G-Monkey will be serving ‘the food that loves you back,’ Tuesday through Saturday at 625 New Park Ave., West Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
If you think that “plant-fueled” and “fast food” don’t belong in the same sentence, much less in the same restaurant concept, you have yet to meet Ami Beach and Mark Shadle, the couple behind G-Monkey, the new fast casual restaurant now open at 625 New Park Avenue in West Hartford.
Green is the theme of the flagship location of G-Monkey Plant-Fueled Fast Food – the evolution of the renowned G-Zen vegan restaurant that Beach and Shadle operated for more than a decade in Branford and the G-Monkey Mobile food truck, as a fresh, modern and plant-forward fast food restaurant.
G-Zen won countless accolades, even a coveted “don’t miss” recommendation in a New York Times review that called it “a vegan retreat for carnivores,” but the 60-item menu was upscale, and complicated. The food truck was also very successful, but the menu was much more limited, and the New England weather isn’t always friendly to the food truck scene.
Although they never shut down G-Zen during the COVID-19 pandemic by necessity they shifted to food that lent itself to takeout, and to quick service and contact-less payment. It was during that time that Beach and Shadle decided they needed to shift, to evolve, to something more manageable. Opening a brick and mortar location, with plant-based fast food for the entire family, made sense.
Shadle has fine-tuned his expertise as a master chef, whittled down the options, and created a fast food concept that is healthy, has integrity, and can appeal not just to vegans but to all.
While Shadle handles most of the cooked foods, ably assisted by long-time sous chef Mike Richotte, “I’m a raw food chef and raw foodie,” Beach said.
Raw foods include the Raw Lemon Lavender Cheesecake, which is not cooked at all and is gluten- and soy-free.
Beach also crafts the tonics, which are made from as many as 25 different medicinal herbs, infused or pressed. “They’re mock-tails with a purpose,” she said, “elixirs for life.”
The Alchemist is tabbed as an “immortality and metabolism boosting” elixir. “It give you energy without caffeine, and has zero calories,” Beach said.
The branding is deliberate – the cute winking monkey, the green accents, the fun slogans. And the use of completely compostable packaging and utensils is also deliberate.
Everything is made in-house – the bread, the ketchup, the tonics.
There is a major focus on gluten-free (half to three-quarters of the menu, including most of the desserts, is gluten-free), allergen-free, and – while not certified – the food is kosher friendly. The pizza shells and gluten-free buns are the only food items that are outsourced – from Dee’s so they are certified gluten-free.
Some menu items were favorites at G-Zen or on the G-Monkey food truck, like the Zen Burger and the Epic Cheeseburger, but many of the offerings are brand new, like the Colossal Smoked Bacon Cheeseburger and the Brava Burger – inspired by Beach and Shadle’s favorite surfing spot in Culebra, Puerto Rico. The signature whole-grain bun is not gluten-free, but all of the burgers can be served “naked” as bowls.
“We weeded out and got the ‘best of the best,'” Beach said. “These are cult classics.
Biting into the Brava Burger it’s hard to believe that there isn’t any meat involved, and the grilled cheese tastes so “cheesy” that it’s hard to imagine it’s dairy free – as well as soy- and nut-free.
“I don’t try to imitate meat, I try to balance the food,” Shadle said. It’s the just-right combination of sweet, salty, acidic, that gives Shadle’s creations their intense flavors.
The foods are simple and nourishing.
“We don’t carry any ‘fake meat’ products,” Beach said. “We don’t use any highly-processed or pre-made foods,” she said – although they do make to-go items like frozen Zen patties that others can keep in their freezer for later enjoyment, and will also offer “cheese” wheels and frozen soups.
“There are no processed soy foods, and very little soy on the menu other than tamari,” Beach said.
While you can be vegan and still not eat healthfully, they use beans, whole grains, vegetable, and spices. “Plant-fuels means it’s sourced from whole foods,” Beach said.
The Disco Fries and the Sassy, Sweet and Salty Cinnamon Fries are new to the G-Monkey menu – all using sweet potatoes as the base.
Beach and Shadle live on an organic farm in Durham, but while they used to harvest many of their own ingredients, they now mostly support local organic farms.
Burgers, hand-helds, and bowls are $12-$16, and there’s a kids menu for the “G-zensters” featuring a “Grilled G” or Zen Burger.
The service is quick, and while everything is easy to take to-go, there is also seating inside and on the front and side patios.
Team Tofu of Pettus Creative in Farmington developed the branding, and they are hoping that the West Hartford location will be the flagship location of what will ultimately become a franchise.
The monkey logo – which has won design awards – was chosen because it represents a spiritual animal, that’s mostly an herbivore, and is intelligent and rambunctious. “It’s curious, it’s winking, it says ‘follow me,'” Beach said. Plus, she added, she always loved the Paul Frank monkeys.
G-Monkey will be in soft-open mode June 30 through July 2, will close for the rest of the holiday weekend, and then fully open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., beginning July 5. The grand opening will be planned for the fall, probably in September.
For more information, including a complete menu and link to online ordering, visit gmonkeyglobal.com, or follow on social media (@gmonkeyfastfood on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).
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