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    Eating out is often a temptress, a slayer of good intentions and thoughtful restriction. Appetizers upon sides upon breadbaskets upon desserts, please. But walk into the vegan restaurant Half-Peach Bakery & Cafe in St. Matthews and good decisions alert the senses. The look is so clean and minimal — light wood, white counters, sparkling sunlight — that it’s just shy of translucent. Is that pumpkin soup I smell? Barbecue tofu?

    A glass case of desserts catches my eye, but I look up at the back wall — chalkboards full of meat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free and oil-free options, like a raw taco salad, jackfruit barbecue sandwich and black-eyed pea burger. I rat-a-tat-tat one healthy decision after the next: raw pad thai, báhn mì sandwich, pumpkin soup and a petite combo plate of curry potatoes, barbecue tofu and stir-fry vegetables that, through some wizardry, are oil-free.

    The Half-Peach story unfolds as wholesome as the food. Several years ago, owner Sue Zhao, a native of China, and her then-nine-year-old daughter embraced veganism for its health benefits and out of respect for animals. Out of their love for desserts, the duo started experimenting with cookies and cakes. Two years ago, with baked goods and meals mastered, Zhao opened Half-Peach. According to Chinese culture, the peach is a symbol of health and longevity. Splitting the fruit in half, Zhao says, is a gesture, a way of sharing her commitment to health with customers.

    On a ledge near a cooler full of beverages (sparkling water, tea) I spot a book titled How Not to Die. Eternal life, a bold pledge. One not even that bestseller can pull off, but those pages and this place do commit to extending life. Vegetables and plant protein are the stuff cardiologists and dieticians hustle. 

    A meal at Half-Peach tastes pure and fresh. The báhn mì sandwich’s puffy cloud of French bread holds sweet, smoky soy protein and jalapeño rings hiding among shreds of iceberg lettuce. The pumpkin soup is a bit sweet for my taste, but all is well again when I pivot to the savory “Caesar” salad, with smoky Brussels sprouts and crunchy chickpeas.

    I wish I could say I endure guilt-free. But there’s a heaping plate of “chili cheese” fries bathed in gooey, tangy cashew “cheese,” black beans and avocado. Then, a mighty slice of vegan chocolate-chip cake, with a dense and soft chocolate-chip cookie mounted on top. How much regret should one carry when even the indulgence stays vegan? I’m not sure. But at Half-Peach, equal parts good and naughty make for a lovely lunch. 

    This originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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