By REBECCA SCHIFFMAN
EAGLE ROCK — Mornings find Nott Nimanong behind the counter single-handedly serving up bacon, eggs, and coffee for regulars at the tiny diner known as Abby’s. But on weekends, after customers have finished up traditional breakfast and lunch fare, Abby’s undergoes a transformation. New cooks arrive, the kitchen equipment is cleaned out and menus are changed in preparation for a weekend-night vegan takeover of the retro diner.
The opening of The Vegan Hooligans, a weekend night pop-up restaurant, earlier this month found a line of people wrapped around the corner of Yosemite Drive and down Addison Way, waiting for the chance to eat vegan diner food in a classic diner setting.
Chefs Jose Mejia and Franky Melikidse said they hope The Vegan Hooligans will be a sort of permanent pop-up. The menu features vegan versions of classic comfort foods like chili cheese fries, empanadas, a melt with a side of coleslaw, and a stuffed bolillo sandwich. Prices range from $7 – $10 for an entree, and $3 for a side of fries.
Mejia, from Highland Park, and Melikidse, from Eagle Rock, met through the local music and art scene about 10 years ago. After jobs in other fields, the two cut their culinary teeth working for local vegan food-truck Plant Food for People, a pioneer of the vegan pop-up scene on nearby Highland Park’s York Boulevard. Working with PFFP inspired the pair to go from vegetarian to vegan, and they eventually started talking about developing their own vegan comfort food menu.
Mejia and Melikidse had friends in the neighborhood who worked at Abby’s. It turned out that Nimanong, who is a co-owner, was open to trying their menu in the off hours.
Melikidse says the duo feels lucky to be able to “invade such a unique and nostalgic location” and offer a family-friendly diner experience for everyone, adding that they’ve been overwhelmed with support from both Abby’s and the vegan community.
Mejia and Melikidse’s menu is inspired by foods they like to eat, especially “sandwiches and fries,” as well as the conscious desire to create dishes that differ from current vegan offerings in LA.
For “meat,” the Vegan Hooligans use bean curd, which Melikidse says “is a little juicier,” marinated in their own spice recipe. For dairy replacements the chefs found local sources for vegan cheese, ice cream and a cookie milkshake — the result of a collaboration with Silver Lake-based vegan baker Heather Kuklin, aka the Shugah Mama.
On opening night of The Vegan Hooligans, friends as well as customers from as far as the San Fernando Valley and Long Beach headed to Eagle Rock, some waiting more than an hour to get a seat in the intimate space.
Bryant Santa Cruz and Allison Iturra came from Pasadena. Santa Cruz, who describes himself as 85% vegan, said the “carnivore” bolillo reminded him of his South American dad, and the Hooligan Fries “knocked it out of the park.” Iturra, a vegan for 5 years, and vegetarian for 11, said she planned to come back next weekend with her non-vegan relatives.
Nimanong, whose tastes are geared towards meat, sampled the vegan chefs’ dishes to make sure they’d appeal to non-vegans. Nimanong says if the vegan pop-up continues to do well, he might seriously consider reopening Abby’s as a fully vegan restaurant.
A few days after the vegan popup, Frank (who declined to give his last name), a retired Eagle Rock native and Abby’s regular, said he doesn’t have a taste for vegan food. But when asked if he would still patronize Abby’s if it turned vegan, he replied that he trusts Nimanong.
“As long as someone knows what they’re doing and it’s tasty, I don’t care what’s in it.”
Mejia and Melikidse will take the helm at Abby’s, 4862 Eagle Rock Blvd., for foreseeable weekend evenings. The next pop-up dates are Friday, Feb 23 – Sunday, Feb 25, 6 pm – 10 pm.
Rebecca Schiffman is a writer, musician, artist and historic preservationist living in Highland Park.
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