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Vegan Brunch at the Pinhook

Posted by MEZ 2 Aug 2010 18 Comments

Close to a year ago now, the Pinhook, a downtown Durham rock venue, started hosting vegan brunches on the first Sundays of the month. Chef Shirle was the cook for these relaxed dining events back then, but the cooking was transferred over to the Fiction Kitchen a few months ago. I’d been hearing about the brunches since they first started, and being someone who never minds when meat goes missing from a meal, I wanted to check them out. The stars finally aligned this past weekend. The first thing I learned:

This is a popular event! I got to the Pinhook at almost 12:30 and the line was about halfway down the block. It went slowly, though the wait was definitely hastened by chatting with a couple of regulars at the monthly events and an out-of-towner who’d driven from High Point to attend. Only about 10 more people were able to get in after I did, and then the food was out. So if you’re interested in checking out the next one, make sure to get there early!

After paying my $7 at the door, I moved right over to the sheet-covered pool table where Caroline and Siobhan, Fiction Kitchen’s owners and chefs, were serving up the grub. On the menu were a summer squash gratin with creamy béchamel, crepes with asparagus and pea and mint puree, and roasted tomato ragout. The price included a portion of all three options and either coffee or tea. Seating was a free-for-all with people lounging all over the Pinhook’s couches and chairs as well as sitting on the stage and a few tables outside.

The Pinhook also had a bartender on staff if you wanted a Bloody Mary ($7) or Versailles ($6) to go with your brunch. I must say, that was the strangest Bloody Mary I’ve ever had. It was really thick and had some sort of unusual flavor that wasn’t to my liking. I want to say it was olive juice, but I’m hoping someone from the Pinhook will find this blog and jump in with the right mystery ingredient. It was moderately spicy.

What about that food, you say?

I liked the crepes the best and thought their texture was pretty good, even without eggs to fluff them up. Caroline said they hadn’t come out quite like she wanted, but with the pea and mint puree to kick up the flavor, I thought they were tasty. The squash in the squash gratin was definitely overcooked but managed to taste bright and sweet anyhow. The ragout was fine, too, but I don’t think I’d go back just on the basis of the food offered—and since the menu changes each time, this month’s okay meal could easily be a fantastic one the next time. But the real reason to go to the monthly brunch is for the vibe: a homemade meal with a bunch of mostly late twenty- to early fortysomething Durhamites (and some out-of-towners and fifty- to sixtysomethings, too) with similar food philosophies getting together. Not being a vegan, I can’t quite imagine how exciting it is to find an opportunity to eat out with a menu solely designed to fit your culinary needs, and from the line and the smiles of the crowd, I’d say that it has definitely created a sense of community among the vegan and vegetarian folks around here. Everyone seemed happy to be there to support the effort to provide a vegan option for eating out, if only once a month.

Have you been and would you agree? How was the food at other brunches? Caroline is toying with the idea of “crab” cakes and creamed corn for the next one.

Monthly Vegan Brunch at the Pinhook
117 West Main, Downtown Durham
Pinhook website
The Fiction Kitchen website
$7, 12 pm to 2 pm, first Sunday of the month

Reviewed 8.1.10.


  • Housel said:

    My husband and I showed up at 12:30 as well, but when we saw the line, we kept on driving. By that time, we were so hungry we needed to eat right away. I’m glad to know that it’s a monthly event, and we’ll be sure to head over next month. I’m looking forward to mock crab cakes!

    My only suggestion is to maybe start the brunch a little earlier, like maybe 10?


    Caroline replies on August 12th, 2010 at 11:54 am:

    Housel, just an update for you and everyone! The mock crab cakes are ON the menu for the September brunch! Come and get them 9/5 at the Pinhook!


  • LD said:

    Gotta disagree w/ the post — I thought this brunch was absolutely wonderful! I’m not vegan, but I am vegetarian, and I went with a (non-vegetarian) friend of mine. We both agreed that it was great food. I *loved* the gratin, so much that I talked to the servers afterward about how to make it. I also liked the crepes a lot, but the pea-mint puree was maybe my least favorite, though still good. The ragout was really delicious too – so rich and flavorful.

    I’ve been going to vegan brunches since they started. Some months are better than others, but I’ve had some great, memorable meals. What a fun thing for Durham.


    MEZ replies on August 5th, 2010 at 6:15 pm:

    Full disclosure: I’ve been on bechamel sauce overload for a year or so now—for some reason, it no longer tastes like anything but a boring, plain, milky goo to me when I try it in anything whatsoever, so that would easily have swayed my opinion of the gratin.I did like the squashes’ flavor. And the crepes were good!


  • The Top 10 Vegan Restaurants in Los Angeles at Giggling Vegan said:

    [...] Vegan Brunch at the Pinhook | Carpe Durham [...]

  • Caroline said:

    Wow, thanks for the write up and feed back. This was interesting to stumble upon! I always love feedback of any kind! I can answer to Housel that although the suggestion is great, since the Pinhook is a bar and is providing the space, the hour of opening will stay at noon. The Fiction Kitchen members (Siobhan and I) get up bright an early and go cook the food that morning at Mez restaurant in Durham. The Chapel Hill Food group (I was a line cook there) allows us to cook the food at their space then bring it to The Pinhook that morning. We have two friends that help us set everything up and get ready for the 12pm opening.
    We will continue to try and make enough for 150 for each brunch. This is the most I believe we are capable to handle with keeping quality in mind.
    While I know that since the menu varies, we can not cater to all taste buds with every menu, but suggestions are welcome. Join the The Fiction Kitchen group on facebook for menu announcements and discussions. You can also contact us at TheFictionKitchen@gmail.com.
    The Fiction Kitchen is looking forward to many more brunches to come.


    MEZ replies on August 5th, 2010 at 6:17 pm:

    Glad you found it. I can’t wait until you are able to someday open a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in the area. There’s obviously a demand for one!


  • Varani said:

    Caroline and Siobhan are doing an amazing job with conjuring up tasty vegan options. If you missed out on the Vegan BBQ in June it was holy moly good…and I am a meat eater!

    Remember folks, you cannot serve alcohol in North Carolina until Noon on Sundays so that might play another part in the start time.

    With minimal vegan and vegetarian options in the Triangle instead of your standard veggie burger or doctored salad, Fiction Kitchen has what this area needs. I am so excited to see it grow into a permanent full time restaurant someday.


  • burgeoningfoodie said:

    The only things I’ll say or ask are.. why bother taking a photo of a plate of food if the food on it (though listed in the text) can’t be determined. Also, which part of this “meal” constituted the breakfast part of brunch?


    MEZ replies on August 5th, 2010 at 6:21 pm:

    I agree—that definitely wasn’t my best food photo ever. The lighting was low in the Pinhook, and I should have just given in to the need for my flash; I just hate the lighting that flashes provide, so I opted for somewhat unfocused instead. I’d definitely say that crepes are considered brunch items, but since there’s a different theme each month, I think these are less about providing food that fits the definition of brunch and more about the time of day it’s served on a Sunday.


  • Eleni said:

    Thanks for posting this! Having moved from Seattle, home of about 15 vegan restaurants, the absence of vegan cuisine in Durham is definitely noticeable. Fiction Kitchen does a great job of serving up tasty and imaginative vegan dishes for a wide range of tastes. I’ve been to all of their events. Hopefully someone will catch on and open a vegan restaurant in Durham…home cooking, not too expensive…tasty and filling seitan options…discount for people named Eleni…etc etc



  • The Bull City Vegan Challenge in October | Carpe Durham said:

    [...] the band Free Electric State—had started the monthly vegan brunches at the Pinhook, which I posted about a few weeks ago, but I didn’t know that she’s not vegan, either, so I asked her why she’s so [...]

  • Aurelia said:

    Someone please take pity on my curiosity and tell me what is in a vegan bechamel! Thank you!


    Caroline replies on August 19th, 2010 at 1:35 pm:


    I bechamel sauce is usually a milk based sauced thickened by a roux (equal parts of flour and clarified butter). To make this vegan, I used coconut milk(for the milk) and earth balance (for the butter in the roux).

    Good question and I enjoy the curiosity!


    TSQ75 replies on August 19th, 2010 at 1:57 pm:

    EB makes great roux! I imagine the coconut milk was nice and mild and worked with the salt in the EB. bravo!


    Aurelia replies on August 29th, 2010 at 1:21 am:

    Oh man. That sounds amazing. Thanks for replying!


    Jon-Erik replies on January 29th, 2011 at 1:05 pm:

    Coconut milk has a pretty strong flavor of coconut. I’m glad it worked in this dish, but it might not always. Another option would be hemp milk, which is thick like coconut milk, but nutty in flavor.


  • Caroline said:

    Everyone should come out on December 5th for the next vegan brunch…Menu:

    Southern biscuit topped with
    Sawmill Soysage Gravy
    and sides of
    Roasted Root Vegetable Hash (GF)
    Fruit (GF)
    $8 prix fixe menu that includes your choice of coffee/hot tea


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