gravy or vegan cheese. The Americana Pancakes ($7) are also a wise choice. They are pancake perfection—fluffy and eye-rollingly delicious. Served with margarine and maple syrup, they’re coffee’s BFF.
Lunch has improved a great deal. You can get in and out a lot faster now, thanks to more kitchen room, an increase in friendly servers, and a daily lunch special for only 8 bucks. I enjoy all of their sandwiches, but I’m especially fond of the Philly Cheeze Steak ($8) with savory mushrooms and a delectable cheese sauce. Add some fries and a local brew, and you have one hell of a lunch.
If you’re nostalgic for the Magical Wok ($14) and its hippie-vegan appeal, don’t stress out, man. The original diner’s entrées remain on the menu. The aphrodisiacal qualities of the coconut curry with sautéed vegetables and pan-fried tofu over brown rice with toasted cashews will appeal to every generation. It’s also available as a small plate for only $8.
True to the Pick Your Own Adventure nature of Sage’s Cafe, a selection of pasta, polenta and risotto come with varied sauces for dinner. Creamy, silky and every bit as satisfying as an omnivore dish, these are Italian dishes that challenge your concept of vegan fare. I highly recommend the Alfredo ($14). It’s made with silken tofu, which gives it a smooth, creamy texture. The addition of truffle oil and roasted garlic makes it surprisingly unctuous for a dairy-free dish. I enjoy the Alfredo sauce with cubed and crisp, pan-fried polenta—it reminds of the kind of stuff my Italian grandma would serve. Garlic bread and a house salad come with the dish, naturally. Add a daily pour of red wine (only $6) for a superb Italian meal.
Of course, the full bar is a plus, but the wine list is the most intriguing to a newbie wine connoisseur like myself. Most wine is, unfortunately, filtered with animal bits—wine at Sage’s is not. Bottles range from a reasonable $20 for a sparkling Spanish cava to an extravagant $96 bottle of pinot noir.
Sage’s Cafe is now a stark contradiction to the original warm and free-spirited vibe we all enjoyed over the past 15 years, but it works very well—and I think a lot of people would agree with me. Chef Ian Brandt has elevated vegan food in Salt Lake City once again.