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The Bronze Cafe serves a sandwich to drive for

<p>The Tree of Life sandwich is shown at the Bronze Cafe inside The Center at 402 S. Maryland Parkway (Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)</p>

The Tree of Life sandwich is shown at the Bronze Cafe inside The Center at 402 S. Maryland Parkway (Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

It isn’t easy being a vegetarian or a vegan in Las Vegas. Unless you can afford to dine at Wynn or Encore, it’s tough to find places with significant vegan options, let alone places that put serious thought into making those options delicious. That’s one of many reasons to get excited about Bronze Café, an unassuming little sandwich stand in The Center, downtown’s new LGBTQ community center.

Bronze Café sits right in the beautiful lobby of The Center. It offers basic counter service, and you dine at a group of tables adjacent to the computer stations and reading area. Co-owner David Mozes describes it as a “pop-and-pop” operation he runs with his partner, Chef Peter Bastien, a veteran of L.A.’s Osteria Mozza and The Venetian’s Pinot Brasserie.

The menu is written on dry-erase tablets in front of the counter (something at eye-level or above would be a bit more convenient, but that’s an extremely minor complaint). It changes daily, but is divided into a few basic sections. Sandwiches ($9 - $10) are made to order. A selection of salads ($8-$9) are already boxed and ready to go, as are a large selection of side dishes such as hummus, babaganoush, farro salad and agrodolce Brussels sprouts ($4 each, or $1.75 if purchased with a sandwich or salad). And then there are the desserts: a huge selection of bars, cookies, cakes and specialty items ($1.75 - $3.75). More than half of the menu is either vegetarian or vegan, with many desserts offered either “regular,” vegan or gluten-free. (If you’re worried about what vegan, gluten-free cheesecake tastes like, they’re more than happy to give you a free sample.) With the exception of the bread, which comes from Costco, everything from the spreads to the pickled onions is made in-house.

So far, I’ve tried three of Bronze Café’s sandwiches, two sides and one dessert, and have found almost everything to be very good to extraordinary. The hummus, served with pita chips, was the simplest, most basic dish I tried. While there’s nothing wrong with it, I much preferred an order of curried quinoa. The mild spice of the curry was wonderfully balanced by sweet dried cranberries, while sliced almonds added a nice touch of texture. This is exactly the kind of dish that will make a carnivore forget he’s eating vegan.

Of the sandwiches, two had meat and one was vegetarian. The What What consisted of turkey, pepperoni, greens, tomato, basil aioli and oregano vinaigrette on one of those Costco rolls — which turned out to be pretty decent. It was a very good turkey sandwich. But if you eat meat, I’d advise you to go with the house specialty, the LGBTQ. It features maple-glazed bacon and an amazing bacon jam with greens, tomato, cucumber, basil aioli and lemon vinaigrette on a ciabatta roll. While I could never have imagined myself ordering a bacon sandwich in a restaurant (or, for that matter, eating one at home), I’m pretty sure I’ll be making special trips downtown to have this again.

My vegetarian sandwich was just as good. The Tree of Life features roasted peppers, mixed greens, tomato, house-pickled onions, house-made vegan sour cream, Brazil nut “parmesan” and mango-cilantro-ginger vinaigrette on a pita. While it sounds like overkill, the combination of flavors and textures works perfectly.

And while I’m not usually tempted by dessert, I did splurge for a vegan peanut butter snickerdoodle, and it was excellent.

I’ve long complained that the new downtown doesn’t have a single “destination” restaurant — a place I’d travel across town just to dine at. With its delicious and truly unique offerings, plus its dedication to vegan and vegetarian cooking, this humble sandwich shop may be its first. At the very least, it’s my favorite restaurant to open downtown since Eat (which fails my personal destination test because I rarely travel across town for breakfast, which is Eat’s strongest meal). It also gives people, gay or straight, the chance to see firsthand what a wonderful addition to the community The Center is. So I highly recommend a visit.

BRONZE CAFÉ, 401 S. Maryland Parkway, 202-3100. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, and follow him on Twitter @almancinivegas.