I'm not a vegan, but sometimes I play one. Like the other night, when I made a meal with the devil and had a tasty seitan empanada at Beehive Natural Foods Juice Bar on Bird Road. Seitan is a wheat-based meat substitute with a name that makes it sound like you're eating the Antichrist. In Beehive's case, the devil is in the details: Longtime chef Carlos Schicchi mixed in Middle Eastern spices that made the aromatic stuffing appropriately smoky.
Dishes at this hole-in-the-wall food counter are full of good-for-you surprises -- whole grains, tofu, tempeh -- but it's what's missing that matters most: No dairy, eggs or other animal products, sugar and, in many cases, gluten. Thanks to Schicchi's practiced hand, there's no lack of flavor in most of Beehive's food. The tofu picadillo, a special the night we stopped, looked and tasted much like the meat version, with soybean curd crumbled in seasoned tomato sauce with peas and raisins. It was the kids' second favorite after the spinach and tofu whole-wheat empanada. A roasted red pepper sauce added kick to a surprisingly moist rice cake.
The only bland dish we tried was the soup of the day, red lentil. The gluten-free carrot cake was such a dense, moist, fruitcake-like pleasure that we didn't miss the cream cheese icing. There are also sandwiches stuffed in whole-wheat pitas or grainy bread and salads with lots of greens, vegetables and sprouts. The kitchen and a eight-seat bar are tucked in the back of a natural foods store that has changed little since the 1970s. You have to push past sagging shelves of dusty vitamin jars to find Schicchi's hive of activity, but as Beehive's cult-like fans will tell you, it's a journey worth making.
Barley-brown rice casserole with textured vegetable protein "picadillo" and salad at Beehive Natural Foods Juice Bar, Miami.