Whether vegetarian, vegan or vegcurious,  Chef Mike Schoening and partner Sheila Siegel of Leaf & Lentil simply want all types of eaters to know that vegan food can sit at the same table as mainstream diets. “We have had so many customers who are meat eaters tell us that they are shocked at how great the food is, that they had no idea a vegan sandwich or other dish could be so delicious,” says Sheila. The new, fast-casual eatery experiments with simple, quality dishes, which just happen to be vegan. “We hope to show people how delicious this type of food can be, that it’s good for you and good for the planet,” she says. “People often don’t know where their food comes from, what they are putting into their bodies and the impact that food has on their health and on the environment.”

Polenta Fries with avocado drizzle.

POLENTA FRIES WITH AVOCADO DRIZZLE.

Chef Mike comes up with  an ever-changing, rotating menu, to which Sheila will hang each item on a piece of paper on the back wall daily. Not knowing exactly what you’ll be coming in to order is part of the impromptu charm of this wholesome eatery, along with the friendly, open invite to any and all—no matter their dietary preferences. Just know, Chef Mike’s black bean quesadillas unintentionally tempt many to consider converting to a lifestyle of veganism. “We’ve had several non-vegans say, ‘That dish could turn me vegan,’” quips Sheila.

Mellow, sun-filled cafe vibes.

MELLOW, SUN-FILLED CAFE VIBES.

Meanwhile, main plates like the New Orleans Po’ Boy craftily swap the typical meat—in this case, shrimp—for a plant-based substitute, like zucchini fritters, then finish the Po’ Boy with a vegan remoulade,  tomato and arugula. The Portobello Reuben remains Leaf & Lentil’s best-selling sandwich. It must be the “pastrami” spiced portobello mushrooms, sauerkraut, housemade vegan cheese and Russian dressing on grilled pumpernickel sourdough. The Chickpea Salad Sandwich is reminiscent of a tuna salad sandwich, but replaces the “chicken of the sea” for a “chicken of the garden,” mixing the chickpeas with onions and celery in a vegan mayo. And depending on the day, alternating specials come around throughout the week such as Banh Mi Monday, skipping the pork and resorting to marinated tofu on a French baguette, with chili sauce, pickled daikon radish, carrots, cucumber and cilantro; Tortilla Tuesday, grilled with shredded “cheese,” sautéed onions and bell peppers, topped with a chipotle black bean sauce; and, finally, Falafel Friday, made with housemade falafel, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, lettuce, tahini and cilantro sauce. 

“We want our diners to have fresh and changing options, and to be able to take advantage of excellent ingredients when they are available,” explains Sheila. Going along with the revolving menu, Chef Mike’s rice plates, grilled cheeses, quesadillas, hearty soups and salads often highlight and rotate a variety of fresh veggies that are in season at that time. The Mandarin Peanut Salad with shredded cabbage, Mandarin oranges, red bell peppers, carrots and peanuts, in an oil-free coconut dressing, is Sheila’s personal favorite at the moment. “It is so savory and sweet and delicious,” she shares. 

Localism just so happens to be as important as veganism for Leaf & Lentil—going out of its way to support a handful of fellow local businesses. “We believe strong local partnerships help our customers get the highest-quality food and drinks,” Sheila says. Healthful beverages local to Sarasota include Kombucha 221 B.C., Lelu’s Cold Brew Coffee and house-brewed iced teas by Local Tea Company, as well as other liquids local to St. Petersburg, including Min’s Matcha Tea, Sunny Culture Live Sparkling Probiotic Water Kefir and Mother Kombucha. And depending on who you talk to, desserts are more important than the meal, which is why there are plenty of options for sweet-tooth vegans. Local ice cream company SRQ Vegan Love handmakes organic, small-batch ice creams with various alternatives to milk that come in flavors such as golden milk, mint chocolate chip, creamsicle and dark chocolate, while local baker of WeVegan Eats supplies the baked goods with chocolate chunk cookies, gluten-free brownies, banana bread and more. “At the end of the day,” says Sheila, “we just want to serve food that helps change minds about vegan eating.”