Vahim Boyd, one of the partners at Oakland's new burger bar Grandeur, just wanted to create a place where everyone could eat together.
But as a vegan for nearly 20 years, Boyd knows firsthand how hard it can be to find a restaurant with sufficient plant-based options. And things get even harder if you're dining with company. Boyd comes from a family with lots of specialized diets — vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and carnivores, plus adherents to halal and gluten-free diets — and there were few places that could accommodate everyone's needs. Except in Boyd's own kitchen, of course.
"The menu is mainly informed by the way I eat and prepare food for my family," Boyd said. He's been cooking since before he went vegan, so he'll still prepare meat dishes for family gatherings, all while avoiding cross-contamination of any animal products.
Boyd knew there were plenty of people in the neighborhood who, like him, wanted to be able to go out to eat with their partners, friends, and family regardless of their dietary needs. So when he designed the menu at Grandeur, he included halal meat options as well as vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. Since the restaurant opened four months ago, Boyd has already had plenty of customers rave to him about how this is the first restaurant that could match everyone's preferences.
Though he's worked in other restaurants before, this is the first restaurant where Boyd has had total creative control. He teamed up with Nesanet Tamirue and her mother, Zenebech — part of the family that owns Enssaro across the street. The space where Grandeur sits used to be a coffee shop owned by the same family called Cafe Enssaro. Boyd has known the Tamirue family for over a decade as a frequent customer at Enssaro. Local artist Nicole Dixon did the restaurant's fresh, hip interior design, and she and her mother, Darlene Mattox, handle administrative duties at the restaurant. It's a Black-owned business, and at the core of it, Boyd said, is a team of strong women, including both mother-daughter duos.
Grandeur bills itself as a burger bar, and the burgers are highly customizable. Choose from a non-vegan brioche bun, a vegan pretzel bun, or a gluten-free Mariposa Baking bun. Many of the burgers come with suggested sauces and cheeses, but they're all swappable. And though it's not listed on the menu, all the cheeses are vegan, and so are all of the house-made sauces, which draw from a variety of influences including Ethiopian, Asian, and Middle Eastern. Pairing vegan sauces and cheeses might seem a little strange with the meat options, but for the most part, it works.
The chicken sandwich was one of my favorites. Boyd credits that recipe to his head chef and family friend Ali Woodard, who's worked in several successful restaurants back home in Georgia and Tennessee. The chicken was lightly breaded with a zesty, slightly spicy Southern-style seasoning, and the meat was juicy and tender. The default "secret sauce" — a vegan equivalent of the spread you'd find on an In-N-Out burger — added satisfying richness, while pickles and jalapeño slaw provided crunch. The brioche bun, with its fluffy texture and slight sweetness, paired especially well. It's not the most decadent fried chicken sandwich I've tried, but for those looking for a lighter-feeling sandwich, it's a good bet. It's also breaded in a gluten-free batter, making it ideal for those on restricted diets.
The beef burger was juicy without being greasy, and the ratio of meat, bun, and toppings was just right, with no components overwhelming the others. Vegans can swap out the beef patty with an Impossible or Beyond patty for an additional charge. I particularly enjoyed the default pairing with berbere barbecue sauce, an Ethiopian-inspired condiment that Boyd created himself. (The Tamirue family, he recalled, was "so excited and surprised" when he presented them with the sauce). The sauce was a little sweet, a little smoky, and a little spicy, adding interest to what was otherwise a pretty straightforward burger. If you're going to get cheese, I recommend sticking with the vegan cheddar. I found it tasted pretty close to the real deal, while the pepper jack cheese didn't melt right and had a greasy aftertaste.
The lamb burger was well-spiced with what tasted like a cumin-heavy spice blend, further accentuated by the vegan cumin aioli. The vegan feta was a convincing facsimile of the real thing that added salty, sharp bite, while arugula provided bitterness for balance and red onions added a little heat. My only gripe was the patty was a little dense, which threw off the textures of the burger a bit.
As for vegan options, Grandeur serves a solid falafel burger. The falafel is made in-house using dried chickpeas rather than falafel mix, giving the patty a nice, firm bite. The patty was well-seasoned with fresh herbs and garlic, though I would have preferred more salt. Vegan feta made another welcome appearance, while slices of fresh cucumber and red onion added crunch. The vegan pretzel bun paired well with the falafel with its toasty, chewy crust. Meanwhile, Boyd's creation of ginger tahini (his personal favorite sauce) added a hint of sweet spiciness and an almost Asian flair.
Even if you're tempted to skip the fries out of fear they won't be worth the calories (ahem, In-N-Out), don't pass up the fries here. The default fries come in a spiral shape — which I'd never seen before, but beat out curly fries in my book. They were lightly crisped around the edges, creamy on the inside, and perfectly seasoned. Same goes for the sweet potato fries, which often taste like mediocre health food but here tasted like crispy, caramelized bites of sweet potato pie.
As a meat eater, however, I'd pass on the twisted fries, which were regular fries topped with vegan cheese sauce and vegan bacon. I've had vegan cheese sauces I liked, but this one tasted oily and funky, and the bacon lacked crispness. I much preferred the cauliflower wings, which were coated in a gluten-free, adobo-spiced batter that added interest while allowing the flavor of the cauliflower to come through. Pick any of your two favorite sauces for dipping. It was a cravable snack that I bet vegans, vegetarians, meat eaters, and gluten-free and halal eaters alike could agree on.