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At Lucy’s and Valhalla Bakery, going vegan is both sweet and savory

A plant-based lunch spot and a bakery pair up in St. Petersburg's Grand Central District.

It all started in 2019 at Baum Avenue Market, St. Petersburg’s trendy Central Avenue food hall in the EDGE District.

Celine Duvoisin was running an offshoot of her popular Orlando-based Valhalla Bakery. Michael Young, a chef whose stints included an executive chef position at Tampa’s Hotel Bar and Fly Bar, had just opened plant-based lunch concept Lucy’s. Both spots were all vegan.

Customers order at Lucy's in St. Petersburg. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Flash forward a year and several months into a pandemic, and the pair now run their businesses out of a joint space at the corner of 25th Street and Central Avenue in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District.

Though the two spots are distinct, the partnership makes for a sweet and savory symbiotic coupling. The open door leading from one space to the other encourages a visit to both.

Have lunch at Lucy’s, then pop over to Valhalla Bakery for dessert. Or do it the other way around — no one is judging you right now.

Lucy’s Vegan Corner

Maybe you think you know what you’re going to order here, but there’s a good chance you’ll be wrong. Whatever it is, you might not find it on the restaurant’s website. Or on the hand-painted sign inside. But just ask the person working in front taking down phone orders or juggling to-go tickets (this place seems like it’s always busy) and they’ll nudge you in the right direction.

The weekly specials at Lucy’s are where it’s at. It’s exciting to watch the kitchen mix it up in creative ways on such a consistent basis.

A Banh Mi Sandwich, made with radish, grilled seitan and house pickles, is offered at Lucy's in St. Petersburg. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

One week it might be an Israeli sabich ($11), stuffed with falafel or roasted eggplant and drizzled with creamy tahini and zingy cilantro sauce; or a spin on a grilled cheese sandwich ($8) plump with mushrooms, peppers and Caesar dressing.

On one recent visit, the Melty Dip ($11) featured thin slices of apple and rosemary seitan, a bright chimichurri, smoky roasted poblano peppers and melty smoked Gouda (made with the Follow Your Heart cheese alternative). The final touch is a dunk into the blond jus, a light yet flavorful stock made from potatoes, carrots and onions.

There’s a list of regular dishes that anchor the menu here, including several sandwiches, burgers and veggie-forward sides.

The basic Lucy’s burger ($13) is a solid choice, made with a thick Impossible meat patty on a soft bun and topped with smoky griddled onions, lettuce, tomato and Lucy’s sauce — a Caribbean-influenced sweet and sour aioli flavored with mangoes and raisins.

Young makes all the restaurant’s seitan in-house, and the store-bought version of the popular meat alternative has nothing on this, which is less spongy and more flavorful, the springy slices appearing frequently in dishes. On the banh mi ($11), they blend into a sandwich brimming with crunchy carrots, cilantro, pickled cucumbers, radishes and a creamy red pepper ranch dressing with a jolt of heat from thick-slivered jalapenos.

The Lucy's burger is made with pea protein, heme, Lucy's sauce, grilled onion, pickles, tomatoes and lettuce. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

There’s no meat substitute necessary in the grilled mushroom gyro ($12), where thick, hearty trumpet mushrooms are brushed in a medley of garlic, olive oil and Dijon before getting tossed on the grill and paired with tomatoes, onions and a creamy tzatziki sauce.

All of the restaurant’s sides are $5 but can be substituted with any sandwich for $2. (Sandwiches otherwise come accompanied by crispy house-fried tortilla chips.) The sides are, perhaps not surprisingly, overwhelmingly vegetable-forward and dressed in vinaigrettes, including a cooling roasted mushroom and spinach salad ($5) that plays with plenty of salt and acid to temper the nature of the woody oyster mushrooms while golden-fried shallots add crunch.

The charred broccoli salad is offered at Lucy's in St. Petersburg. It is served with candied nuts, sweet pepper and coriander vinaigrette. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

I particularly love the charred broccoli salad ($5), where the florets impart a punch of smoky flavor. The salad sits on a creamy schmear of baba ganoush (a smoky roasted eggplant dip) and arrives topped with candied cashews, sweet pickled Fresno peppers and a tangy coriander vinaigrette.

House-cut fries are served with Lucy's sauce. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Valhalla Bakery

At Lucy’s, I pretty much know what I’m in for. I know what seitan is. I understand that the cheese is not really cheese. And the vegetable-forward dishes are all pretty self-explanatory.

But here, I start to question things.

“So, everything is vegan, right?” I ask, skeptically eyeing the frosting-topped cupcakes and cookie butter blondies. “Yes,” the woman working behind the counter says.

“What about the cookie sandwiches?” Yep. “And the funfetti cake?” Also vegan. “Surely not the sausage rolls, though?” Yeah, those too.

This is the third time I’ve been here, and not the first time I’ve peppered the staff with my incredulous queries.

But yes, everything here really is vegan.

Various vegan baked goods are on display at at Valhalla Bakery in St. Petersburg. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

For the sweet tooth, it’s hard to go wrong. The Nanaimo bars ($4.50), a Canadian dessert (Duvoisin grew up in Vancouver), are made with a base of dark chocolate coconut crust filled with custard and topped with hard dark chocolate. The peach and strawberry lemon bars ($4.50) are like lemon squares crossed with a peach crisp, and any number of cake selections are worth it if only to marvel at the dreamy consistency of the vegan buttercream frosting.

Related: How does Valhalla's Bakery vegan frosting taste so good?

But my favorite, by far, are the s’mores bars ($7) made with a thick graham cracker cookie dough studded with dark chocolate, layered with more chocolate and a marshmallow fluff-like filling. It’s better than any campfire version I’ve ever had.

Customers look at an assortment of vegan baked goods at Valhalla Bakery in St. Petersburg. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]

Takeout: Both businesses are focused on takeout currently, and masks are required for all guests and staff inside the store. At Lucy’s, orders can be made by phone, in person or through an online ordering portal for pickup only.

Dine in: There’s a small seating area with a couch inside Valhalla; there is no dining inside at Lucy’s right now. Tables outside conveniently find shade underneath the branches of a large tree nearby, a true blessing on these steamy Florida summer days.

If you go

Where: 2462 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Lucy’s: (727) 954-4784; lucysvegan.com. Valhalla Bakery: (727) 954-4792; valhallabakery.com.

Hours: Lucy’s: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Valhalla Bakery: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday.

Price: Lucy’s: sandwiches and burgers, $8 to $14. Valhalla: cakes, cookies and bars, $4 to $7.

Don’t skip: Lucy’s: mushroom gyro, fries and charred broccoli salad. Valhalla: s’mores bar.

Takeout/delivery: Order by phone, in person or online for takeout from Lucy’s. Order by phone or in person at Valhalla Bakery. (Special cake orders can be made via email.) Tables outside can be used for to-go orders. No delivery.

Safety measures: Masks must be worn inside both businesses at all times.

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