3257 SE Hawthorne
I feel the need to get this out of the way in the opening sentence: Calendula Café is owned by Craig Rosebraugh, a former spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front. Of course it doesn't matter, but in a city where gossip might as well be the gospel, it needs to be mentioned. But worry not: the waitstaff isn't wearing black armbands, there is no mention of Mumia on the menu, and if you park your SUV outside, they won't blow it up.
That said, Calendula Café is truly fine dining. Set in a historical Hawthorne district house, Calendula brings to mind the design sense of two of Portland's finer progressive restaurants, The Farm and Purple Parlor. All three share an old-timey charm, but still have enough minimalist, modern design style to impress. Plus, Calendula is Portland's lone all-vegan restaurant, although you wouldn't know it with a menu that boasts items such as pizzas, soft tacos, lasagna, raw soups, and Shepherd's Pie. The depth of their menu is impressive; they serve brunch, lunch, and dinner, and they try to use local, organic ingredients in all dishes. They provide a dizzying amount of options, especially considering vegan diners usually get the shaft when it comes to eating out.
While the appetizer serving sizes can be on the small side, they make up for it in taste and creativity. The cheeseless Mochi Pizza is tiny, barely enough for two to share, and it goes quick with a delicious thick tomato sauce and fresh veggies. Plus the Mochi crust is soft and chewy, not thick and carb-laden like most pizza doughs. Their soups are hearty enough to be eaten as a meal, especially their raw Squash soup, which is rich and smartly spiced with a taste and texture like an Indian daal.
The Seitan Shepherd's Pie is the equivalent of the Vegan Hungry Man dinner, a massive mound of mashed potatoes, veggies, and tasty seitan. Seitan, much like tempeh or tofu, is one of those vegetarian items that has no middle ground when it comes to taste. It's either a flavorful meat substitute that can rival the real thing, or a barely palatable bland mound of gluten that makes you question your vegetarianism. That said, the seitan at Calendula is stunning, a well textured, but not too meat-like centerpiece to the Shepherd's Pie. The meal is easily enough for two, plus the flavorful Braised Greens on the side help soothe the body after taking in so much rich food.
While BBQ Tempeh is nothing new in Portland (numerous carts and health food places already serve it), it's never been made with more precision than at Calendula. The tempeh's consistency is melt-in-your-mouth, with a subtle BBQ sauce that's zesty, but not overwhelming. Plus you get a bit of Southern comfort (not the whiskey) flair, with rich, creamy garlic grits and slow-cooked collard greens.
Much like Millennium in San Francisco, Calendula Café is fine dining. It'll set your wallet back more than a Tofurkey Sandwich at Paradox, but it's worth the expense. The depth of the menu and the time it takes to prepare food is reflected in their prices. Dinner entrees are in the $12-15 region, while you can eat much cheaper for both brunch and lunch.