A sneak peek at vegan spot Morels Cafe, opening May 2

The Farby with curly fries and “horsey sauce” | Courtesy of Morels

Vegans and open-minded foodies have been waiting for Stanley Chase, Louisville’s vegan jerky king, to open his Highlands brick-and-mortar restaurant since his announcement earlier this year. We’re happy to report Morels Cafe is on track to open Tuesday, May 2, with counter service, cold sandwiches and an array of take-home vegan meats and cheeses, as well as small batch vegan jerkies.

Louisville will have to wait just a little while longer for some of Morels’ hot items, as Chase has decided to roll those items out June 1 to assure smooth service as the business and kitchen get accustomed to dealing with live customers.

But those hot sandwiches are something to look forward to. Insider recently attended an invite-only test run for some of those hot items, and we sampled a variety of vegan cheeses and pastries as well. This all happened in Morels’ beautifully renovated space at 619 Baxter Ave., which formerly housed For Goodness Crepes.

The evening was scheduled to start at 6 p.m., but Chase’s social media teases of pictures of the food had my wife and I sitting in our car waiting just around the corner from the location at 5:45. We sat patiently for all of six minutes before we decided to just go loiter hungrily in front of the building.

As we walked up, we saw we weren’t the only impatient ones, as several people were getting out of their cars, and we all found the doors unlocked. The interior is a toned-down hipster chic, attractive and subtle.

Writer Eli Keel is hungry and happy. | Photo by Rachel Firkins

The food was still being put out, which seemed fair; we were early.

We started with a gorgeous, miniature, strawberry Pop Tart-like pastry. They were as tasty as the were pretty, and I managed to only eat one, which I consider a personal victory.

Those confections came courtesy of Ashley Bender, who was mingling with the crowd.

The evening was set up in courses, and more food rolled out, starting with an appetizer-style cheese plate. I consider myself more of an aspirational vegan, so while I go through relatively long stretches with no dairy in my life, I had an egg and cheese biscuit and some ice cream yesterday. So when I eat vegan cheese, I know if it’s good or not.

Many vegan cheeses — especially those created with processed soy — seem to have to choose between taste and texture. While the smoked cheddar from Miyoko’s Kitchen served by Chase is still a little softer than a block of cow cheddar, it nailed the taste, and the slightly creamier texture was perfect on a cracker.

I sampled each of the cheeses from Miyoko’s, and for me, the cheddar was the standout, but I’m looking forward to exploring the rest.

An assortment of Miyoko’s cheeses | Photo by Rachel Firkins

As I finished the selection of cheeses, Chase was putting out a new plate of cheese, which he urged me to try with a conspiratorial wink. This cheese, he told me, was for rock stars.

Cheezehound, located in the Catskill Mountains, doesn’t even have an online store it’s so niche. It’s currently only available at four shops in New York City and one in Brooklyn. And I would fight you for a block of it. My favorite from the company was the bleu cheese — creamy and funky. There also was something smooth, with peppadew, that I would marry if it were legal.

(I admit my notes on the cheeses were incomplete because I was stuffing my face.)

The Muffuletta will be available May 2. | Courtesy of Morels

After the cheese course, sandwiches were served, starting with the Muffuletta.

I haven’t eaten beef or pork in several years, so all the sandwiches seemed pretty magical, but I guess you can take my thoughts with a grain of salt. Regardless, mad props to Tom Wilburn and Trevor DeCuir, who developed the menu and were running the kitchen.

The star of the Muffuletta was the tapenade, but the salt and umami of the meats and cheeses provided the solid grounding that a good tapenade needs to stand up and shine. As a cold sandwich, the muffuletta will be immediately available when Morels opens.

Next came the Farby. It’s a roast beef and cheddar sandwich (think Arby’s), and it’s exactly what you want it to be if you’re a vegetarian who’s been missing the meat version. When it’s offered in June, this item will come as a full-sized sandwich, but on preview night it was a slider. And thank goodness, because I was filling up fast.

The Farby was the sandwich I was most looking forward to, and it was good, but it didn’t turn out to be my favorite.

Pulled pork sliders | Photo by Rachel Firkins

The pulled pork sliders hit the same pleasure centers of the brain as their meaty counterpart, but the flavor combination, which I suspect involves a little curry, is more complex and interesting.

It’s got a nice slaw on it that keeps the curry in check and adds an interesting sweet-tangy flavor. As such, I think it’s the sandwich I’ll return to most often, and I bet it will have the biggest following among omnivores.

There are more hot items promised on the menu, including Philly cheesesteak fries and chicken wings. I eagerly look forward to them. Chase continues his pseudo-fast-food aesthetic by offering a “Pepperoni Hot Pocket” for kids, complete with tater tots, juice box and a toy. I’ll eat that, too.

Chase has been talking big about his ability to deliver “vegan food that doesn’t suck.” And if the sandwiches, cheeses and desserts I sampled are any indication, he can 100 percent deliver on his promises.

On our way out the door, Chase encouraged us to take bags of his special in-house only jerky flavors. Cherry Chipotle was the biggest winner, but I also destroyed the Sweet Chili. He has a taste for unique flavors, and I’m excited to try his experiments as he rolls out different creations every month.

Morels, located at 619 Baxter Ave., is set to open Tuesday, May 2, with deli offerings. Hot foods roll out June 1. Keep up to date on the latest with their Facebook page.