Last week’s article focused on the restaurants in Philadelphia that were elevating the game without alcohol on the menu to bolster it. The food and non-alcoholic beverages had to be top-notch for the restaurants to make up for absence of that popular consumer choice. As promised, this week’s article will touch on vegetarian — and in this case, actually, vegan — cuisine. Transitioning into this week’s theme, the same rule of curiosity applies, only this time on a plant-based level. Which restaurants in Philadelphia are cranking out legit vegan food, where are they found, and what’s there to try?
While these are all valid questions, the general overview of vegan restaurants will have to wait. For the first time, this week’s food column is focusing on a single restaurant. It still follows the focus of vegan food in Philadelphia, as this restaurant is a vegan mecca in not only the city but the country as well. The restaurant in question is Vedge, the vegetable restaurant with a menu that changes with the seasons and that caters to the palates of seasoned carnivores, herbivores and omnivores alike.
Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau are pioneers in the realm of vegan cuisine. Landau began when he opened his first restaurant Horizons back in 1994 to showcase vegetables to the culinary world, and after winning Chopped and getting the prowess of Kate Jacoby working with him, the plant-based culinary duo made history. They were the first chefs to serve an all-vegan meal at the James Beard House — located in Manhattan — back in 2009. But they still weren’t satisfied, so Vedge was born.
Since 2011, Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby have been doing seasonal vegetables the right way on Locust Street in Center City Philadelphia. Located just two blocks away from the famous Walnut Street Theatre and just a stone’s throw away from chef Marc Vetri’s flagship Vetri Cucina, Vedge moved into a very highly regarded part of town. Suffice to say, Vedge is living up to the high expectations.
This James Beard Nominated husband/wife team has been mentioned in just about every food magazine and publication under the sun, and clearly for good reason. They even were awarded the hallowed “Four Bell” review by the notoriously anonymous Philly food critic Craig LaBan back in 2017. Landau has twice been named “Best Chef in Philadelphia” by Philadelphia Magazine, and in December 2019, Food & Wine Magazine named Vedge as one of the 13 “Most Important Restaurants of the Decade.”
While both are chefs, Landau deals more with the main cooking at Vedge as Jacoby bolsters the culinary ground covered by the two of them. As a James Beard Nominated Pastry Chef and Certified Sommelier, Jacoby has taken on more roles than just being a chef within Vedge: this includes overseeing the Beverage Program that exists there while also being in charge of desserts.
Vedge is very much pro-alcohol, and they are consistently known for the prestige and quality of their bar along with their food. Josh Einbinder-Schatz, a young but very experienced bartender, has been there since March of 2019 after being the lead bartender at Hungry Pigeon for two years and a bartender at Brigantessa for 18 months before that.
On their Drinks Menu, Vedge offers five cocktails, 14 different wines, five beers and a pet nat rose on tap, along with a sweet chai, pickpocket soda and a ginger beer for the non-alcoholic options. Their cocktails contain anything from gin with matcha and yuzu to mezcal mixed with fig, beet, mustard and black walnut. Their beers are all from the Northeast region, with two PA brews — shoutout to Tired Hands Brewing — next to New York, Maryland, Vermont and New Hampshire products. When it comes to wine there is a variety of options, but the focus seems to sit with European imports — France especially. This may tie into the fact that Jacoby studied French in college, but I digress.
When you take a gander at the bottle wine list at Vedge, expect to be blown away. Their wines can have origins that trace back anywhere from Oregon and California, to France and Italy and Spain, to even Lebanon and the Canary Islands. According to their website, the least expensive bottle of wine they offer is a Mestres 1312 Reserva Brut sparkling wine from the Altiplano de Sierra Nevada wine region of southeastern Spain. The price tag? This bottle will run you $55. But that pales in comparison to the most expensive bottle Vedge boasts: a 2000 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the city of Teramo in the Abruzzo region of Italy that will set you back $750. And, to top it all off, they are all-natural wines. Talk about dedication to the craft.
Vedge believes that great food and great alcohol deserve to be paired together, and that good alcohol is worth bringing in from around the world to pair with your dining experience.
While their menu is definitely varied from season to season, they are known for a few staples. From their smaller plates, their rutabaga fondue that comes with a house-made soft pretzel, house-made pickles and charred onion is definitely an essential. If you’re feeling something more filling, dive into their smoked potato crepe that is accompanied by buckwheat; with a turnip bechamel and horseradish, or their all-too-picturesque wood-grilled carrot with pumpernickel, crushed chickpeas, carrot mustard and carrot kraut. Vedge is taking upscale dining and putting it on its plant-based head.
However, don’t be fooled — this isn’t going to destroy your wallet. Well, as long as you steer clear of that Emidio Pepe, that is. All of their dishes come in under $20, and while it is normal to order many dishes — the portions are not the largest — your bill will not be as sky-high as you might expect, say, in comparison to an upscale steakhouse. If you are really looking for a drop in any prices at Vedge, keep in mind their Happy Hour. If you get to Vedge on Sunday-Friday from 5-7 p.m. at the bar, it means $7 cocktails and glasses of wine and only $4 draft beers.
Circling back to portion sizes, Jacoby, Landau and company are both implicitly and explicitly hinting that you will not be too stuffed to skip out on dessert. Trust a man with a sweet tooth when I say you will want to read the dessert menu. Their desserts also change with the seasons, so right now they are hearty and warm and full of cold-weather flavors. From their sticky toffee pudding with cardamom ice cream to their caramel apple cheesecake that comes topped with a cherry wishniak jam and accompanied by shoo fly ice cream and honey mustard pretzels, Vedge holds nothing back to end the meal on a high note. But lest you forget, their desserts are also 100% dairy-free. But with ice creams and cheesecakes as heavenly as any other you’ve had before, you’ll find yourself not noticing its gone, and soon realizing that dairy’s not always needed.
But the ultimate touch of class and grace — which was reported in LaBan’s thorough review of Vedge — is what the restaurant does when you arrive: a soup shooter is sent to your table. According to the faceless critic, the soup varies by season but is equal parts heartwarming and delicious. In the summer, expect a cold soup like gazpacho or vichyssoise. In the fall and winter, expect a hearty and hot soup like sunchoke bisque or borscht.
It’s the little things that Vedge seems to nail so perfectly that makes it so highly acclaimed: the restaurant’s attention to detail is remarkable. Jacoby and Landau are catering to every food need that could possibly be needed, and with the edition of a high-level bartender, there is the food, the desserts, the wine and the booze to bat.
Vedge has it all, just hold the meat. Trust me, you won’t miss it.