Stand and Deliver

Photo by Amy TheligThe Franklin Mint ought to make plates that read, “Sometimes traffic is a gift from Jesus,” with a picture of maybe Christ and, I don't know, a stream of automobiles pouring from his holy, nail-pierced hands like blessings. One recent Sunday, PCH a miles-long ribbon of parking lot, Brad and I edging Mexicoward through Laguna Beach, we glanced up hilly Thalia Street and discovered the Stand, one of the last vestiges of the town's hippy past. Not yuppified in any way. Truth in advertising: the Stand is little more than wood, like, hammered together in the shape of a tropical roadside inn: outdoor seating; walls plastered with handwritten menus (key adjectives: “zesty,” “crisp,” “sumptuous”) advertising a Christmas list of salads, Mexican-influenced plates and a few fresh soups; famished birds twittering and hopping around for crumbs. As a centerpiece: a giant tree emerges from between the patio's wooden slats and through the middle of a large table to shade the entire business.

Brad and I approached this seeming paradise like two Nebraska fatties pillaging the buffet at the Circus Circus.

First, though, we encountered relics from the Age of Aquarius. A stooped, gray-haired man at the counter slowly repeated our order a number of times, each time pausing to perhaps leap the growing space between neurons: “Okay, hmmm . . . We have a vegetable salad . . . a bowl of corn chowder . . . ummm . . . a bean-and-rice tamale . . . a Special Oriental Burrito . . . a potato taco . . . well . . . one bean, rice and guacamole dip, a peanut butter sandwich, and a strawberry smoothie and an iced tea, right?”

Behind him, the cook—a guy no older than 18—danced and sang along as a Grateful Dead-knockoff buzzed from the radio. A fresh-faced girl, her fresh face never surrendering the smile, made smoothies and poured out drinks while humming in tune with the cook.

Beginning to feel like extras in Hair, visitors to Haight-Ashbury or Phish phollowers, we sought refuge in the Stand's small library only to encounter a pile of healthy-lifestyle pamphlets advertising chakra healers and “lifestyle coaches,” as well as something titled Wheatgrass: The Green Wonder. (“Wheatgrass is an excellent supplier of digestive and metabolic enzymes.”)

The salad arrived, a mound of superfresh romaine leaves topped with a roll call of the vegetable kingdom—jícama, zucchini, carrots, cucumbers and sprouts—all drenched with a tart lemon-herb dressing that made our tongues tingle. The corn chowder with abundant, juicy yellow corn was thinner than what non-vegans are used to, thanks to a noticeable lack of cream. Ditto for the salt. We were delighted by the bean-and-rice tamale (the sweet corn masa rivals that of any Mexican abuela); the Special Oriental Burrito's ginger- and tamari-doused vegetables hinted at new fusion possibilities for Mexican cuisine, Sino-Sinaloan. The simple peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich was denser than the Oxford dictionary and just as rewarding. We ate like hogs and yet wanted much, much more.

But as we mowed through the fabulous bean, rice and guacamole dip, Brad and I realized something. While everything we munched on solidified the Stand's reputation as South County's most delicious vegan eatery, people probably visit it less for the flavor of its entrées than the fact that it qualifies as Good for You. Yes, health food is grand and easy on the stomach . . . but damn it, we like fat and calories, lard and Tapatío, a bit of carne asada with our beans. Brad and I then began discussing the best places for authentic salty, greasy, spicy Mexican cuisine until we noticed the man at the counter gazing at us, a forlorn, you-stepped-on-my-kitten look on his mug. Remembering our manners, we lowered our voices, stuffed our mouths with that wonderful dip and continued our health-food heresies sotto voce.

The Stand, 238 Thalia St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8101. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. No alcohol. Dinner for two, $6-$15, food only. Visa, Mastercard, ATM.

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