Vegetarian or not, The Loopy Leaf is deliriously good
In other downtown restaurant news, Nosh is closing its doors at the end of December.
In addition to being my newest restaurant obsession, The Loopy Leaf is also one of the most perfectly named dining spots around.
Not just because “Loopy” may reference the West Virginia craft beer it serves and “Leaf” is an obvious nod to its 100% plant-based menu, but I’m also downright giddy and deliriously impressed with the place.
Simply put, this cool little downtown Charleston café is the region’s most exciting restaurant opening this year. Whether you’re a strict vegetarian or a self-proclaimed carnivore, you’re going to fall madly in love with the food here.
With ties to Kelley Farm Kitchen, the Harper’s Ferry restaurant I told you about that was named #1 on the Yelp Community’s Top 100 Places to Eat in 2021, The Loopy Leaf opened its doors in mid-October on the corner of Virginia and Summers streets, in the spot that previously housed Melange Café.
The 100% female-owned restaurant serves up dishes from a large 100% plant-based menu, but it’s not the typical vegan food type of place you’d expect.
Alongside a selection of raw oil-free items and veggie-heavy salads are dozens of big fat juicy burgers, brats and sandwiches. Nachos, tacos and tostadas. Chips and dips. Soups and chili. Hoagies, subs and sides. Not to mention a handful of gigantic flavor-packed ramen bowls that seem to be in a heated battle with The Loopy Leaf’s 14 different Impossible and Beyond burgers to become the restaurant’s signature dish.
And no, The Loopy Leaf’s towering sandwiches aren’t daintily topped with soybeans, sprouts and wheat germ. You’ll find them overflowing with vegan bacon and cheese, organic greens and fresh veggies, fried mushrooms and onions, tangy sauces and dressings, kimchi and jalapenos, avocados and pineapple, and so much more.
In a word, messy. Epically and deliciously messy – just like a good burger should be.
The burger choices are so tempting, in fact, that I was too overwhelmed to pick one during my first visit, opting instead for the large Spicy Katsu & Kimchi Ramen Bowl. What a glorious “second” choice that was! Topped with those two featured ingredients and full of purple cabbage, green onions, orange carrots and organic greens swimming in a spicy broth, it offered an explosion of flavors with every slurp. I could literally eat it every day.
On follow-up visits, I tried a delicious Beyond bratwurst topped with stoneground mustard and kraut, an avocado tostada with ranch slaw, a phenomenal bowl of Thanksgiving stuffing with rich gravy, and another great ramen bowl spiked with savory curry.
And finally, one glorious afternoon, I got my burger.
Still unable to decide – the Classic or the Bacon Cheeseburger, the Greek or the Hawaiian, the Diablo or the Seoulmate, the Black & Blue or the Chili & Cheese – I put myself at the mercy of the woman taking my order.
“You have to pick for me,” I begged. “The burger choices are … Beyond Impossible!” (See what I did there?) “I’m getting you the Mountaineer,” she laughed. “It has my heart.”
Stuffed with a mixture of fried mushrooms and onions, melted gouda, greens, crispy onion straws and creamy horseradish sauce, it has mine now, too.
Proof that nothing’s perfect, however, my latest visit during Sunday brunch showed a few areas for improvement.
The cup of chili I tried was only so-so. I didn’t miss the meat, but it was definitely lacking oomph, in my opinion – looking and tasting more like a cup of spicy dark beans rather than featuring much in the way of tomatoes, garlic or traditional chili flavor.
As for the Chik’n and waffles with “sausage” gravy, only the Chik’n stood out in that dish. It looked and tasted like a nicely seasoned chicken patty, but the gravy was a tad bland, the thick waffle was more bread-like and fairly tasteless on its own, and the hot sauce drizzled on top was a bit overpowering. (There was a scant bit of syrup at the bottom of the bowl, but more sweetness was needed to balance the dish’s spicy and savory notes.)
But after five or so visits, this was the only time I’ve left The Loopy Leaf anything less than 100% impressed. Pretty good odds, in my book.
I still haven’t tried any of the restaurant’s plant-based seafood dishes, like the tuna salad or crab cake sandwich, but they’re on my list. So are sandwiches like the Kentucky Bourbon BBQ, Nashville Hot Chik’n, Bhan Mi, Cheesesteak Hoagie, Chik’n Parm, Grilled Reuben and Classic BLT, plus salads featuring ingredients like Buffalo or country-fried Chik’n, marinated chickpeas with artichokes and olives, or fresh fruit with avocado and sunflower seeds.
If the above odds are any indication, I have a garden of good meals coming my way!
I absolutely adore this place. Not only for its cool vibe, noble purpose, sustainability efforts and emphasis on healthier eating, but also because the food is just that dang good.
IF YOU GO: The Loopy Leaf, 700 Virginia St. E. in downtown Charleston, is usually open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, but food supply challenges may affect operating hours. For more information, call 681-265-0553, visit www.theloopyleaf.com or check out the restaurant’s Facebook page.
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Although The Loopy Leaf is flourishing, another nearby downtown café is coming to an end.
In a Facebook post to its followers Monday morning, Nosh Catering & Carryout announced it is “closing our doors for good” at the end of this month.
“It’s crazy to think that just when we start to get our feet back under us from COVID, life starts pulling us in a different direction. That is just how life is,” the post stated.
“We are truly excited for the new adventures that we are about to begin, but we will miss this incredible community and the family that we have built here. We cannot express how grateful we are to all of you for your love and support throughout the years. We have loved being a part of your special moments, and we hold them dear to our hearts.”
That only leaves me a few more weeks to try Nosh’s famous Thursday special, the Monte Cristo!
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Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.