When it opened in December in downtown Ferndale, Spacecat V-stro plugged another in the dwindling number of gaps in metro Detroit's ever-expanding vegan and vegetarian restaurant universe — vegetarian comfort food focused on breakfast and lunch.
The menu's theme is big, bright flavor profiles and presentations, and most of Spacecat's menu is made from scratch — no Beyond or Impossible meats. That provides owner/chef Shellly Carlisle the opportunity to fortify dishes with proteins and nutrients that are harder to come by in pre-prepared products. There's something for everyone at each point on the spectrum, Carlisle says. Every plate but one can be made vegan, and many options are or can be made soy- and gluten-free, but there's options for dairy cheese to be applied to otherwise vegan plates.
Among the highlights are Spacecat's proteins, particularly its sausage, which is a success in the biscuits and gravy. The gravy is surprisingly rich for a vegetarian version, filled with bits of flavorful sausage that's made from beans and vital wheat gluten, and cooked "delicately" to retain moisture. The jalapeño cheese biscuits are light, soft and crumbly, as they should be, and are made with vegan butter, vegan cheese, and function as a solid sponge for the gravy.
It's such dishes that helped Spacecat cultivate a following while running pop-ups for several years before opening the brick and mortar shop, and that made the bumpy ride that is opening a restaurant during the pandemic a little smoother. Carlisle says she chose Ferndale, where she lives, because it's the "only city that ever felt like home to me," and there are also a few areas in metro Detroit that are friendlier to a veg restaurant.
The sausage is also part of the Purrito, a hefty and hearty fall-friendly burrito composed of a Burmese tofu scrambled that's wrapped with red pepper, kale, sausage, and a cheese sauce. Carlisle opted for Burmese tofu because tofu scrambles can be a bit tired. The Burmese version is soy-free and starts with chickpea flour mixed with the spices that takes on a pudding consistency before solidifying, and when it's crumbled and stir fried, the texture isn't unlike scrambled eggs, but with a bit more depth in flavor.
My dining partner and I also enjoyed Spacecat's chkn, which we got in two plates. The Spacecat Chkn Sandwich offers a thick piece of seitan that's done right with a solid panko shell, slather of mayo, lettuce, onion, and pickles, for an acidic counterpoint. It's held by a toasted sesame seed bun, and my only minor complaint is that the patty is so thick that it slightly throws the sandwich's flavor profile out of balance. However, that's far from a dealbreaker, and this is the first place I'd go on a return visit. Frankie's Hot Chckn Fingers come soaked in a lively homemade hot sauce and we dipped the tasty pieces in Spacecat's cooling dill ranch.
I normally don't go for a beet-centered dish, but was intrigued enough by the description of the Red Dwarf, a burger with a patty composed mostly of beets with rice and lentils, that I bit. It's packed between sesame seed buns with avocado, salty carrot b*c*n, good crunch from red cabbage, and a "magic sauce" that's like a creamy barbecue sauce. It's a bright package, and if beets are your jam, then this is your plate.
The cheese sticks are sizable and panko-crusted, and Spacecat developed a cashew-based cheese with several flours designed to give it a gooey, stretch-y component, though we found it more on the creamy side, but still excellent. The mac and cheese's sauce is made from roasted vegetables, nutritional yeast, and is also creamy, heavy on the garlic and awesome. Spacecat drenches a gluten-free Banza chickpea noodle with the sauce
Dishes come with sides like a salad, garlicky greens, or crispy sweet potato. The restaurant, which is currently carryout only, also offers a line of desserts, and regular rotation of specials (last weekend's was a barbecue sandwich inspired by the nearby Pig and Whiskey festival). The only dish that can't be made vegan is the Toad in a Hole, a cheese, tempeh bacon and fried egg sandwich. Indeed, when Carilisle says there's something for everyone, she's even including your meat-and-potatoes-loving dad.