Motobar, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant located in the former L.I.F.E. Bar and Lounge, represents the two passions of Paris Evans, who is the chef and co-owner along with her dad, Peter Evans.
With a love of cycles and a desire to eat a plant-based diet, the death of L.I.F.E. provided Evans with both opportunity and location.
Motobar is set on a narrow chassis. Chopper-style, the bar extends from the short run of the dining room into two parallel counters grounded with metal barstools.
Vintage pegboard is home to a Triumph pennant, Red Crown Gasoline ads, and the gears, gadgets and pliers that define the life of motorcycle maintenance.
Since opening in November, a variety of bikes have made cameo appearances at Motobar. Currently the rusted shell of a well-worn cycle stands at attention in the entry.
A series of rustic tables are lined up in tandem against oilcloth-covered banquettes whose patterns play up pin-ups, Day of the Death skulls, polka dots and tattoo decal designs.
Festive American flag facsimile pouffs add texture and color to the welcoming eating space where hinged tables provide both flexibility and dining turf. The repurposed tabletops sprout jars of fresh flowers: eucalyptus, winter greens and wheat grass spread some verdant love amid the socket wrenches and industrial lights.
The spirit of Motobar is bikes, but its soul is vegetarian and vegan foods. Since its November opening, Evans has had her share of “steering aids” and “twisties” in the road of entrepreneurship. Regulatory issues, frozen pipes, downed power lines and a kitchen renovation all have contributed to fits and starts in maintaining the menu and regular service hours.
And then there was they day they ran out of food, with a chalked sign inviting guest to come back at 2:30 p.m.
So going for greens and grains has not been easy.
Motobar currently offers Counter Culture coffee, a variety of “milk” options; and black, green and lychee tea with boba available. House-made kombucha, along with matcha and chai expand the tea options.
Blue Blaze sodas and syrups are available. Blue Blaze (an Asheville company) keeps it real by using fresh, local products and was a contender for Garden and Gun’s Made In the South Awards 2014.
Juices are freshly squeezed and incorporated into a well-edited juice bar program where the beverages are named after great roads and routes to ride your motorcycle/bike/car.
Smoothies receive equal adoration and the Highway 1 satisfied on many counts. Almond milk, peach, papaya and coconut trip your tongue with the “light tropical” sparked by natural sweetness, not refined sugar. The Skyline Drive juice blend, not so much, in which bitter elements over-shadowed the apple-cucumber-carrot base.
The breakfast menu has had a few iterations since opening but consistently offers a house-made granola named after the Ozello Trail Ride, coconut yogurt parfaits, spiced waffles and a veggie bagel.
Sandwiches and salads are the core lunch and evening offerings. French fries; Lebanese fries with cilantro, chili, cayenne, lime and clove ketchup; and plantain chips shore up the bar snacks and fresh spring rolls shroud whatever daily vegetables the kitchen fabricates into Pan-Asian treats.
Baked goods were slim at the times of our visits with a trail mix and chocolate bark the available sweet options. This is Evans’ expertise, so do plan a visit when her miniature bundt cakes, doughnuts, chai-spiced cookies and zeppole are available.
Overall, Motobar surprises by not having any soups, vegetable ragouts, global fritters, stews, vegetable pastas and grain dishes on the menu. The kitchen may hamstring the menu on that score.
The evening “share plate” has featured tacos, poutine, tofu bites and “fauxrizo” tacos.
The overall ingredient quality earns high marks for freshness. No wilted greens, limp sprouts, oxidized mushrooms or slimy cabbage find their way into salads or sandwiches.
Dressings are freshly made, the salads are substantial and sandwiches suffer no second-rate vegetables but are hard to eat as the ingredients launch themselves as you take a bite.
The warm dishes were meat analogues.
I have always found it a bit of a conundrum that a vegan or vegetarian would abstain from eating meat but then look for “faux” meat products on the menu at meat-free establishments: Coconut bacon? Fake meat pepperoni? Naked Cutlets? Chik’n Tenders? Why so many “impersonators” if one is not a meat-eater?
That being said, Evans offers a croque monsieur with “ham” and “cheese,” and the banh mi dog, which is a tasty pup treated with the shredded daikon, carrots, chiles, cilantro, romaine and sesame a la Vietnamese sandwich classic.
For chef-owner Paris Evans, Motobar represents the simple act of finding a place that caters to her tastes. And for all of us omnivores out there, we might very well be entering the Age of Veganism. The documentary, website and food movement “Forks Over Knives” and Mark Bittman’s “The VB6 Cookbook” are all shining the light on a meal without meat. And recently Chipotle introduced the “sofritas” into our market, braising soy with chiles and spices into a meatless burrito.
From the high-end vegan and vegetarian fare found at Greens in San Francisco (since 1979) to Vedge in Philadelphia, Gracias Madre in San Francisco and Plant in Asheville, chefs and diners are discovering the merits of a diet based on fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Motobar provides the Charleston market another meatless and vegan alternative. Whether your food decisions are based on health and wellness or ethical and environmental concerns, Paris Evans and her team will help you “stay vertical.”