Could Eureka Compass' Colin Anderson make the St. Paul skyway a dining destination?

Colin Anderson

Colin Anderson Alma Guzman

A few weeks ago, business people strolling through the Alliance Bank Center building on their lunch hour heard something we can all but guarantee they hadn’t heard there before: grindcore.

You know. Grindcore. The abrasive, noisy, thrashy metal and punk offshoot that birthed bands like Napalm Death and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. It’s decidedly not your standard skyway-salad-and-chill soundtrack. But, like distorted trumpets hearkening the arrival of a DIY-or-die duke, those squealing guitars and growling vocals signaled news of their own: Evan’s Organic Eatery has a new chef. It’s Colin Anderson, who opened Eureka Compass Vegan Foods last year. And he brought his record player with him.

A sudden sonic shift isn’t the only thing that’s different at Evan’s of late. “We’ve gone from a pretty static menu to new items every day,” Anderson says, looking up from the prep table where he’s readying one of those very items: a bean-based breakfast “sausage” patty so recent it’s listed above the counter in hastily scrawled Sharpie. The menu will continually evolve in an attempt to become a zero-waste kitchen, “so we will be adjusting recipes as we go, keeping a strong foundation to the recipes, but maybe tossing in that last bundle of chard to get it consumed.”

There’s this, too: Until earlier this month, Evan’s wasn’t a vegan restaurant. Since Anderson stepped into the kitchen for the first time on March 5, he’s transitioned the lunch stop to a completely plant-based menu.

All of this aligns with the ethos Anderson had at Eureka—his tucked-away gem on Aldine Street in St. Paul—which is what attracted Evan’s co-founders to their new chef in the first place. Though Eureka somehow fell to the curse of best-kept-secrets even among vegan Twin Citians, a robust online community knew the restaurant well. People who followed Anderson on Instagram would make a point to drop in during trips from London, from Israel, from Venezuela.

That’s because, in its (now temporarily shuttered) kitchen, a tattooed vegan in a knit cap was doing something revolutionary: coming in with no plan each morning, then cooking totally different, totally from-scratch, entirely plant-based dishes every damn day. “Yes, this is the menu,” a chalkboard yellowed from constant filling-in and erasure told you each morning and afternoon, followed by three-ish plates packed with local vegetables, most of which were available for between $4 and $6. You could usually count on vegan croissants, plus muffins and pop tarts that married some ever-changing combination of fresh fruit. You could definitely count on the soundtrack being good, everything from Bad Brains to Propagandhi to Miles Davis to A Tribe Called Quest. That was about it.

The result? Some of the cleverest vegan fare anywhere in the Twin Cities—though of course, if you had a collard wrap you loved once, you might not again, or at least, not prepared exactly the same way, for a long time.

“I think, seriously, I cooked 600 different dishes at Eureka,” Anderson says. “There are restaurants that go 10 years and don’t cook that many dishes.” (He did it in about as many months.)

Anderson’s been a vegetarian since 2000 and a vegan for around nine years, but he’s always been cooking. The former Boy Scout learned early how to feed and fend for himself. In high school, he added the chemistry of cooking to his repertoire, making caramels and clusters at his family’s gourmet confectionery, the century-old Anderson’s Candy Shop in northern Illinois.

His shift to a plant-based diet started when he was working on an organic farm in the early 2000s, where he first saw the ins and outs of what we farm, what we eat, and how the intersection of those things adds up to something greater than filling us up at meals. “All veganism is, in my opinion, is just conscious consumption. I’m an environmentalist,” he says. “If someone’s going to go out, and hunt a deer, and eat that, and sustain their family, great—we need to keep the deer population in control.”

That’s a pretty measured take coming from a guy who’s sometimes running around the kitchen sporting a tee from the vegetarian deathgrind band Cattle Decapitation. (Printed on it: “Turn loose the missiles, hear the sirens/Since all our species knows is violence.”) But Anderson doesn’t strike you as someone serious. He wears an infectious, near-permanent smile. His voice and laugh are equally booming, bouncing off of every stainless steel surface in the kitchen. His responses to questions leap through geographic locales and decades and subjects; one inquiry is answered with a 10-minute talk that begins with Buddhism, reroutes to a recent lunch with a friend, takes a detour to gender inequality, and circles back to the evils of factory farming.

He seems so ebullient that it might convince you to eat vegan in a sort of When Harry Met Sally..., I’ll-have-what-she’s-having moment. And that actually is happening: “People are coming here and being like, look at these guys. How are you just loving it every day?”

For Anderson, that’s kind of the whole idea. He’s passionate—not militant. He really, really wants people to think about what they eat. Ideally, that will lead them to go vegan, or at least convince them to try eating that way a little more.

Now, here’s where you might (not unjustifiably) worry that his cooking—so unlike anything else in the Twin Cities—will lose some of what made it sparkle in a fast-casual skyway spot. He doesn’t see it that way: “I didn’t mourn Eureka because I’m doing the same thing down here at Evan’s.” The bootstrapped, day-by-day spirit comes with him wherever he goes. And Eureka will be back in action soon, too—this time as a vegan pizzeria. (The pizza shop kick-off is April 27-29 for the St. Paul Art Crawl, with a pay-what-you-want-or-can pizza buffet, treats from Green Garden Bakery and Totally Baked Donuts, and art by Robert Lindgren.)

Besides, what better way for an animal-rights ambassador and environmentalist to show a whole new group of people how good an egg-free egg sandwich or kale and shredded beet salad can be? To introduce bankers and brokers to the near-infinite possibilities that exist beyond pork and beef and chicken and fish?

“You have red lentils, yellow lentils, black beans, split peas, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, soy, jackfruit,” Anderson rattles off. “Every vegetable, every fruit. The insane amount of combinations within that. You’ve stepped into this world that is so vast—why would you only eat this?”