ST. PETERSBURG — For Thalia Tatham, the cucumber and avocado rolls just weren’t cutting it.
When Tatham first decided to shift to a plant-based lifestyle, sushi was the hardest thing to give up. She loved eel, salmon, crab, tuna — without those ingredients, it just didn’t seem right. But she was determined to find a roll that could incorporate all those characteristic flavors without the seafood.
“I wanted to have the traditional sushi taste with the umami flavor,” she said.
The answer, she quickly discovered, was pretty obvious: vegetables.
Lion’s mane mushrooms were earthy and meaty, and king oyster mushrooms tasted just like crab. Tomatoes did a good job of imitating tuna and, when treated to the right marinade, roasted eggplant was a dead ringer for eel. Jackfruit? Well, you could do just about anything with jackfruit.
Over the next two years, through hours of recipe research, trial and error, Tatham finally landed on a solid selection of veggies to emulate and imitate her favorite food.
Now, at her new restaurant House of Vegano, she’s selling vegan sushi out of a petite space next to the Body Electric Athletic Company at 655 31st St. S in St. Petersburg.
The brick-and-mortar follows several months of popups where Tatham, 37, garnered a local following for selling her vegan rolls at festivals and at the vegan market Black Radish Grocer, which has locations in Ybor City and St. Petersburg.
At her new spot, which opened in late March, the menu features a small selection of rolls, all of which are currently vegan and gluten- and soy-free. (Guests can ask for soy sauce on the side, if they wish.) On the opening menu: volcano rolls, made with lion’s mane and king oyster mushrooms, avocados, cucumbers and “spicy krab dynamite”; caterpillar rolls, featuring marinated eggplant, avocados and cucumbers, drizzled in a spicy vegan mayonnaise and eel sauce; black radish rolls made with forbidden rice, purple yam, carrots, avocado and cucumber, topped with sweet potato cream and vegan black caviar; and “spicy toona” rolls, which feature marinated tomatoes, avocados, cucumbers and green onions.
For beverages, there are cold-pressed juices, alkaline water and kombucha on tap from the restaurant’s neighbor, Beech Kombucha, which features a signature brew designed to pair with sushi made with lemongrass, lavender, ginger and butterfly pea flower.
The restaurant space is cozy and welcoming, though quite small. The space is decorated with a large mural of Frida Kahlo holding a sushi roll between two chopsticks, painted by local artist (and one of the stars of Amazon reality show Tampa Baes) Melanie Posner. Guests can grab a seat at the bar and eat on site, while watching Tatham do her magic, or take their rolls to-go.
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In the coming weeks and months, Tatham hopes to roll out a slightly larger menu that will include dumplings, ramen and poke bowls. Tatham’s parents are Jamaican, and she said it’s likely that some of the recipes she grew up with will show up in some of her other dishes.
And that’s not all she plans to expand. Though the restaurant right now features a bar with seating for just 12 people, Tatham is leasing an additional space next to the restaurant that will add an additional 24 seats.
Tatham, who lives in Spring Hill and commutes daily, is also in the process of expanding her team. For now, House of Vegano is a two-person show, with Tatham rolling sushi and one server waiting on guests and taking orders. In the coming weeks, Tatham hopes to have someone else join her on the line.
“Rolling sushi isn’t difficult,” she said. “You just have to find your groove.”
If you go
House of Vegano is at 655 31st St. S, St. Petersburg. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.-2 p.m and 3-6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3-5 p.m. Sunday. instagram.com/houseofvegano.