If you do a Google search for Gluten Free or Vegan restaurants in Salem, you’ll find a small but reasonable list of choices; except, there is one that is so new that even Siri is clueless about it! Chickpea is the latest creation by Salem’s own restauranteur, Bernard Malherbe. You may be familiar with some of Bernard’s other eateries, such as The Kitchen on Court Street, The Club at Paradiso, and the former Crooked House Bistro. The latter of the list is the current purple home of Chickpea, and the menu is all in the name.
Malherbe took ample time to research and prepare a simple, healthy menu specifically for those who are gluten sensitive. The fact that it developed as primarily vegan also, only made sense. “There are 25 grams of protein in the chickpea based pasta, so there was no real need to add meat,” says Malherbe. Accompanying the main penne pasta staple is a choice of seven various vegan sauces: mushroom ragout, ratatouille, and a colorful collection of veggie and cashew based toppings. Soups, salads, hummus and gluten free flatbread are other provisions that create a balanced high protein, high fiber meal. “You have to put more work and thought to balance the meal,” says Malherbe, “People need to eat balanced. Here it’s fast, but it’s healthy. I keep the menu small to keep it efficient.” Bernard also did his due diligence to pair the menu with choice selections of gluten free beer, wine, and soda. Dessert comes in the form of house-made chocolate chip or almond cranberry cookies.
Chickpea is unique in a number of ways. There are very few, if any, 100% gluten free kitchens in Salem. Malherbe sterilized every inch of the former Crooked House Bistro and cleaned the slate for his niche market idea. “Throughout my research I was amazed to find how sensitive some people are to gluten products. I wanted to create a safe place for people to eat healthy, flavorful whole food.” Chickpea is also a daily one-man operation, which is quite different from Malherbe’s other bustling restaurants. Upon entering, the customer’s order at the counter, then choose a seat either inside or on the spacious outdoor patio. The same staff member then prepares the food selections as customers enjoy the quaint and clean atmosphere. In a short while the food is delivers hot and fresh to your table. That same staff member is also responsible for daily kitchen duties; i.e., washing dishes, stocking and prep work. That’s a lot for one employee to maintain, especially during a lunch or dinner rush. And that’s where this story takes a hard twist and turn…
Chickpea has had its doors open since January, although in those five months Malherbe has yet to see the patronage he was hoping for. “I think the concept is great and better than the West Salem market can provide, so we need to offer what West Salem needs. Vegan and gluten free has a bad connotation to the masses; but if you didn’t know the food by those names you’d still be eating it. Vegan food can’t hurt you.” Bernard shares a point that is hard to swallow, which begs the question, “Is Salem ready for the future of fully vegan and gluten free restaurants?” This question has been at the forefront of Malherbe’s mind; so much, that he even revealed the proverbial Plan B during this interview.
While West Salem prepares to open a new Applebee’s, Bernard is busy devising potential plans to temporarily suspend Chickpea operations, and re-open the eatery as K.O.C., an annex of The Kitchen on Court Street. K.O.C will be a grab-n-go breakfast and coffee shop, perhaps more suitable for the needs of West Salem. Chickpea would more than likely find a new home in a more receptive market like Corvallis or Eugene. If there is anything long time chef, Bernard Malherbe, wants our community to know it is, “Chickpea is for everybody. It’s a healthy alternative to everything out there, and nutritionally it makes sense. It’s a choice that nobody else has entirely, and it’s here!”
Gluten Free & Vegan Fare
M-Sat Lunch 11a-2p Dinner 5p-8p
1142 Edgewater St., West Salem