When I first moved to Maryland seven (!!!) years ago, I was delighted to discover a local diner chain with vegan options. Back then, Silver Diner had a location at the mall near my office, and it was a not-infrequent destination for celebratory team lunches. The options were good and creative, too, more than just your average portobello burger or veggie wrap. Unfortunately, the mall location closed years ago, and I haven’t really been to a Silver Diner since.
This year, though, Silver Diner has upped its vegan options game, introducing a Just Egg Benedict, adding the Beyond Burger, and offering an entire section of vegan entrées. So when a (vegan!) friend suggested we head to the location in Frederick as part of her low-key birthday celebration, Steven and I thought that sounded like a perfect idea.
After much deliberation, I ordered the cauliflower mac and cheese, which features tempeh bacon, roasted tomatoes, asparagus, and a cheesy sauce served over cauliflower and zucchini… all topped with Beyond Meat meatballs. An unexpected combo, to be sure, and not only because there’s no pasta in this mac and cheese. I was dubious, but hopeful. Local vegan restaurant Great Sage has an outstanding mac and cheese that includes both pasta and big chunks of cauliflower, and I’ve often pondered ordering that dish sans pasta, but with added cauliflower.
Alas, Silver Diner’s take on cauli mac and cheese couldn’t live up to Great Sage’s classic version. Instead of big, toothsome cauliflower florets, the cauli, tomatoes, and zucchini are finely chopped, mixed with nearly undetectable bits of tempeh bacon, and stirred up with a Chao- and nooch-based cheesy sauce. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a sauce, because it was indiscernible from the rest of the dish’s elements (as I’m sure is obvious from the photo).
To be fair, it all tasted pretty good (if a bit overly herby). The Beyond Meat meatballs were tender and flavorful, and the asparagus was cooked just right. But to call this a mac and cheese is, frankly, absurd. Call it a stew, maybe, or a cauliflower “rice” dish, but not mac and cheese. It irks me that Silver Diner is presenting this as a vegan take on mac and cheese when our mac and cheeses are not generally pasta-free! If any curious omnivore were to order this, I fear they’d be quite disappointed. It felt like a dish that just wasn’t well conceptualized. Why are there meatballs served on top?! That’s not a feature of mac and cheese. Nor are roasted tomatoes. It’s just bizarre.
On the bright side, the side of fries we ordered for the table to share were absolute perfection, the perfect combo of crispy, salty, slightly herby goodness, and my dining companions enjoyed their dishes (Beyond Burgers and Just Egg Benedicts). And afterward, we got to hang out with Maggie: always a good time.