Restaurant Review: Bragg's Factory Diner
Story and photos by KJ Philp, July 2015 Issue.
Editor's Note: Bragg's Factory Diner closed its doors in October 2015.
Once upon a time, a veggie burger was regarded as an innovative, perhaps even healthy, twist on an American classic. However, as someone who has spent the better part of their life scanning menus for meatless options, I assure you that those days are gone.
Today, it seems as though vegetarians – and vegans – are “coming out of the closet” in droves and thankfully the cuisine scene in Phoenix has made a noble effort at keeping up with this trend.
It wasn’t until recently that Bragg’s Factory Diner was causally brought up in conversation as a vegetarian/vegan go-to.
Bragg's Factory Diner, located near the intersection of Grand and 13th avenues, was constructed by the Bragg’s family in 1947.
The diner, located near the intersection of Grand and 13th avenues, was constructed by the Bragg’s family in 1947. The restaurant you see today served as the storefront and the adjacent galleries were where the baking took place. Together they operated as a pie factory until the doors were closed in the late ‘60s.
It wasn’t until early 2013 that Liam Murtagh and Dana Stern, both formerly of Jobot, reopened the space as a meat-free eatery – and yes, they brought back the pies, too.
Today, Bragg’s is on the National Register of Historic Places and, if the décor is any indication, it’s a title they take quite literally. From vintage maps and a Wallace and Ladmo masterpiece to the kitschy assortment of tableware and the wall adorned with period photos, the small pie-shaped dining room, which seats about 25 patrons at a time, is cozy and usually filled with colorful characters. Kids are always welcome here, and there are two picnic tables outside for patrons dining with their four-legged children.
Now back to brunch. On my first visit, I went for the special without a second thought: A tofu scramble, house hash browns and a savory, herb-infused sausage substitute that is most certainly worthy of a permanent spot on the menu.
I later learned that the regularly changing specials are inspired by the contents of the Community Supported Agriculture harvest baskets Bragg’s receives each week from Farmyard.
My carnivorous company ordered a similar spread, albeit with eggs instead of tofu and an extra side of the eggplant “bacon.” We also took full advantage of the locally sourced coffee and each ordered an iced toddy with almond milk (two thumbs up from two coffee snobs).
We were both delighted with the meal but, in hindsight, we agreed it was quite traditional. So went back for another round, this time with bolder ambitions.
On our second visit, we skipped the mimosa pancakes, the breakfast special of the day, and went for the Frank Lloyd Bite and the What The Waff? The Frank Lloyd Bite includes two pancakes, hash browns, eggplant “bacon” and a side of biscuits and gravy. For most cooks, crafting vegan pancakes and hash browns is not a steep order. But it’s in the less-than-conventional offerings that Bragg’s really sets itself apart. In this case, it was the “Bwiscuits & Gwavy” that lured us in. This steep stack of creamy poblano gravy goodness, with distinctly aromatic cumin notes, blanketed the homemade biscuit exquisitely.
Frank Lloyd Bite (left) and Nacho-Man Randy Savage (right).
The What The Waff?, a sweet and savory coconut-curry waffle, earned top honors among the waffles I’ve had the pleasure of sampling. Apparently Phoenix Magazine agrees, as they voted Bragg’s Home of the Best Waffles in 2013.
I still have a few return trips planned in order to try out the Early Birdito, a house-made quinoa and hempseed chorizo with grilled onion, bell pepper and either tofu or eggs. And the brown sugar and rum caramelized bananas are also calling my name.
To be fair, though, I had to sample the lunch and dinner menu – a tough move with the breakfast offered all day long. Once I learned that they were out of the infamous Beet Burger as well as the “How Funky is Your Chickpea” I was seriously rethinking this decision.
However, I had been eyeing the vegan pesto (a key ingredient in The Classic Scramble) so ordering the Avocando Sando seemed like a win-win. This sandwich boasts a whole avocado stacked with tomatoes, lettuce, Swiss cheese (optional) and vegan pesto on multigrain bread. While the avocado is really the “meat” of this equation, the pesto is the superstar. The sandwich came with the side of my choice and, of course, I ordered more avocado.
I convinced my lunch date to order the Nacho-Man Randy Savage plus the jackfruit barbacoa, which technically makes it Entrée The Giant, on the premise that we’d share both. She obliged and what arrived next was a platter straight from vegan heaven. This pile of tortilla chips came topped with earthy and creamy vegan nacho cheese (not the artificial kind, reminiscent of plastic, that you may have seen or tried in the past), pickled jalapeno, tomato, onion, black olives and pinto beans.
Our order included the jackfruit barbacoa, which is truly a one-of-a-kind culinary creation. The carnivore was as intrigued as I was with the mysterious fruit’s texture and traditional seasoning. Vegan tip: the jackfruit barbacoa is available as a side and would make a perfect addition to the menu at any summer barbecue or potluck!
Rosemary apple pie, one of the many selections available.
At this point I knew I could not get away with leaving (or writing this) without trying a slice of Bragg’s famous pie. It’s no secret that I loathe nearly all baked goods, but with such options as cinnamon roll, rosemary apple, peach and cherry, I had to order a slice to see what all the fuss was about.
On this hot summer day, the raspberry peach seemed perfect, and our server took great care in retrieving the slice from the pie tin. However, he did not succeed. When the colorful mound of crust and fruit arrived we laughed it off. But the presentation certainly did not impact the taste: The fruit was fresh, with just enough crunch to prove it with each bite. Admittedly, I’m no piecrust connoisseur, but I think this particular crust did a fine job of containing all that wild summer fruit and that’s what counts.
Overall, I prefer the hustling bustling weekend brunch crowd to the weekday lunch experience, and the same goes for the menu items. However, one server told me there are menu updates coming sometime this summer, so stay tuned.
If you’ve tried one veggie burger, you’ve tried them all, I say. So, the next time you’re looking for an innovative twist on an American classic (or just into converting your carnivorous friends), you know where to find a heaping helping of Arizona history – and don’t forget to save room for pie.
Bragg’s Factory Diner
1301 NW Grand Ave., Phoenix
Summer hours: 7 a.m.-4 p.m. daily (Extended evening hours on first and third Fridays).