Good news, G-Zen fans! You can now find your favorite vegan food at G-Monkey in West Hartford – Hartford Courant
When Branford’s plant-based gourmet restaurant G-Zen closed in April, area vegans and flexitarians cried. Where would they go for their Zen burgers made with black beans, their Reubens made with marinated tempeh or the chili-cheese fries with sweet potatoes and “Not Yo Cheese” made with coconut?
Now they have their answer. G-Monkey Plant-Fueled Fast Food opened June 30 at 625 New Park Ave. in West Hartford. Co-owner Ami Beach said the new restaurant is an “evolution” of G-Zen toward a more focused menu, a focus on takeout, and a quick-service model.
However, Beach said, G-Monkey flips the script on the fast food paradigm serving the freshest food possible.
“When you think of fast food, you think of polystyrene wrappers, anything that’s pre-made and put under a heat lamp, lots of processed ingredients, all the free ketchup you want, everything’s quick and put in a bag together,” Beach said.
“We do things quickly, but everything is made to order in-house daily from scratch. We even make the ketchup from scratch. We try to deliver people in 15 minutes, but in reality it’s between 10 minutes and half an hour. What we do is labor intensive. Good things come to those who wait,” she said.
The menu includes items from G-Zen, narrowed down to the most popular and most adaptable to the take-out model. Many items are gluten free. There are no soy-based entrees on the menu. All meat-like ingredients are homemade. “No impossible, no beyond,” Beach said.
The burgers are the popular Zen ($12) with a “Nay-yo” mayonnaise-like dressing, the Epic Cheeseburger ($14) with that “Not Yo Cheese”, the Colossal Smoked Bacon Cheeseburger ($16) with the coconut bacon and the Brava Burger. ($17) with pineapple and Sriracha Nay-yo.
Handhelds include Veganlicious Grilled Cheese ($15), second grilled cheese with kimchi ($17), Downward Dog Bean Burrito ($14), this Reuben tempeh ($15), avocado toast ($16) and Roman nut pate tacos ($16).
The bowls are Naked Burger Bowl with a Zen Patty ($16), Colossal Burger Bowl ($17), Buddha Bowl with Cashew “Parmesan” Dust ($16), Pure Radiance Bowl with Dates and Raisins ($16), the Feisty Monkey Bowl ($14) with Pasta and Peanut-Cilantro Sauce,” and the Tuna-Flavored Chickpea from the Sea Poke Bowl ($17) with kimchi, pumpkin and brown rice.
Popular G-Fries made with hand-cut sweet potatoes are served with house-smoked hickory ketchup and come in regular ($7-$10), chili-cheese ($14), disco with Not Yo Cheese and vegetable sauce ($14) and cinnamon-maple for $12.
Soups are $8 and salads range from $10 to $15. Desserts range from $7 for the truffles to $12 for the lemon-lavender cheesecake. Kid’s meals are $7-$8. Drinks range from $3 for tea to $12 for herbal and fruit elixirs.
All utensils and dishes are compostable, made with vegetable fibers. “It may look like a simple cup, but in three weeks it will come back down to earth,” Beach said.
G-Monkey had a tough soft opening over the July 4 holiday weekend. This was due to the new concept, which was unfamiliar to many diners: fast food that was not as fast as they had expected and additional charges for extra condiments. It was also due to the huge crowd that showed up to greet Beach and her husband and co-owner Mark Shadle.
“People came from everywhere, from Rhode Island to New York, to come to G-Zen. They come here too. We’re reaching a new market as well as people who are interested in vegan food,” Beach said. “We thought we could sneak in here quietly, but it was madness, every seat was taken. It was like a concert.”
Shadle is the chef of G-Monkey, as well as the G-Monkey food truck that has been touring the Hartford area since 2009 and still comes out on Sundays. He got his start as the original owner of It’s Only Natural in Middletown.
Since then, Shadle has made his mark nationally, with medals at the Culinary Olympics, an invitation from Michelle Obama to cook at the White House, and a Chef of the Year nomination from the Connecticut Restaurant Association.
Her story is illustrated by a wall of rolling pins in the store.
“They mean all of his cooking over the years, from his grandmother, to his mother, to him. He rolls buns by hand every day,” Beach said, showing off a bun branded with the restaurant’s cute monkey logo.
The wall next to the rolling pins will soon be decorated in honor of Culebra, Puerto Rico, where the couple also have a home.
Beach, who grew up in West Hartford, is an herbalist and nutritionist, who previously worked as a colon hydrotherapist and a seller of holistic health and body products. Moving to West Hartford was a homecoming for her. “I wanted to come back,” she said.
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The products used to make the food come from many local organic farms, including Shadle Solar Farm from Shadle and Beach in Durham. The other farms are Leaning Oak in Durham, Forest City in Middletown and KNOX in Hartford.
The restaurant sells a variety of products bearing the monkey logo. Sales of the merchandise help fund the couple’s favorite charitable causes, such as animal rescue, homelessness, addiction recovery, food banks and children’s organizations, especially in Culebra.
“It’s important to us that the people who put their money here, in addition to getting organic and non-GMO food, also donate money to help people,” Beach said.
G-Monkey Plant-Fueled Fast Food, at 625 New Park Ave., West Hartford, is open from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Diners can order online via the ToastTab app or onsite. No delivery or phone orders. gmonkeyfastfood.com.
Susan Dunne can be contacted at [email protected].