I had never heard of Copper Branch prior to this foray. The company was established last year and is thus a newcomer to the vegan restaurant scene. It is native to Montreal, and aims to expand globally through franchise. It’s off to a good start, as it already boasts three locations: two in Montreal, and one in Brossard. They bill themselves as a healthy, vegan, environmentally responsible alternative to fast food. They also deliver.
My sister and I visited the original location on Bishop below St. Catherine. It is a little bit out of the way, the sign isn’t super prominent, and from the outside it doesn’t really look like a restaurant, which made it sort of hard to find. I did notice the terrasse in front later on, so I guess that in the summer it is easier to spot. Upon entering, one is struck by the rather odd juxtaposition between the fast food-style menus and counter setup, and the decor (faux-copper ceilings, copper pipes).
We ordered at the counter, paid, and sat down. When our poutines were ready a few minutes later, we went to pick them up at counter. The food came in large ceramic bowls, but the tea I ordered came in a take-out cup. The cutlery was plastic, and in terms of salt, individual packets were available. I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind deciding to use real bowls for the food, and disposable drinking containers and plastic cutlery. Maybe they couldn’t decide on their priorities so decided to hedge their bets? Maybe they wanted to make their food seem classier, but weren’t prepared to go all the way with the silverware? I don’t know.
On to the poutine! The best thing about it was the fries, which were nice and potato-y. On their website it says that they avoid frying, so it’s possible the fries were of the oven-variety, but in any case, they were good. The miso sauce was rather thick, and wasn’t very flavourful. It most certainly lacked salt and pepper. The portobello mushrooms were few and far between. The vegan cheese added absolutely nothing to the equation, neither flavour nor texture. To those of you who buy daiya vegan cheese on a regular basis…do you actually enjoy the flavour of this product? Or do you use it only for presentation’s sake? On the whole the poutine was rather soggy and bland. It lacked the textural interplay of a traditional poutine, and thus wasn’t very fun to eat.
Judging by this one dish, Copper Branch, like most of the vegan restaurants I’ve eaten at in Montreal, seems to the guilty of something I’d like to call the vegan superiority paradox.
vegan superiority paradox:
The belief that because one is serving food which is ethically superior (whether because it’s vegan, sustainable, fair-trade, eco-friendly, healthy, etc.), one does not need to strive for culinary greatness.
Paradoxically, for now, at least, these companies/restaurants seem to be right in this belief. Although the food served at vegan restaurants isn’t, in most cases, as tasty or as good (flavourwise) as equivalent dishes served in regular restaurants, they are still popular, and in most cases do very well. This is either because their customers lack alternatives, or because they believe that healthy food should be bland.
It is a good thing that more vegan and vegetarian restaurants are opening up and that the public is waking up to the problems with our food supply. I do find it saddening that so many of these restaurants seem to feel that ‘okay is good enough’ when it comes to flavour. I find it saddening because I know that vegan food need not be bland. It can be delicious. Build some flavour. Add some seasoning. It’s not that hard.
Hopefully one day I will finally have the opportunity to open my own restaurant so the I can prove that to the world.
‘Til next time…