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A gas station seems like a strange place to eat Jamaican vegan food, but at DaJen Eats you won't care

Vital signs

Faiyaz Kara May 16, 2018 1:00 AM

Gas station eats are still bastions of junk food depravity, but more and more, those in hot pursuit of hidden edibles near the pumps are sniffing out some legit finds. There's the tesoros escondidos of Mexas Tacos and Tamale & Co.; the small-batch sinkers of DG Doughnuts; the bacon-crazed creations of the Sugar Sow; and inside the Citgo on North Orange Blossom Trail near Lee Road, the vegan-Jamaican sandwiches and rice bowls of DaJen Eats.

Growing up in Jamaica, owner Jenneil "Jenn" Ross and her family didn't subscribe to the Rastafarian ital diet, but her current ethic and thriving business certainly does. Ross, a self-described "irie, happy vegan," adheres to a strict meatless regimen. She was inspired by Babette Davis, the chef-restaurateur behind Stuff I Eat – a much-spotlighted vegan restaurant in an underserviced area of Inglewood, California. Ross's eatery is in a similarly scruffy sector but, perhaps not so surprisingly, patrons from the area have responded.

At this point, I should probably tell you that Ross's petrol station home will permanently close in a few weeks. The good news is that come July, DaJen Eats will move to a permanent space in Eatonville exposing, and in some cases introducing, vegan fare to a whole new audience.

They'll soon be sampling DaJen's gratifying lunch bowls ($11.49) comprising rice and peas, fried cauliflower bites, crispy-fried seitan, and broccoli salad full of carrots, white cabbage and purple cabbage. There's a grilled pineapple surprise beneath the cauli, but if there is a fault, it's the sweet-and-spicy sauce coating the bites. It's far more sweet than it is spicy, a tendency that needs to be reversed. But the smattering of tables fronting DaJen's counter all have bottles of Jamaican pepper sauce to get things lit.

There's a jerk chick'n sandwich ($11.29) that really took me by surprise. The Jamaican hard dough bread was superbly buttery (though it's margarine). It's the perfect sandwich bread, soft but weighty enough to hold a hefty layering of peppery faux meat. Loaves of it are baked fresh daily – pick one up for $5. Maybe you can try to replicate DaJen's Buffalo chick'n ($11.29) or "loona toona" ($11.29) sandwiches in the comfort of your unleaded fume-free kitchen.

Early risers can indulge in chick'n biscuit sammies ($4.49) with their properly crisp seitan patties and "buttermilk" (it's actually almond milk) biscuits. There's a drizzle of house remoulade and that sweet and spicy sauce, with an option to add "cheeze" for an extra 50 cents.

If you're thinking about grabbing a candy bar on the way out, don't. There's a freezer full of eight varieties of creamy vegan ice cream ($5) fashioned from coconut milk. Grab a tub of the "Rum Raisin' the Roof" for a bold end to the meal (the raisins are soaked in rum for three weeks), or the coffee and cream with vegan chocolate-and-cream cookie crumbles and, what else, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. (DaJen's "Irie Cream" is stocked at Valkyrie Doughnuts, the Farmacy, and Peterbrooke Chocolatier if you can't make it to the station.)

By the way, drinks aren't sold at DaJen Eats – you'll have to purchase beverages from the Citgo man just a few steps away. Now ain't that a gas.

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