Nestled in a nondescript strip mall in Chesterfield, VegaDeli somehow manages to break just about every preconception we could have about vegetarian food. First off, it is strictly vegan, in a town that unabashedly embraces dairy. It even eschews faux meats, bucking the notion that those who kick the flesh habit simply long for a return to the comfort foods of their youth. And it is inching up the raw-foods quotient, with a menu now standing at 80 percent raw fruits, vegetables and nuts. The food itself is a refreshing change: a raw pad Thai that doesn't weigh you down with noodles but rather buoys you with zucchini and carrot strips, and a chocolate-banana smoothie with a richness that belies its lack of dairy. The crowd itself is diverse, a mixture of hemp-pants-wearing, aging hippie mamas, conservatively dressed denizens of Chesterfield and modestly clad Orthodox Jews — the restaurant is certified kosher. VegaDeli's mission is to be "a healthy alternative to everyone in the entire community," says owner A.J. Mense, who manages to provide precisely that.
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