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Review: Sneaky Pickle 

Sarah Baird finds hits and misses at a St. Claude cafe that caters to vegans

click to enlarge Sneaky Pickle serves vegan fare in a homey environment.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Sneaky Pickle serves vegan fare in a homey environment.

When Sneaky Pickle opened, vegans across the city breathed a sigh of relief. The loss of pop-up stalwart Wandering Buddha was a blow to vegan diners in the St. Claude corridor, and many hoped Sneaky Pickle would fill the void.

  While the offerings at Sneaky Pickle are ambitious and thoughtful, the restaurant would benefit from some general improvements to both the menu and ambience in order to create a restaurant experience that not only focuses on vegan cuisine (though not exclusively) but celebrates it.

  It's often refreshing to dine in a place that feels familial, but the homey, comforting appeal that makes a place a go-to restaurant is something that has to be earned. While the laid-back, quirky living room vibe (read: garage sale art and knickknacks) at Sneaky Pickle is purposeful, it misses the mark. The space also would benefit from better lighting and better air circulation to rid it of a faint but lingering musty smell. The service is cheerful but spotty, and on multiple occasions I waited more than 30 minutes for my meal. This might be acceptable if the entrees were difficult to plate, but it's disappointing for a place so casual that there are family photo albums on the tables.

  Many of Sneaky Pickle's best dishes are on the breakfast menu, which includes vegan biscuits and gravy and a chickpea and tofu scramble. The breakfast flatbread — made with either eggs or tofu — is not only the highlight of the breakfast menu, but of all the flatbread selections. Pickled local mustard greens are tart and crunchy, and roasted skillet potatoes pair nicely with the sweet heat of the chipotle spread. The over-easy preparation of the egg is a welcome surprise, creating a creamy egg yolk slurry perfect for sopping up with hunks of flatbread.

  While meatless patties are notorious for having the texture of a spare tire, the "multigrain patty" in Sneaky Pickle's patty melt suffers from the opposite problem. Without any sort of proper binding agent, the patty falls apart after the first bite. The accoutrements could exist on their own as a better sandwich, especially the vegan beer cheese. (A vegan grilled cheese featuring the beer cheese, perhaps?)

  Several offerings were marred by an overwhelming amount of salt, which seems to be one of the few seasonings in use. This is particularly obvious in the bluntly titled "bowl of food" (basically a vegan take on the now-retired KFC Famous Bowl), which is an ever-changing mishmash of ingredients, including roasted vegetables and the same grain and bean mixture used in several dishes on the menu.

  The freshly made vegan breads — available by the loaf — are worth purchasing in bulk, and the bouncy, chewy bite of the vegan sourdough is a standout. The highlight of many entrees is flavorful and well-executed purees and sauces. The sunflower and pumpkin seed puree adds a welcome richness to an otherwise underwhelming (but charmingly pink) beet flatbread, and the butter bean puree is a smooth and milky foil to the heaping helping of caramelized onions which make their pungent presence known on top of the tempeh flatbread.

  Sneaky Pickle is an example of how parts do not always make the whole. The menu would benefit from better attention to detail, ratio and consistency. On their own, many of the dishes' components are appetizing, but when combined, individual elements are unable to shine and often are lost in a muddled mess.

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