Sunday, August 15, 2010

Meet your meat in Veganland: Keystone Cafe

It took me three years of living in Eugene to make it over to Keystone Cafe for the first time, and then I went there about three weekends in a row. That's been a while, and I just revisited the place today to find, somewhat reassuringly, that nothing has changed at what remains one of the real staples of what I'd call "Only in Eugene" cuisine.

Keystone serves breakfast and lunch -- well, I've heard they serve lunch, and their menu testifies to that fact, but I've never tried it and I don't know anyone who has. It's basically a breakfast place for mixed crowds of vegetarians, vegans, and those who hang out with and encourage/tolerate us while secretly wishing everything came with sausage gravy on the side. At Keystone, you can have your vegan toast and your sausage-gravy coated biscuits, too, sometimes on the same plate.

The omelettes are the first things listed on their runs-the-gamut breakfast menu, and that's because they do them pretty well. Roasted red peppers and pesto? Sure! Avocado cream cheese? Yes, please. Greek? Spanish? Olé! These are three-egg omelettes served with big chunks of spiced potato home-fries and a slice of vegan bread. I'll come back to that. The price is around $8-$9, depending on what you want in your omelette. You can add meat -- real or fake -- for another couple of bucks.

What kind of meat? The kind that's sung a lullaby before it's rocked to death and thrown into a pan of vegan oil to be fried. Nitrate-free bacon; turkey ham; hormone-free beef patties; chorizo; salmon; or tuna. They're available as sides or sometimes as the star of the show, in traditional dishes like the aforementioned biscuits and sausage gravy (C gives it two thumbs up). Most of the time, though, they're offered as an option, with tofu, homemade tempeh, or the Keystone protein patty available for substitution.

In terms of vegan fare, you can get tofu scrambles, brown-rice based dishes, a nice mix of Mexican-inspired non-Huevos Rancheros combinations, and toppings including a cremini mushroom "sausage" gravy, Nutritional Yeast gravy, or tomato-veggie sauce. I like eggs, so omelettes have been on the table for me several times, but I can also testify to the tastiness of their sliced and fried polenta.

And, oh yeah, the bread.

There are five varieties of vegan bread available, all baked with organic flours: Sourdough Dill; Mixed Grain; Herb; White; or Spelt Rye Oat. I think one of these is sometimes defined as "wheat" bread, but I'm not sure. I love the White. It's dense and short, about half the height of your standard sandwich bread and twice as firm. Maybe three times as firm, once it's toasted, so that it stands up to the butter-vegan spread mix (really, it's butter mixed with margarine) that comes on top and is a perfect companion for the thick, sweet blackberry jam that sits in old squeeze bottles on every table. Each time I visit Keystone, I tell myself this will be the time that I order nothing but bread and jam for breakfast, and each time, I'm tempted instead by something with eggs or peppers. I end up paying $2 to get two slices of bread anyway.

Seating is inside or out, year-round; the porch has a small covered area that seats about six parties comfortably, with heat lamps for the winter months. Sitting out there can be quite lovely, particularly because it offers a better atmosphere to enjoy while you're alternately forgotten by or hovered over by your server. I've had both experiences every time I've been at Keystone: a lot of initial attention, and then a long, long pause. If you aren't ready to order right as you walk in (and the menu is long, but filled with similar items, making decisions difficult), you'll wait quite a while to establish your order, and then longer to see that order come to fruition.

It doesn't matter. It's a place you go with friends, on a weekend morning or a rainy, empty weekday, to enjoy three or four (if you're me) cups of over-creamed coffee and the constant stream of watchable people and delightfully strange conversations. Keystone is a product of its neighborhood and its town as much as any place I can think of in Eugene, and it's very comfortable.

Location: 5th and Lawrence

Hours: Every day: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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