Lori Lucas

The worst part of being vegan—and this includes the frantic label reading and putting up with the omnipresent inane jokes from friends—is family meals. Easter, Christmas, and the ultimate carnivore tryptophan-fest: Thanksgiving. Sure, you can pretend that boxed Tofurky is just as splendid as your grandmother's third-generational turkey recipe, but it's just not the same. The one sure result of committing to a vegan lifestyle is that you will most likely be doomed to a life of awkward (at best) family meals.

While that might hold true, there is relief to be found at First Friday Suppers, a monthly family-style meal at Junior's Café. Started by chef Aaron Adams—who takes over Junior's kitchen one night a month—the goal of these meals is to bring vegans together in a friendly environment where dining alone is just not an option. Everything is served family style, where plates are passed around the table, and second (if not third) helpings are a definite possibility. Plus, Junior's classic booths are split between mixed parties who share both conversation and heaping plates of food.

The menu changes based on what's in season, with no two months the same. April's meal began with a large salad of fresh organic greens, carrots, tangy vinaigrette, and some nice long-grain rice to balance out the texture. What followed was a nice balance of starches and impeccably fresh vegetables. The mashed potatoes were served dirty with ragged skins and a polite addition of fresh chives. The organic asparagus dish was a precise balance of crisp flavor with a subtle splash of rich olive oil.

The main course for this evening was a stunning quinoa nut loaf with walnut-mushroom gravy. The tender quinoa center was fluffy and meshed well with the generous dollop of gravy—and unlike most dishes with the word "loaf" in it, this entrée was surprisingly light. Of course, there was wine as well, an affordable Domaine Puydeval red that complemented the meal perfectly. If multiple helpings weren't enough to fill you up, the meal's climax was a wonderful strawberry rhubarb pie, which was left to cool on the kitchen's counter, like a Norman Rockwell image of Vegan Americana.

It's also worth pointing out that there was absolutely no fake-meat pandering in this meal. No wheat-meats, soy nuggets, or glistening slabs of tofu here (all of these things are well and good, but they are often used as the easy way out of actually preparing a balanced vegan meal). Instead, Adams' menu was a perfect representation of how you can eat delicious vegan meals by using local ingredients and not relying on the crutch of soy products.

What really transforms First Friday Suppers from just being a good dinner to becoming an event worth planning your weekend around, is the family aspect. Sure, the food was amazing, but an evening of friendly conversation and close interaction with complete strangers is what makes this meal a ray of hope after all those terrible holiday family meals back home.

First Friday Suppers at Junior's Café are $25, plus drinks and gratuity. The next meal will be Friday, May 4 at 7 pm. To attend, pre-purchase a ticket at Junior's, or call 984-0810.