Imagine it: chicken, beef, salami, pepperoni, bacon, lamb, and gooey cheeses made into entrées, salads, subs, wraps, soups, and dips in the culinary traditions of Mexico, China, Cuba, Italy, and the Middle East.
And all of them are vegan.
No, you have not died and gone to vegan heaven. They are real, and you will find them at Sara’s restaurant in Hollywood.
“Baklava with no honey. I promise you, no honey,” says co-owner Vicki Canaan with a laugh. “Zero butter — vegan, vegetarian, and kosher.”
What began as an Orthodox kosher restaurant in 1993 has grown into a casual, mostly vegan restaurant attracting more than just those of the Jewish faith.
“Suddenly, I saw that 40 percent of the customers were Jewish Orthodox, and 40 percent were vegan,” Canaan says. “They were coming in groups on Saturday night and staying until 2 in the morning.”
Sara’s offers over 50 vegan options, including the Rubinovich – a corned beef sandwich with lettuce, tomato, sauerkraut, grilled onions, melted cheese, and a special creamy sauce.
Pizza that would make a Sicilian jealous, as well as Mexican dishes including quesadillas, nachos, fajitas, enchiladas, and chimichangas, are all on the menu, as are American classics like the vegan cheeseburger and fries.
Canaan is quick to explain the strident measures taken to avoid cross-contamination with animal products such as separate deep fryers for vegan and nonvegan items.
“They can trust us,” Canaan says, referring to her vegan and Kosher customers. “The Rabbi comes every day. On some days, two different people come. [My husband and I] are Orthodox, too.”
The story of how the family came to live in South Florida is a harrowing one. Hailing from Rishon LeZion, Israel, Canaan and her husband Avi led a happy life on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea — until Canaan found herself pregnant and alone after Avi was called to serve in the Arab-Israeli War.
“Each wrinkle is from a telephone emergency at nighttime from army,” she says of the fear she endured while her husband was stationed in the Saini Desert.
Heavily pregnant, Canaan recalls the fateful Yom Kippur in 1973 when she was at temple and heard a woman say that the base where her husband was stationed had been attacked.
Days later, frightened and suffering distressed labor, Canaan made her way down eight flights of stairs from her apartment. With no family nearby, exhausted and in pain, she sat down by the street, unsure of what to do.
Finally, a stranger pulled up in a car next to where she was sitting.
“He asked in Hebrew if I was going to the hospital,” she says. “He told me not to be worried. He said, ‘I will take you like I would take my wife to the hospital.’ I trusted him.”
After an eight-day hospital stay, Canaan was finally ready to be released, but there was no one for her and her baby boy to go home to.
The army sent a woman to help — a young, 19-year-old soldier whom Canaan remembers fondly.
“By Jewish tradition, we cannot buy anything for the baby until after delivery. I had nothing. No crib, no clothes, nothing.”
But being strong and capable, Canaan sent the woman away after only one afternoon.
“I told her that the army needs her more, and I am okay, so go.”
When Canaan’s son turned 15 and wanted to sign up for the Israeli Army, Canaan moved her family to the United States so that her intellectually gifted son could remain in school.
It is a decision she has never regretted. Today, with three educated, successful children and two restaurants, Canaan and her family are thriving.
And they love their vegan customers.
“The soup is vegan,” Canaan says of the hearty, split-pea delight. “The muffin is vegan. We can make you a chef salad, tropical salad, falafel, or Cuban grill with soy cheese on a baguette. Lots of stuff. When you come into the restaurant, you can ask me which dishes we can make vegan.”
(Note from the Vegan Police: While Sara’s takes extensive precautions to avoid cross-contamination, vegan items are prepared in a shared kitchen and, as such, risk cross-contamination with animal products.)
Sara’s. 3944 N. 46 Ave., Hollywood; 954-986-1770; Facebook. Hours are from 9:30 am. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, and from one and a half hours after sundown Saturday until 12:30 a.m. Sunday.
Wendy Rhodes is a freelance writer and award-winning author. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @WendyRhodesFL.