New vegan, vegetarian restaurant option in Catonsville

If all goes as planned, two vegetarian chefs will be offering healthy, meatless cuisine to residents from their Catonsville storefront on Frederick Road starting next week.

Enzo Fikru, 29, of Catonsville, and business partner Sarah "Katie" Dunn, 35, of Pikesville, will open Sprout — the first vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Catonsville — on June 30.

The two are in the final stages of converting an empty storefront at 706 Frederick Road that formerly housed a yogurt shop for Monday's ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Dunn described the cuisine as "mindful, healthy eating done right."

The restaurant will serve natural food sourced from local vendors when possible, without refined sugar and using non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) products, Dunn said.

Dunn said the partners chose the location because "Catonsville has more of a progressive, alternative mindset, that is willing to appreciate that type of cuisine."

Offerings from the restaurant include a wide variety of smoothies ranging from the Smooth Operator, which consists of banana, avocado, mango, raspberry and almond milk, to the Superman, made with hemp, spinach, pineapple, mango and strawberry.

The smoothies have no added refined sugar. Natural sweeteners, such as agave nectar and raw sugar, will be used to add sweetness. They are 16 ounces and prices range from $4.89 to $6.

A 10-foot-long salad bar will offer customers an opportunity to make their own salad or order from a list of six salads, Fikru said.

Sandwiches on the menu include a meatless and dairy-free Philly cheesesteak that is made using seitan, a wheat gluten that mimics the texture of meat. The sandwich is topped with vegan cheese and caramelized onions, a favorite item of both chefs.

"When they take a bite of that sandwich, it will take them back to that moment when they took that first bite of a cheesesteak," Fikru said.

Both chefs, who appreciate comfort foods, hope to offer an alternative to nearby fast food chains.

"What we want to do is bring a nice vegetarian cuisine to Catonsville," Dunn said. "We want to bring mainstream America to vegetarian cuisine."

Dunn said a faux crab cake and Reuben sandwich will eventually be added to the menu, to offer a healthier, meatless version of American classics. The restaurant will also offer a version of a hamburger and french fries, to compete with a McDonald's down the street.

"Americans are creatures of comfort; they know what they like," Dunn said. "So we're offering burgers and fries at a slightly higher price, but with healthier ingredients."

Dunn said she hopes to show that with the right methods, chefs can transform healthy food that consumers may not find appealing into something tasty.

"Anything can be done by using techniques to manipulate food," Dunn said. "My battle is to show that the possibility is there."

Dunn used the restaurant's smoothies as an example.

"We don't use fat to bind the smoothie together," Dunn said. "Instead, we use specific freezing methods to hold the smoothie together."

Eventually they hope to turn the vegan and vegetarian restaurant into a chain, Dunn said.

For Fikru, becoming a vegetarian two years ago sparked the idea for opening such a business.

"I've been inspired to do this for a long time," Fikru said.

He has been working in restaurants since high school, both in the kitchen and the front of the house, and loves cooking, he said.

His Ethiopian roots are showcased on the menu in Hodu soup, named after his mother and consisting of lentils, celery, carrots, onions and orzo pasta.

Fikru said the entrepreneurs hope their business will benefit the community and the environment.

"We look at it as helping animals and something that benefits the community and ourselves," Fikru said.

Opening their first restaurant has had its challenges. They were anticipating opening in mid-May, but found there were too many issues to address and had to hold off.

"It can get overwhelming sometimes," Fikru said. "We're just two people trying to bring this dream alive — something new, funky and full of flavor."

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