Phoney Baloney's Cali BBQ is prepared with grilled beef slathered in cherry chipotle BBQ sauce, topped with slaw, pickles and mustard on a sourdough sandwich roll. (KEVIN CHANG, HB Independent / August 14, 2012)

Kyle Domer, owner of the cleverly named Phoney Baloney's, a vegan sandwich shop in Irvine, is passionate about his food.

After his parents' divorce when he was a young man, he gained about 45 pounds from eating fast food and had health issues.

In college, ready for a change, he talked to people who recommended he try a vegan diet.

This meant cooking at home. He soon found that he enjoyed it and in just four months lost the weight and was feeling much better.

Experimenting and creating new recipes also excited him.

He began to think about starting a vegan restaurant with a good price point but it took eight years before everything fell into place. He had business experience but none in the food industry. So he wisely started small. When what had been a juice bar in Custom Bodies Fitness became available, he jumped at the opportunity.

We had the pleasure of sampling some of his inventive products and were impressed by their tastiness, for instance the "bacon" that he uses in his Elvis sandwich (consisting of peanut butter, bananas and house-made coconut bacon on toasted whole-wheat sourdough). This faux pork creation is marinated, smoked and toasted coconut flakes and almost tastes like the real thing.

The buffalo chicken sandwich features Phoney's spicy grilled buffalo chicken with lettuce, red onion, celery and their flavorful vegan ranch dressing on a sourdough sandwich roll. Gardein makes the "chicken" from soy protein and wheat gluten, and Elle is becoming a convert, using it as a base for meatless meals.

Meat lovers might be persuaded to switch once they taste the Cali BBQ sandwich with Phoney's beef, slathered in cherry chipotle barbecue sauce, topped with slaw, pickles and mustard on a sourdough roll.

Yelp voted the grown-up grilled cheese with apples, onions, fig butter and Daiya brand pepperjack one of the best vegan sandwiches in Orange County. A trick we learned from Kyle is to use a sprinkling of nutritional yeast (an inactive form of yeast) along with vegan cheese to help it melt more smoothly and also to enhance its flavor with a pleasant nuttiness.

You will also find salads, smoothies and vegan cupcakes from Life is Sweet bake shop, with a different flavor every day. Gluten-free options are available.

After being in business for a few months, Kyle was surprised to discover that most of his clientele do not come from the gym and only about half are vegans. It seems that people are interested in healthy new tastes, which accounts for the success of other local vegan restaurants: the Veggie Grill, Native Foods, 118 Degrees and Avanti Café.

What exactly is veganism and what accounts for this trend toward vegan food?

Veganism, the practice of abstaining from use of animal products, comes with three reasons.

Ethical vegans reject the idea of the commodity status of animals for any purpose. Environmental vegans believe that using animals for industrial purposes damages the environment. Dietary vegans eliminate animal products for health reasons.

Studies have shown that a well-planned vegan diet results in a highly reduced rate of diabetes and a lower instance of heart disease. In general, it's lower in calories and saturated fat while being higher in fiber, omega 3s and phytochemicals.

The downside, as with any restricted diet, is the vigilance that is necessary to make sure you supplement the insufficient amount of protein, absorbable iron, vitamin B 12, calcium and zinc in this diet. With the exception of vitamin B12, which must be taken as a supplement or in fortified foods, careful planning can provide these other nutrients. For example, beans and rice together make a complete protein. Soy products, leafy green vegetables and broccoli are good sources of calcium.

You don't have to convert, but you might enjoy trying some meatless, dairy free meals for a healthy change.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

Phoney Baloney's

Information: (949) 885-6237 or phoneybaloneys.com

Where: 4880 Irvine Blvd. Suite 102, Irvine

When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

Prices:

Sandwiches: $4.95 to $5.95

Salads: $3.49 to $5.95

Desserts: $3.50 to $4

Smoothies: $3.95