Eternally on a quest to find a strip club where the food is more than a Sysco-fueled hooch sop, I stopped in to try out the all-vegan menu at Casa Diablo (NSFW) (2830 NW St. Helens Rd) this afternoon. Reasoning that any place which emphasizes a hard-line dietary constraint as half of its identity was probably making an effort in the kitchen, I cobbled together a sampler of some house specialties and got to know the under-occupied band of merry mid-day dancers. My lovely and well-spoken topless bartender, Nikki, also worked in the kitchen some days, she said, and impressively rattled off not only the ingredients in each dish, but their ratios and evolutions over time. You just don't have conversations like that down at your average Spangle Shanks.
More food and intrigue after the jump...
The Diablo Burger is dressed like a standard fast food-style burger, with fresh vegan thousand island dressing, but at its soul is the inescapable and heartbreaking flavor of Boca patty. I had hoped to find a house-made patty amid all the "house-made-ness" going on, but perhaps this patty is preferred by vegan diners. That ain't my color spectrum, so I don't know. ("Go there and eat that thing if you like that thing," as we say in this business.)
Nachos showed more ambition: the vegan cheese sauce, when mixed in with the numerous other toppings, wasn't noticeably vegan-flavor, as so often happens when a cook tries to invent items from one food group out of another. This nostalgically liquid cheese, freshly made red salsa, a distinctly spicy canned green tomatillo salsa, and a ladling of their scratch-made chili came atop a generous basket of—get this—fresh, house-cut and -fried tortilla chips. The chip being the measure of the nacho, this was heart-lifting. This dish also will make you popular with the dancers: virtually all of the five girls in my company (like I said, go in at slow times) said they would eat some of my nachos, ostensibly for free.
Egg(less?) rolls are rolled fresh each morning, and filled with glass noodles, fresh carrots, and fresh cabbage. They come with a sweet-spicy dipping sauce and are assembled with mechanical precision by one of the two cooks. Golden brown and greaseless, the thin rolls are one of the better appetizers. The kitchen also makes its own hummus, they tell me, and sweet kidney- and pinto-bean chili, which is flavored with molasses and coffee, among other things.
The poor macaroni and cheese...the al-dente elbow noodles are dressed with a thick sauce of nutritional yeast, tapioca flour, soy milk, and seasonings, but despite the good intentions with which it is made, it tasted of powdered sofa. Tellingly, only one of the dancers was interested in taking the uneaten portions. (The rest cited lack of appetite and a fear of career-ending gas, but we all know it was the nutritional yeast.)
Our gentle and well-meaning conversation meandered to the club's interesting practice of hiring from within: according to Nikki, everyone who works there started as a dancer, excepting the cook and owners, which means that a dancer can receive useful real-world food industry training for when they hang up their eight-inch lucite heels. It's nice to see the potential for some escape velocity in a business that typically has a low ceiling (literally, in many cases), no benefits (aside from an hourly shot), and an early retirement age.