In Harvard Square, sub-Passim, reside the health-nut pizzacrats at Veggie Planet. But take a kick down Mass Ave into Central and you'll find a chromed throwback joint sporting a similar moniker: Veggie Galaxy.
Planet veteran Brian Van Etten heads the kitchen at this . . . well, pseudo-diner wouldn't be the appropriate term because there's nothing pseudo about it — it's just a diner, but sans after-midnight, grease-soaked guilt trip.
Like its sister restaurant, Veggie Galaxy adheres to the meat-free ethos: it's all tofu and tempeh here. Vegan-friendly breads are made in-house, and any cheese can be replaced with a non-dairy alternative.
The place is hip, no doubt about it. Young staffers scurry around a concrete floor, early aughts indie rock on background, the room done up in classic diner regalia and forward-thinking nostalgia. But there's nothing exclusionary about the principled concept. At Veggie Galaxy, they bridge the gap between dietary high-mindedness and diner-booth comfort food.
Like any good diner, Veggie Galaxy's strength lies in its breakfast and burgers. Served all day, the selection of French toast, pancakes, and omelets can be veganized, swapping in tofu eggs.
The burger patties come one of two ways — a familiar chipotle black bean or, for something different, mushroom chickpea. Served on a thick and doughy house-made bun, these veggie burgers stand up to the real thing in both flavor and substance.
The Kendall Square burger ($9.50) comes topped with baby arugula and beer-battered onion rings, all slathered with a smoky roasted-red-pepper puree, and a smattering of roasted-garlic mayo. The heavily battered rings border on Herculean, and the rich, savory sauces couple well with the kick of the patty's chipotle.
A bowl of Baked Mac ($8.95) — with either creamy ricotta and cheddar sauce, or the house-made vegan cheese — comes dusted with coating of crunchy and feisty panko. Throw in roasted eggplant, leek, and peas for two dollars more.
Veggie Galaxy's take on the classic Reuben ($8.95) is one of the few dishes that gets muddled in translation. The thin, grilled smoked tofu clashes with the almost too-crisp pickled cabbage, but is redeemed slightly by a sinus-clearing horseradish Russian mayo.
Herbivores, this is the place to indoctrinate your vegetable-averse friends. Free from pretension and keeping one foot in familiarity, Veggie Galaxy is vegetarian fare for the masses.
Veggie Galaxy, located at 450 Mass Ave, in Cambridge, is open daily, 7 am–3 pm, and 5–10 pm. Retail bakery open straight through. Call 617.497.1513 or visit veggiegalaxy.net.