Say Cheeze

Fashionable, naturally vegan items such as bruschetta and a triple-variety hummus plate are among the offerings. Photo by Karin Strickland

The happy success of vegan Sanctuary Brewing Company in Hendersonville proves that the meat- and dairy-free lifestyle, along with its goals of animal advocacy, no longer counts as a fringe endeavor. Then again, craft beer pretty much goes with everything, and Sanctuary’s warm-fuzzy events — which have numbered puppy bowls and yoga sessions with adoptable cats — aren’t exactly a tough sell.

But when you fool with pizza, you’re in hot-lava territory. The owners of Garlik Vegan Pizza and Dining in Horse Shoe took a big chance when they opened their restaurant in a rural location in March and made the king of comfort foods the biggest part of their brand. Far from the stereotype of a gritty hippie café, but not a high-end foodie destination, either, Garlik Vegan comes closest to seeming like a neighborhood Italian joint. Its arched interior walls are painted a rich avocado, and, true to its promise, it smells wonderfully garlicky, although the name is actually a combination of owners Christine Kozlik and Michael Garrett’s own last names. The family operation features Christine’s three children, teenage daughters Rayven and Aleigha and son Zen, 10, in active roles.

Like any good vegan restaurant, Garlik hits a savory spot with its homemade dressings. Photo by Karin Strickland

A long and varied beverage list clues one in to the healthy scheme. Coffee, kombucha, beer, hard cider, and wine join an array of smoothies, watermelon juice, and infused water. The appetizer list is also robust. Fashionable, naturally vegan items such as bruschetta and a triple-variety hummus plate are among the offerings, and also meat-alternative nuggets, spicy Buffalo Tempeh, and crunchy barbecued drumsticks (an obvious fraternal twin of chicken wings). The drumsticks reach the hardest — the fake bone inside each one is oddly reminiscent of a dog’s rawhide chew toy — but the poultry substitute works great for the “Chik’n” Salad, made on a fresh bed of greens with almonds and one of the restaurant’s light, delicious homemade dressings.

Desserts like this chocolate dairy-free cheesecake are other house specialties. Photo by Karin Strickland

There’s a divide in the vegan community over whether meat substitutes erode the cause — why disguise an item to resemble its enemy counterpart? — or help serve it, soothing carnivores with reasonable facsimiles of their favorite foods. First on Garlik Vegan’s entree list is a stir fry with lemongrass/chili seasoning and cashews ladled over brown rice and spinach, and it’s this kind of savory meal that’s become more prevalent in modern vegan bistros, the ones that shun the meat-replacement route.

Regardless, the combination of finger food and boutique dishes is heaven sent to the south-of-Asheville vegan community. The family has been vacationing in Western North Carolina for more than 20 years and they now find themselves in good company. “Vegans love the fact that they can order anything from the menu,” says Christine, and Rayven confirms, “I know what it’s like not being able to eat well unless you cook it for yourself, or having so few vegan options when out in public.” However, she adds, “I feel like Garlik caters to everyone.”

Christine Kozlik and her family crew are branding their name with beautiful vegan pizzas. Photo by Karin Strickland

Aleigha, a server, says she loves being able to work with her family and gain food-industry experience. “The community has welcomed us,” she says, and Christine adds, “they see that we’re here working hard every day.” (Zen’s job for now is folding pizza boxes.)

A vegetarian for 30 years and dairy free for the last five — the shift was inspired when she met Michael — Christine notes that none of her children have ever eaten meat. “Vegan is love,” she says. “It’s based on the concept that life is precious. It should be valued and respected, not taken away.”

The mission is admirable, but luckily, so are the pies. In her role as pizza chef, Rayven is turning out beautiful work, including trendy specialties like Margherita and white pizzas. The veggies are fresh, the crust is golden and bubbling, and the vegan “cheeze” — Garlik has numerous varieties, including a dependable mozzarella stand-in and a cashew-based ricotta-type blend made in house — is creamier than expected. The seasoning is spot on, the textures all come together. Nothing feels like it’s missing.

“Many of our guests are not vegan,” says Christine. “But they still love coming here.”

Garlik Vegan Pizza and Dining, 3754 Brevard Road Suite 108, Horse Shoe. Open Tuesday through Thursday 11am-8pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-9pm. For more information, call 828-513-1503 or see garlikvegan.com.

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