Nina Sigarto was tired of looking for the mysterious collard-wrapped sandwich a pal had eaten, loved, and mentioned.
“You know how vegans are, with their secret language, always talking about what we’ve had,” says Sigarto, laughing as she leans against a shining stainless steel prep table in the rear of the new downtown Raleigh restaurant Carroll’s Kitchen. “A friend said, ‘Oh, I had this sandwich wrapped in a collard because I’m trying not to eat bread.’ I couldn’t find them anywhere, so Liz just said, ‘Let’s make them.’”
Liz is Liz Reedy, the head chef at the quietly adventurous breakfast-and-lunch corner spot on Martin Street. Though Reedy herself is not vegan (“Oh, no, I eat lots of meat. Sorry.”), she felt that accessibility for all diets was essential to Carroll’s, especially given the restaurant’s charitable core. Carroll’s provides jobs and housing for women fighting to overcome homelessness, making it equal parts restaurant and community center.
So Reedy got to work and soon arrived at a lunchtime meal with few counterparts in the city—a collard wrap packed tightly with house-made hummus, pickled red onions, turmeric-pickled fennel, and a buffet of the best vegetables they have on hand. Reedy slices off the tough ends of the stems and steams the leaves, so that they roll easily and seal the ingredients inside. That’s important, since Carroll’s collard wrap is as filling as a lunchtime burger.
The secret, though, is the vegan feta that Reedy makes through a process she wants to keep a secret. Where vegan cheese can often be off-putting, this one bursts with flavor, its crumbly texture and righteous punch causing you to wonder if the kitchen slipped in actual feta by accident.
“People who aren’t vegan see the word ‘vegan’ and assume it tastes like a shoe,” says Reedy. “But that’s unfortunate, because a lot of vegan food is delicious.”
To counteract that assumption, Sigarto—the general manager, often seen flitting behind the counter and bantering with customers—slices up samples for those waiting in line or pondering the menu. She delights in the surprise of the non-vegans who enjoy it in spite of their expectations.
“We put vegan soups out, vegan chili out,” says Sigarto. “We try to include everybody with this menu.”