Last week’s food column was all about Vedge, the undisputed champ of Philadelphia’s food vegetarian scene. But while Vedge also reigns supreme as the best claim to vegan food in the City of Brotherly Love, it is also seen as the founding member of vegan restaurants around the city. Since Vedge opened its doors back in 2011, a host of other highly-respected and high-quality restaurants have followed suit and opened, boasting 100 percent plant-based menus. This is why the proper respect towards the matriarch of the Philly vegan scene was needed before a breakdown into the various restaurants that have followed after.
But now the question remains: vegan food and Philadelphia, what is there to know? So many questions can be posed by consumers who want an eating experience that can’t be fulfilled by the supposed lack of vegan restaurants, but Philly has a vegan spot for just about anything you could want. This is what you need to know.
As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The first spot getting a mention in this week’s article is V Street — the second restaurant owned by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby. Their website is done the exact same way as Vedge’s, so much so that if you weren’t aware, you could probably get them confused. V Street’s wine list is also as extensive as Vedge, with the price points toned down a little. However, their bar is more expansive, with 10 beers on draft and a host of cocktails and wines. They offer lunch during the weekdays and brunch on the weekends while rocking dinner seven days a week.
When it comes to food at V Street, basically anything you order will be good, but it’s a challenge by choice. This street food bar puts the level of finesse on every dish that is expected at both V Street and Vedge. V Street goes global with their approach to their dishes, focusing on seasonal vegetables but playing into the idea of street food techniques and dishes that are found across all continents. Their namesake is their “Wizkid Philly,” which those of you who are newer to Philly might not remember — Wiz Kid was the vegan sandwich shop of Landau and Jacoby’s situated right next to V Street. Wiz Kid was known for their vegan seitan cheesesteaks with a rutabaga wiz, and while Wiz Kid has just been morphed into a bigger and more expansive V Street, the legend remains.
But not to be forgotten on V Street’s lunch menu, you could find anything from a Nashville hot tempeh sandwich with a side of okonomiyaki fries to a reuben steak with kraut and a spicy Thousand Island dressing. When it comes to dinner, you’ll see anything from a charred berbere broccoli appetizer with harissa hummus and chermoula, to an order of peruvian potatoes with aji amarillo and dried olives, to an entree that consists of piri piri grilled tofu with lentil ful and a cumin cabbage salad. V Street is the real deal.
But what about diner foods? Where does the old-school American fare play into the arena of vegan food? Thankfully, a south Philly spot has you covered and that place is none other than The Tasty. To quote their menu, “the vibe is that of a laid back old school diner.” The goal is to keep the experience and the nostalgia of a classic American diner: open seven days a week and serving up comforting food — just plant-based.
When it comes to breakfast you could go for one of their tofu scrambles or omelets, a “tofu egg n cheez” breakfast sandwich, a breakfast burrito, biscuits and gravy or something as simple as the breakfast classics of french toast, waffles or pancakes. They really offer all of the diner staples, including a rotating assortment of (all vegan!) donuts and baked goods.
When it comes to the lunch side of things, you could get anywhere from a buffalo chik’n sammy, to a deluxe BLT, to any of their “steaks” or burgers. The folks at The Tasty really play into the idea of making exactly what you’d find on the normal diner menu, except vegan. They want their customers to feel the same love that a diner has, and they aren’t shying away from recreating the iconic diner eats. Heck, they even have a separate gluten-free menu to accommodate. They encourage anyone to ask about allergens and to double-check with the staff to make sure that all dietary restrictions are respected. If you want a diner meal that is handled with care and free of meat and dairy, then The Tasty seems like the best bet any dang day of the week.
Okay, so a diner can do it, but what about a deli? How can sliced meats be turned vegan? Well, in one of the countless stalls at the Reading Terminal Market, the Lucci family over at Luhv Vegan Deli have turned their packaged food company into a tangible spot to eat. They’re churning out things like corned seitan, ham, turkey, capicola, pepperoni, breakfast sausage and hell, even scrapple! They’ve got a selection of sliced cheeses, as well as tuna salad and chicken salad and pasta salad and all the expected deli fixings. They lean into their vegan heritage and embrace the fact that they are the first fully vegan stall at the Reading Terminal Market and the first fully vegan deli on the East Coast. They are changing the deli one slice of vegan meat and cheese at a time, and they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Oh, and they cater.
While some American staples like diners and delis don’t really seem to lend themselves to vegan cuisine, some cultures really do. For example, Lebanese and Israeli food are famous for being champions of vegan and vegetarian diets. And one of Mike Solomonov’s outposts — Goldie, the city’s favorite falafel — is rocking everything vegan and fresh while being a fast-food lunch destination.
A falafel sandwich with fresh cucumbers, diced tomatoes, cabbage and parsley. Get all of that tucked into an other-worldly pita. Then, give customers the ability to add a traditional sauce like amba, harissa or schug to it. And offer it on your menu for just $8? Goldie’s price point makes vegan food worth trying, even for the harshest of skeptics. Follow up that order with a side of fries with tehina ketchup, with or without shawarma spice, and complete your meal with one of Goldie’s tehina shakes made from 100 percent ground sesame — the Turkish coffee topped with halva seems to be the most popular — and you’ve got yourself one hell of a vegan lunch or dinner.
Fast-food doesn’t have to mean a quarter-pounder with bacon or fried chicken, and it certainly doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality for efficiency. Goldie is doing 100 percent vegan food at a breakneck pace but isn’t for one second sacrificing the quality of its ingredients or the combination of flavors that it offers customers.
Say you want a baked good instead of a vegan shake? Well, Grindcore House, Batter & Crumbs and P.S. & Co. all have you covered. Grindcore is a vegan coffee shop, serving up dairy-free cream cheeses, vegan baked goods and more in Southeast Philly. The second spot, Batter & Crumbs, is centered in Point Breeze, doing sweet and savory in-house baked goods and collaborating with two other Philly plant-based places by offering sandwiches from Tattooed Mom and Vegan Commissary.
The final spot of this trio is Pure Sweets & Co, which is a Rittenhouse Square all-day bakery and cafe that is not only all-vegan, but all gluten-free and all kosher as well. From cakes and ice cream sundaes, to bread baskets and cookie sandwiches, to organic gnocchi and bao buns for dinner, P.S. and Co. is doing everything they can to draw in all kinds of customer while staying true to a plant-based menu.
Okay, but an upscale vegan dinner? Does that exist? Well, three spots come to mind. The first is Bar Bombon, which is known for being flat-out one of the best restaurants in the city. The authentic dishes served at Bar Bombon focus on the heritage of Puerto Rican cooking, but this time with plant-based cuisine being at its core. From their tostones, to their tacos, to their sweet plantains and so much more, there is no question every choice is delicious when it comes to the prowess of Bar Bombon’s menu.
The second is called, and I quote, “Charlie was a sinner”. This dimly-lit Philly favorite is putting out transformative cocktails to go with righteously hearty vegan dishes. They don’t skimp on the portion sizes or on the pours in their drinks — just ask all the restaurant critics around town. They’re best known for their meatball and ricotta dish with broccoli rabe, marinara and grilled sourdough. It’s known to put you to sleep just like an Italian grandmother’s meatballs would, but it’s free of all things meat. Their bucatini fra diavolo is also supposed to be a righteous dish. Seriously, good things are said about this place.
But what if you want a vegan experience like no other? The final upscale restaurant is Miss Rachel’s Pantry, whose main focus as a restaurant is their five course menu on Fridays and Saturdays. Their $65 per-person pre tax cost gets you five courses (plus tea and coffee with dessert!) but Miss Rachel’s is also a BYO, so you can drink what you please and not have to worry about restaurant-priced drinks. They invite you to have a personable experience while enjoying the plant-based foods they love to cook.
Philadelphia’s vegan scene does just about anything you could ask for, and seemingly then some. Look how far this city has come since Vedge began nine years ago. Tune in next week for a new column and a new topic to focus on, folks!