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From Elite to Meat?

Side Dishes: Former vegan café to be a steakhouse

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Early this year, Burlington’s only vegan restaurant, New Ethic Café, closed without an explanation. The spot was owned by Sam Lai — who also owns China Express on North Street — but was the brainchild of one of his former employees, Owen Hoppe, who acted as manager. Despite New Ethic’s speedy demise, Lai is optimistic about his new venture, which is located in the same North Street spot. The eatery, a fusion steakhouse called One Pepper Grill, is expected to open early next week.

Going from vegan to beefy is quite a swap, but Lai says he developed the restaurant’s concept by canvassing locals. The result is an extensive menu that includes numerous south-of-the-border offerings. “Originally we weren’t planning to do Mexican,” he admits. “I had to go and ask some friends to get really good recipes.”

Lai, who will act as head chef, is jazzed about the steaks soaked in his special gingery marinade and the build-your-own salad bar, which will give patrons a choice of nearly 50 toppings. “I think that will be a big thing with healthy people,” he guesses. Friday and Saturday evenings will be “‘special nights,’ for new creations from my head.” He expects chicken wings, burritos and jalapeño poppers to be popular, particularly on nights when sports are showing on One Pepper’s TVs.

Think that’s just about as eclectic as one place can get? Think again. Lai’s gonna roll sushi and make smoothies, too.

Although Lai notes that it’s unusual to get a steak via delivery, he’ll offer the service initially to find out if people are interested. If not, he may scale back. This flexibility extends to the fare, too. “We’re looking forward to expanding the menu to meet customers’ needs,” he says, pointing out that he used a similar approach at China Express. “That’s why the menu there is so huge,” he says with a chuckle.

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