Everyone Loves Veggies brings healthy alternative to food court

The Owners Of Everybody Loves Veggies Have Come A Long Way From Their Slovakian Roots With Their Tiny Takeout Shop

No one wants to complain about the sunbeams that have been penetrating the Lower Mainland lately, but for some people the rays are a little too potent. Such folks crave shade or air conditioning--or the cooler environs of shopping malls. Heaven help them if they get peckish while hunting for sun hats.

Food courts are not for the hungry health-conscious. Faced with a circle of stalls selling French fries, cheeseburgers, deep-fried lemon chicken, roast beast on white bread, and French fries, fit foodies are left uninspired and empty-stomached. Salad bars and whole-wheat subs are popular alternatives to poutine, but nevertheless, quality, mouth-watering food-fair fare is rare.

A big yippee!, then, for Everybody Loves Veggies. Tucked next to an escalator in the northeast corner of City Square's main floor, this tiny takeout shop is a boon to people who like their lunches hearty (but not so heavy as to be nap-inducing) and abundantly healthy.

It's owned by Ingrid Kosco-Duplinska and her husband, Rastislav Kolesar, who came to Vancouver in 2000 following a stop in New Jersey after leaving Slovakia eight years ago. With them, the couple brought culinary traditions of their hometown of Cierna Nad Tisou, which sits near the Hungarian border.

To their Eastern European penchant for paprika, caraway, and cayenne pepper they've added the kind of contemporary vegetarian flair you find in places like Victoria's Rebar restaurant. Sesame patties with black olives, celery, onion, and brown rice; yellow and orange peppers stuffed with tomatoes, sunflower seeds, and mushrooms; seaweed-and-avocado sandwiches; and apricot-pecan cookies--their menu is constantly changing and always intriguing. It's also strictly vegan.

Hold on: don't let the term turn you off if you like eggs, dairy, cheese, and meat. You might even be surprised at how rich the flavours are; they practically spring to life like leaves on a plant that's just been watered. Take Kosco-Duplinska's quinoa casserole, which stacks French lentils, mushrooms, sauerkraut, tofu, onions, cilantro, parsley, and garlic over the South American grain. It's a dish so lively and nourishing that it qualifies as summertime comfort food.

Then there's her sweet-potato pie, a four-storey wonder with a thick and handsome layer of the starring vegetable atop spinach, zucchini, eggplant, red lentils, onions, and millet. What makes the latter dish so seductive is that despite being bedfellows, all its ingredients are distinct, each one seemingly shouting, "Eat me!"

"We didn't want to advertise it as vegan, because that scares people away," Kosco-Duplinska says in the store's open kitchen. "But it's also very attractive to people....If you're vegetarian, you can always find somewhere to eat; we wanted to bring it to the rest, to people who aren't necessarily looking for vegetarian food but who like it when they have it."

She estimates that about 90 percent of her customers--some who bring their own Tupperware, others who pick up lunch and that night's dinner, still others who treat themselves after yoga--are vegetarians. In fact, Kosco-Duplinska and Kolesar, both 32, only gave up meat once they moved to Vancouver. Back in Slovakia, where they met as children, they ate plenty of beef, chicken, pork, and homemade sausages.

The pair moved to vegetarianism gradually, first noticing that they didn't feel sleepy after meatless meals. Then they started thinking about their carnivorous diet's ethical aspects. Finally, they simply couldn't get enough of the tasty plant-based food they found here.

Kosco-Duplinska and her husband now avoid white sugar and honey; they use nondairy butter and soymilk; and she replaces eggs and butter in her baking with bananas or applesauce. She does most of the cooking, while Kolesar keeps track of the books, does prep, and makes sandwiches--like red peppers, pecans, and roasted eggplant on rye or whole-wheat, one of today's four choices--and helps support their one-year-old business with a house-painting job on the side.

Kosco-Duplinska credits City Square for being the only shopping centre willing to give their food a chance. ("All the other malls were only interested in brand names.")

Besides catering to Vancouver's veggie lovers, the pigtailed chef says she and Kolesar would eventually like to offer more selections for people with diabetes and those with allergies. She already has treats for them: rice cookies made with brown-rice flour, tapioca, and maple syrup that taste like a subtler kind of shortbread.

Dishes are $3.95 each or $5.50 for a two-item combo. And you won't need a snooze afterward.


EVERYBODY LOVES VEGGIES At City Square, 555 West 12th Avenue; 604-873-4417. Open Monday to Wednesday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday and Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m.