Exterior of Copper Branch in downtown Portland. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

So a carnivore walks into a plant-based restaurant …

Given my love of joints that serve cheeseburgers and meatball subs, I was nervous going into this one. It turns out you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks, and just like my pooch Odie who is always willing to try anything, so was I.

I was able to temporarily table my child-like disdain for healthy eating when I arrived at the stand-alone building in Portland’s Canal Plaza. It was like walking into a bright and cheery fishbowl, save for the fish, of course; Copper Branch is a hardcore vegan joint, and I was determined to dine there with an open mind and curious palate. And, by the time I had finished my meal, I was seriously considering giving vegetarianism a try.

One of the specialties of Copper Branch is its Power Bowls ($13 to $15). There are four on the menu including the Aztec (with sweet potato, corn and mango salsa among the ingredients) and Mediterranio (with eggplant, vegan feta, organic sprouted mug beans and chia seeds). For all of them, you choose from one of four bases (organic brown rice, mixed lettuce, organic quinoa or zero-calorie konjac noodles) and one of five proteins (organic tempeh, shiitake teriyaki, carrot keftedes, tofu scramble or organic smoked tofu). Even the photos of these bowls look like fine works of art. Copper Branch also offers two Signature bowls, one with zucchini noodles and the other with General Tao tofu.

Copper Branch’s beverage’s list includes four types of non-GMO power smoothies ($6.99) along with organic fair trade coffee, kombucha and coconut water among the offerings. I had a bottle of Harley & Sons green tea, which was a bit pricey at $3.99, but it was refreshing and complemented my meal well.

Breakfast at Copper Branch, which is available all day, includes blueberry cocoa waffles, tofu scramble wraps and the still-popular avocado toast.

The Copper Deluxe burger. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

As for my lunch, I paired the Copper Deluxe burger ($8.99) with a cup of butternut squash and pumpkin soup ($5.99). The Copper Deluxe burger is a patty made with beets, organic brown rice, pea protein, sesame seeds, organic hemp seeds, sunflower seeds and lemon juice. It comes topped with caramelized onions, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, guacamole and Copper sauce, which is composed of 17 ingredients including ketchup, red onions, soy milk and white vinegar. There was one other key ingredient: Cape Cod oven-baked chips, and they weren’t on the side; there was a small handful of them right on top of the burger, and I bow to the person who came up with this idea.

I sat in a high-top chair at a counter facing Middle Street in the Old Port, and if anyone had noticed me when they walked by, they would have seen a person eating soup faster than my late father-in-law Ron ate ice cream. The soup was bursting with so much flavor that I wanted to take the Nestea Plunge into a vat of it.

As for that burger, what can I say? I giggled at its dark pink shade (from the beets) and told myself to pay close attention to what could very well be a seminal moment in my dining life. This was not the time for a dainty nibble to stick my toe in the water. This moment called for a righteous, carpe diem bite. The reward was swift and intense. I had never tasted anything quite like it. It was a savory symphony of ingredients all working together to make me never want to utter the words “where’s the beef?” again.

Copper Branch opened in mid-December, and it’s Maine’s first location of the quick-serve chain of vegan restaurants in the U.S., Canada and Europe. The company’s mission is to empower, energize and make people feel their best. I strolled out of there feeling satiated and with a Terminator-esque mantra repeating in my head: I’ll be back!

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