If your idea of vegan is still Birkenstocks, granola and twigs, Goldie’s on Cookman Avenue is about to change all that.

Slick and modern, the new 55 seat vegan restaurant is cooking up a delicious identity driven by inspired tastes rather than a mission to convert die-hard carnivores. The importance of playing with textures is evident at Goldie’s from the balsamic glazed roasted figs served with toasted pumpkin seeds on bed of wilted radicchio to the restaurant’s natural reed woven ceiling cape.

Goldie’s – New Jersey’s first vegan restaurant with a liquor license – is unabashedly fantastic.

“I applaud anyone who supports healthy eating,” Robin Quivers, radio host who credits her vegan lifestyle to beating cancer, said to me last week. “As I explain in my new book, ‘The Vegucation of Robin’ you can’t build something living – the cells in your body – from something dead, like meat.”

I spoke with Grace Crossman, executive chef (she’s the brains behind the kale salad at Porta that is so beloved it has its own Facebook fan page) and Mark Hinchliffe, brand strategist for Smith Inc., the restaurant’s parent company. We sat at Goldie’s gorgeous poplar bar inspired by 20th Century Finnish designer Alvar Aalto.

New restaurant Goldie’s on Cookman Avenue features a vegan menu.  The contemporary interior is designed by Jim Wyatt and his team from Smith.

New restaurant Goldie’s on Cookman Avenue features a vegan menu. The contemporary interior is designed by Jim Wyatt and his team from Smith.  The bar is inspired by 20th Century Finnish designer Alvar Aalto and the furniture is inspired by Eero Saarinen’s Tulip series.

TBP: Grace, the team named you executive chef of Goldie’s because of your unique culinary point-of-view.

Crossman: I started cooking about seven years ago as a line cook in New York City after I studied literature in college. I worked primarily at northern Italian style restaurants. Then I came to Porta as executive chef when it opened. Growing up in Spring Lake Heights, I was happy to come home.

Since I am not a vegan – a kind of cuisine that strips away any animal based foods – I create items that I know I would like to eat. Working with the limitations of vegan is a new language for me and forces me to be more creative. I spend hours and hours experimenting with ingredients to create something I feel is good or better than anything non-vegan. I am really excited about cooking this way. I like innovating new ways to create familiar foods like a pastry crust. We all get so used to using butter and eggs in everything.

Hinchliffe: Sometimes you go out for Thai food, sometimes Japanese, sometimes Italian – we invite you to include vegan in your dining options.  We are not trying to make food that tastes like chicken – we want to serve the best in vegan.  And I promise we will never serve you grass.

In every way, we designed the restaurant to feel like a modern fine dining establishment. It is not rustic or pieced together. You do not have to travel to New York City or Philadelphia anymore to have an elegant vegan experience.

This restaurant serves top-quality cuisine that just happens to be vegan, in an elegant setting.  And Grace fit into that philosophy perfectly – she had no preconceived notions about what veganism could or should be. She had the fresh eyes we wanted. Grace is setting the standard for vegan cuisine in this country.

TBP: I enjoyed the flavors and textures you meticulously combine; sweet with savory, crunchy with melt-in-your-mouth.

Crossman: I look at what is in season and what is grown locally and then I pick one primary element and “build out” the plate from there. Everything is based off one specific vegetable that is in the height of its local fresh season. Then, I consider flavors and textures to compliment the primary vegetable. Also, the entrees are plated in a way that encourages you to eat everything together or experiment and try each ingredient individually.

My favorite dish right now is the roasted brussel sprouts with nutmeg, lemon zest, plum butter, pecan mousse and puffed black rice. I created the plum butter to tie in to the brussel sprouts. Again, I am not thinking about vegan – I am thinking about what we can do that is interesting and how far we can take it.

TBP: Mission seriously accomplished. I had three hunter-gatherers and unapologetic carnivores sample two of your dishes – soft polenta with mushroom and lentil ragu with root vegetables and red wine and the chickpea socca with salted beets, mushrooms, fennel seed and lemon-cashew cream.

I did not tell them they were eating vegan. They looked at their plates, looked at me, looked at their plates, dove into their plates and finally looked up at me nodding their heads in satisfaction. When I told them everything was vegan, their eyebrows furrowed and then their eyes brightened.

Three out of three carnivores agreed they wanted more and would “eat this type of vegan again if everything was that good.”

Goldie’s, 550 Cookman Avenue, Asbury Park.  Call ahead (recommended prime time on Saturday evening) or stop in, no reservations; (732) 774-5575, GoodGoldies.com.

For more The Coaster and TheBPlot coverage of area restaurants, click on the “Food & Restaurants” category on the right side column.