Tal Ronnen Talks Carrot Lox and the Future of Vegan Fine Dining

Those aren’t eggs in that Benendict

When Tal Ronnen opened Crossroads Kitchen back in 2013, the fine dining vegan scene in L.A. was—well, there really wasn’t one. A lot has changed in three years. These days, upscale plant-based (that’s another thing, we used to just call it “vegan food”) restaurants, from Gardarene Swine and Gracias Madre, are a little easier to come by, and there’s even a growing expectation for meatier spots to offer vegan-friendly dishes.

“We were the first to open a spot that was a little more of a fine dining experience, both food-wise, but also with the decor,” says Ronnen. “We were the first to have a full bar in L.A., private dining rooms—stuff like that—so I think people were really excited about it.”

As the popularity (read: acceptability in some corners) of vegan cuisine has grown here and nationwide, so too has Ronnen’s influence. The chef is co-founder of Kite Hill, a food company that makes vegan products, like an almond-milk ricotta and a soft-ripened, rind-wrapped cheese with a brie-like texture, which Whole Foods Markets began carrying last year. He also just released his second cookbook, Crossroads; his last one, The Conscious Cook, released in 2009, was a New York Times best seller.

Here in town, Ronnen is working to build Crossroads into a fully functioning vegan institution. Until recently, in addition to their dinner service, the restaurant was offering a limited lunch selection in their cafe and Sunday brunch, but in December it launched a daily brunch service, which is still a hard thing to come by in L.A., vegan or otherwise. “When we opened the restaurant, we brought something new to L.A.” Ronnen says. “So now, we wanted to do something again that was new, and brunch seven days of week just made sense.”

The cheeseplate at Crossroads
The cheese plate at Crossroads

Photograph courtesy of Crossroads

While at night customers can choose Mediterranean-inspired dishes like porcini truffle fondue and crab cakes, the brunch menu is traditional and down home. There’s chicken (well, not exactly) and waffles, pancakes, and a veggie chorizo scramble. Sandwiches from the cafe were also added, including a hearty meatball sub based on a recipe from executive chef Scot Jones. Made with a fennel and red pepper-spiced vegetable protein, the meatballs are doused in marinara (a recipe Jones has been perfecting for 25 years) and accented with creamy almond ricotta.

Then there’s the Jann’s Bagel, a holdover from Sunday brunch that consists of an everything bagel with a schmear of almond cream cheese and carrots in place of lox. Hickory smoked, roasted in nori powder, and shaved thinly, the carrots take on a similar texture and flavor to the real thing. But, as Ronnen points out, “with zero cholesterol, probably half the fat.”

Ronnen says that some of the best chefs in town have already begun experimenting in their own kitchens and incorporating vegan cuisine into their menus, which bodes well for the continued evolution of the scene. “Really great restaurants will start creating some of the best vegan dishes in town. That’s kind of what I think is going to happen. You won’t have to go to an all-vegan restaurant to get a vegan meal.”

Crossroads Kitchen, 8284 Melrose Ave., (323) 782-9245. Brunch is served daily from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.