Distant craving

L.E. Leone's new favorite restaurant is vegan? All aboard Nature's Express

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le.chicken.farmer@gmail.com

CHEAP EATS After two days of eating nothing but barbecue, fried chickens, and cupcakes, we started actually craving health food. I speak for the whole de la Cooter household, of which I am a small but important satellite. When I'm there, the kids come and jump on my bed in the morning, and mom and dad get to sleep a little longer.

That's my importance.

Oh, and I am the one who cleans the cellar — mostly so I can put things in it. But still.

It's nice to feel like you are part of a family, maybe you've noticed. And I have had no shortage of family in my life, but the blood ones are mostly very far away, so I can't very well bathe their kids and sing them to sleep, let alone play with them.

It was nice when I was a nanny and got paid for all of the above, but I think I like being "like family" even better.

For one thing, I can argue for fried chicken and barbecue, and win! That was how it went my first day back: Barbecue for lunch, fried chicken for dinner.

And the next day was K. Chunk's birthday, so we made pancakes with almost everything in the world in them for breakfast, by request, and then had pretty much cupcakes for lunch.

Now, Crawdad de la Cooter's mister, Mr. Crawdad de la Cooter, makes THE best cake I have ever had. That's why I will always, no matter where in the world I am, come chugging home for his kids's birthdays. That's one reason.

And it's not anything fancy, either. Chocolate cake with white frosting. But you wouldn't believe how moist. You wouldn't believe how perfectly iced. Your teeth crunch then cream through the sugary, buttery quarter-inch of heaven, which blends so beautifully with the cakey softness below . . . you want to cry. But you're too busy licking your lips and angling for your next bite.

I don't even like cake! I'm a pie girl, all the way.

But now I like cake, thanks to Mr. Crawdad.

Anyway, after the birthday party, when the dust and wrapping paper had cleared and the Chunks de la Cooter were playing with their toys and it was time to start thinking about dinner, Mr. Crawdad says what he almost always says, at such times: Nature's Express.

And whereas normally I would counter with, "Barbecue," or "Fried," I was like, "Damn straight." And he and me grabbed our jackets and headed down to Solano to pick up.

Nature's Express is exactly like it sounds, only moreso. It's not just health food fast food; it's vegan. The last time I craved vegan food was in 1997. And to give you some idea how long ago that was, it was 15 years ago.

As I recall, I hated it, but that was out of sheer curmudgeonliness. Though I am not likely to crave specifically vegan fare for another 15 years, I loved Nature's Express. Loved it.

As in: new favorite restaurant. For real, Chunks.

I mean, sure, at first when I saw the bookshelf of vegan propaganda and the coolers full of kombucha, I almost ran screaming from the bright, friendly little joint.

But I'm glad I didn't. The avocado and quinoa wrap was delicious, especially when I got down to the pickled ginger and jalapenos. There was also hummus, lettuce, and cabbage slaw in there, and the nice thing about vegan is you don't have to worry about mayonnaise!

I also got the 5-A-Day smoothie, with kale, cucumber, beets, and celery, plus fruit. In fact, I take back what I said about 15 years. I'm craving another one of these earthy, refreshing juices right now.

The Chunks de la Cooter split a Brazilian Super Model smoothie, which is apple, açai, mango, and flax seeds, and I tried this and liked it, but not as much as mine.

Loved the quinoa salad, the cumin-lime dressing, with corn, cilantro, peppers, and onion.

Crawdad got the "essential lentil" — lentils over greens with an avocado dressing, hot sauce, and more slaw — which I tried, and liked.

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