comfort food

vegetarian and vegan comfort food
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vegetarian and vegan comfort food
The Acre restaurant
butternut squash

by Jessa Cast

a chef makes vegetarian food everyone enjoys

One doesn’t need to be a vegetarian to thoroughly enjoy vegetarian meals. Eating a few meatless meals per week would go a long way to lower our carbon footprint and our cholesterol. But carnivores’ acceptance of vegetarian dishes as the main course, and eating meat less frequently, has been a slow revolution. Chef Shawn Weed, owner of The Acre restaurant in Albuquerque, aims to encourage meat-eaters to enjoy a plant-based diet more often……and with more enjoyment.

“My whole life vegetarian dining was inaccessible [to meat eaters],” says Weed, describing the disconnect between what carnivores think vegetarian food is (boring veggies, lacking meat) and just how satisfying it can really be. He saw an opportunity to bridge that gap. Why couldn’t vegetarian food appeal to and satisfy everyone? It just needed to be more inviting, especially for folks not seeking a solely plant-based diet. The answer? Good old-fashioned, belly-warming comfort food.

Thus, The Acre was born; a restaurant with an entirely plant-based menu, much of it vegan, that strives to entice and gratify all types of eaters, discriminating foodies included. “It’s ‘feel good’ kind of food,” says Weed.

The Acre’s menu consists largely of locally sourced ingredients, from greens to green chile. Almost everything is made from scratch, right down to the pickles and salad dressings. There are core menu items, like the ever-popular pancakes, and seasonal offerings, like the toppings for those tasty pancakes.

Of course, New Mexican cuisine has a place here, with the Breakfast Burrito, blue corn Enchiladas, and the Papa Quesadilla with house-made salsa. Riffs on meat include the Comfort Dog made with marinated braised carrots, the beet, black bean and quinoa Acre Burger, and the crowd-pleasing Cauliflower Wings, complete with traditional wing sauces. Mac and Cheese, perhaps the ultimate comfort food, is one of their best sellers. “Mac and cheese makes everyone’s inner eight-year-old happy,” says Weed, smiling broadly.

Since opening in 2017, The Acre has surveyed diners on satisfaction, feedback, and yes, dietary group. Early on, most patrons were strict herbivores, but that’s evolved. As proof that his mission is working, Weed confirms that at last count, 55-60% of his guests were not vegetarians. But they definitely are repeat diners. He has so many regulars, in fact, that he’s fostered a community of guests that greets by name. That sense of community extends to his suppliers, from farmers to bakers to wine distributors. “I got into this business to be part of a community,” he says.

That community has shown its love, loud and strong. In 2018 he won in several categories for The Alibi’s Best of Burque and is continuously covered in numerous publications. Most recently, Weed’s extensive, affordable, and totally vegan wine list won the 2020 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. He offers takeout Family Meals for dinners at home, and, never idle, periodically hosts themed, multi-course dining experiences, with or without a wine flight, great for date night.

At the heart of his enterprise is what’s best for our health. “I want normal people to eat better,” says Weed. “We should all eat a little greener, a little healthier.”

The Acre Winter Pasta