Where: Lincoln, Nebraska
What: Casual vegetarian dining
Karma Points: Strives to be green; buys local and non-GMO when she can
About 12 years ago Maggie Pleskac noticed there were no vegetarian restaurants in Lincoln, Nebraska and so she decided to open one herself. While today there are a total of three choices to dine from in the area, she maintains that Maggie’s Vegetarian Café is the only one that sources organic, non-GMO produce, from small family farms within a 50-mile radius. In fact before you walk into the cafe, there is a sign above the door that reads, “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” and it’s something Pleskac absolutely takes to heart, in her business and her home life.
“That is my absolute passion, I want everyone to eat off the farm,” she says. “If you buy from the local farm, you keep the money in the state and you keep the flavor. My job as a chef is so easy when the ingredients are picked that morning. Truly I believe simple is best, if you have a quality product you’re working with, if your cheese is grass-fed and crafted by hand, that is going to be unbelievable and the same with the tomatoes, if it’s left on the vine, that is what our taste buds respond to.”
If you’ve never been to Nebraska and you have an impression that it just has large, mass production farms, and the organic farm to table movement has not reached Nebraska, Maggie’s Cafe is an example that this lifestyle of eating with a more socially-responsible mindset, is here to stay.
“Where we’re at, there’s definitely a need for it. We’re in the heart of the Midwest and we didn’t have a lot of vegetarian options,” she says. “I’m mostly into it not just for the health benefits but also the environmental impact. I guess I’m a devoted vegetarian, when I know everything trickles down. We vote with our forks so with every single fork full, we’re making a decision that impacts the socio-economic and political environmental.”
Pleskac is really passionate about this and the environment, so she composts all restaurant scraps that are compostable. “We’re a zero waste restaurant,” she says. At home, she tends to a garden and grows her own heirloom non-GMO corn and tends to three chickens. If there are extras, she brings the items to the restaurant.
Before this, Pleskac managed a deli at a health food coop and her concept of opening a café was just to offer simple casual food, but if you’re looking to dine there later in the day, just know they close at 3 p.m.
“It’s what I love to do and I didn’t want to create something that would eventually own me, I wanted to own the café, so many restaurateurs start out with their passion but then it takes over,” she says. “I do everything, I am my own accountant, I do the books, so this is truly a one woman show. I like it that way. It’s a little sandwich shop, a little café, a little fast casual.”
But just because this is casual dining, does not mean the quality is not up to what some five star vegetarian restaurants feature around the country. Pleskac personally knows the farmers which she sources from and on the wall of the cafe, she has photos of the local farmers she buys from, and the tag “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.”
“They’re getting something that was picked within a 50 mile radius,” she says. “I know the farmers, they’re very good friends. I’ve been to all the farms I buy from and I share seeds with the farmers. These are all small family farms that are certified organic and biodynamic.
Pleskac, who also co-wrote a cookbook, “Dueling Chefs: A Vegetarian and A Meat Lover Debate the Plate,” cooks most of the food and when she’s not there, she leaves recipes for the staff to follow. The most popular item on the menu is the avocado melt, which is a wrap.
“It’s a 12-inch flour tortilla, fresh avocado, sunflower seeds, onions that are sourced locally, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, provolone and mozzerella cheese and tops with local greens from Robinette Farms, which is also right in Lincoln, with a house made herb mustard dressing.” They also sell bottles of this popular herb mustard dressing as well as roasted red pepper dressing.
Other popular items are the many muffins that are sold here. “We are the only one in town that does vegan, organic non-GMO muffins and we’re the only bakery like that in the state of Nebraska,” she says.
There are so many combinations of muffins that change everyday at Maggie’s, such as saffron coconut milk, allspice almond, organic hemp seed, chocolate and anise, Mayan chocolate, which has chili peppers and orange extract and pumpkin muffins, using local heirloom pumpkins.
Pleskac also donates to community gardens when they need shovels and other items and she is a member of Buy Fresh Buy Local, which connects farmers to consumers.
If you can’t make the trip to Maggie’s Cafe in Nebraska, here is a favorite recipe for Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins from her cafe.