There was a time when a café was pretty much simply a café. The experience was based around a good cup of coffee, and some simple food, like eggs, toast, and bacon. These days, in order to be in the café game, owners are paying more attention to the whole shebang, instead of simply cooking a decent meal and hanging one’s shingle out front.
Take, for example, VilaVerde Café, owned and operated by Pedro Manuel. The business opened about a week ago, thus bringing a café concept to the city that revolves around hearty vegan food, and clean contemporary design. Pedro, who is a furniture designer by trade, also happens to know his way around a kitchen. When he first told me that he was opening a café serving vegan food, I actually thought he had lost his mind. Yesterday, he proved me wrong.
Upon walking into VilaVerde, I could not believe that it was the same space that a number of other cafés had called home. Pedro had done what he does best. He broke the space down and rebuilt it as if it was a modern abode designed for one of his clients.
“The interior design (developed by Barreto Design Studio) was inspired on Japanese simplicity where the wood has an important role in the space, minimal and warmth,” explained Pedro. “The metal details were inspired by Buffalos’s metal industry and history, but adapted into elegant details that brings to balance the whole space. The paper lamps, again Japanese influence – where a more ordinary material (paper) takes the spotlight and becomes the unifying element that bring the space together. This project wouldn’t be possible without the collaboration and help of Jacob, Mark and Kaitlyn. Also a especial thank you to our landlord Bill Mack for believing in our concept and giving us the opportunity to create or recreate this space.”
Ok, so the guy knows great design. I get it. But how does that translate to great vegan food? I was dying to know. So I order a vegan hamburger. As I waited for my order, I could not help but overhear a couple of young ladies who were sitting nearby, talking about the food that they were eating. While I could not see what they had in front of them, I could tell by their enthusiasm that they were thoroughly enjoying their meals. That was, of course, a good sign.
It wasn’t long before Pedro brought my cheeseburger out to me. Upon examining the creation, I actually thought to ask him if it was indeed vegan, because it certainly looked to be a beef patty. I’m no longer a vegetarian (I’m just careful about what I eat), so if it was a mistake, I was not going to be upset. I bit into it. Holy moly. After one bite, I knew that this was by far the best vegan burger that I had ever had at a restaurant in Buffalo (my wife makes a damn good vegan burger at home). After my third bite, Perdro walked out from the kitchen and asked how I liked it. I stared at him for a few seconds, wondering how a furniture designer had pulled off this feat. Still chewing, I said, “Are you sure this is vegan, because it tastes like a great meat patty to me.” I could tell that the ladies at the other table were now interested in our conversation. They soon joined in the discussion, which revolved around making vegan food taste, and chew, great. Most vegan burgers I get around town are mushy – the innards squish out the sides after one bite, leaving a gloopy mess behind. Yuck!
Pedro explained to me that he has cooked for himself his whole life, and he has traveled the world eating at people’s homes and restaurants. A person like Pedro is few and far between. Why? Because he has the ability to harness his keen senses, compute in his brain what he is experiencing, and formulate a plan to execute his own creation that is true to his nature and spirit. Not many people, including myself, can do that efficiently and effectively… especially in two completely different realms (furniture and food).
“The menu reflects the design,” Pedro shared with me. “Simple but diverse, and with top quality products where the presentation is part of the whole concept. It’s all about the experience, quality and details. Personally I feel really happy to be able to offer this food option (vegan) to a city like Buffalo, which is conservative but at the same time progressive in many ways.”
When I finished my vegan cheeseburger, with sauce, pickles, onions, lettuce, and the works, I congratulated Pedro on a job well done. The space… the burger… the chips that he had sprinkled with pepper instead of salt… the lighting… every minute aspect of the space, and the food, was thoroughly thought out. He had taken a tiny hole-in-the-wall space and converted it into a brilliant, sophisticated café that looked more like a hip dwelling.
As I gathered my belongings, preparing to head out the door, I overheard the other two patrons discussing the distinct flavors of Pedro’s biscotti. I was jealous that I had missed out on that experience. “Tomorrow is Taco Tuesday,” said Pedro. I responded that that was the perfect excuse to come back, two days in a row. I told him that I could not wait for my wife to try the cheeseburger, and that I would have the tacos… and a biscotti.
VilaVerde Café is the real deal. Whether you are vegan or not, I encourage you to try this place. Grab a delicious vegan cheeseburger to go, or stick around for the paninos, ricotta toast, a caprese sandwich, black eyed pea and bean salad, an Americano, latte, cappuccino, hot chocolate, or tea. You will come for the food (Fish Less Friday – serving up sea & chips), and stick around for the modernist atmosphere, including the solid choice in music (Fever Ray, Flying Lotus, The Knife). Or you might visit to support Pedro’s stances on animal rights and his determination to serve healthy, hearty and delectable non-GMO cuisine. No matter the reason that you stop by to support this creative (born elsewhere) Buffalo enthusiast, you will come away with a new appreciation for the vegan café experience as a whole.