- John Taylor
There's a biblical verse about how Satan often quotes scripture for his own devious purposes, and it's very much on my mind as I soak in the cavernous bar vibes at Salt Lake's Mark of the Beastro (666 S. State, 385-202-7386). The juxtaposition of the eatery's demonic aesthetic and its exclusively plant-based menu feels like I'm being tempted by He who is called the Desolate One. While the jury is still out on whether the Beastro claims your eternal soul in exchange for plant-based chicken and waffles ($13.50), it's a risk that fans of comfort food and vegan food alike will want to take.
Mark of the Beastro occupies the space that once was Bar Deluxe, and is one face of the Beehive Collective's multi-headed dragon. It shares ground with The Beehive, a small concert venue that hosts a potpourri of events—most recently the Liar's Séance featuring local vaudevillian weirdos Gonzo Rising. There's a certain midnight-movie charm at play within the walls of 666 South as well. Even during their early dinner or lunch hours, the shadowy lighting helps you feel like the sun has long set and the witching hour isn't far off. The nightspot vibe tends to butt heads with that of the bistro, and it's hard to tell whether it wants to be a restaurant, a music venue, a library or a board-game repository. I happen to like this mishmash of ideas, but could also see how such inconsistency could freak out those seeking a traditional bistro vibe.
If you're visiting for the first time, a few things that can help get you started: The place is open seating, but you'll want to check out the chalkboard menu nailed to a column in the center of the restaurant. It changes from time to time, but you can rest assured that everything is completely plant-based. Even though the Beastro doesn't serve alcohol, something about the bar vibe continues to impact the service—it's about as spotty and humorless as most bars with a dinner menu.
When the food arrives, however, it's easy to see that this place takes joy in presenting comfort food staples like chicken and waffles and Buffalo wings ($2 each) made from plant-based ingredients. Looks aren't all that is deceiving—flavor-wise, I'd stack this plate of chicken and waffles up against its meat-based cousins any day. The chicken in question is made with seitan, one of the vegan world's most popular meat substitutes, and it's been breaded and deep fried to perfection before gracing the top of a golden brown waffle. A bit of maple syrup drives home the sweet-meets-salty combo that made this dish a classic in the first place, and the soft, chewy seitan complements the deep fried crunch of the outer layer.
At $13.50, it's not the cheapest order of chicken and waffles you can get, but it's one of the tastiest.
Food pile enthusiasts will enjoy the garbage hash ($11), a flavorful heap of tofu scramble, hash browns, peppers, onions, mushrooms and seitan sausage. But I prefer their breakfast burrito ($9), which takes all that goodness, adds some very convincing vegan cheese and wraps it all up in a warm tortilla. The spicy seitan sausage ties everything together, and it's an ideal delivery system for your daily dose of veggies.
Whether your culinary scripture consists of verses of veganism or comfort food parables, Mark of the Beastro is full of tantalizing tricks that taste like a Faustian bargain you'll be willing to make. Salt Lake can always use more plant-based comfort food joints, and more power to them if they're combined with an artistic collective that provides a venue for oddball local performers. Unless, of course, it's all a satanic ploy to lure me in with tasty vegan food only to condemn my soul to the fiery pits of Phlegethos. We'll just have to wait and see, I suppose.