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August 16, 2018

The next big thing in Philly cuisine: meatless eats

The best veggie dishes are popping up where you least expect them

Vegan Foods
Carroll - Vegetarian Food Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Vegan Pickle Fried Chickn Sammy from Tattooed Mom. The sandwich comes with vegan chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, fried pickles, and Crystal hot sauce mayo. Also pictured, barbecue tater tots.

Philly is fast becoming a vegetarian food capital thanks to popular eateries like VedgeHip CityBar Bombon and V Street – each of which has each helped to put the city on the map in terms of plant-based delights. While most of these hot spots tend to attract an array of carnivores looking for the strange, not to mention herbivores hoping for a change from the same old salad and pasta dishes, truth is, a slew of restaurants that may be best known for meaty fare are striking out with tasty, new, plant-based dishes.

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Whether seeking out the best veggie twists on a Philly cheesesteak, rethinking brunch or simply wanting to explore new worlds of ethnic cuisine (hello, Kurry Korner’s Japanese veggie croquettes), some of the best meatless dishes in the region are now being served in popular bars, restaurants and gastropubs that have been staples for meat and potatoes – up until now, at least. 

Carroll - Vegetarian FoodThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The grilled Veggie Impossible Burger from Frankford Hall. A 5oz. patty topped with melted cheddar cheese, tomato jam, special sauce, lettuce, pickles and onions served with a side of house cut french fries. Also photographed: cucumber salad with red onion & dill sour cream.

The Impossible Burger has landed

Vegetarians have been traveling far and wide just to sample the much-talked-about Impossible Burger. Fortunately for Philly, there are a few restaurants in the region that now serve the plant-powered patty, including, but not limited to Bareburger, Harvest Seasonal Grill and Frankford Hall.

What makes this burger so sought after is just how uncannily it tastes like real meat compared to most other veggie burgers. The patty sizzles and even bleeds like real meat, which can, admittedly, be either a boon or a turnoff, depending on one’s palate.

Rather than using black beans and other plant-based ingredients common to most other meat-free patties, the Impossible Burger is made from a combination of wheat and potato proteins and coconut oil. So, while it’s not gluten-free, it is a very tasty alternative to red meat.

Carroll - Vegetarian FoodThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Royal Tavern's vegan tempeh club with grilled tempeh, vegan bacon, lettuce, tomato, basil aioli and a side salad.

Going beyond the meat

Tasting the Beyond Meat Burger (BMB) usually means having to double and triple-check that what one is eating isn’t actually hamburger. Yes, it’s that good, which is why dedicated BMB eaters may have noticed that it’s been selling out fast and often at grocers that carry it, like Whole Foods.

The good news is that while it may be tougher than ever to find these sumptuous burgers on supermarket shelves, a few select spots have included the BMB on their menus, including, but not limited to Toasted Walnut, Morgan’s Pier and Punch Line.

While Toasted Walnut has been serving up a few different veg-friendly dishes since it opened more than a year ago, a lot of comedy and/or nightclubs rarely (if ever) cater to herbivores. This is (thankfully) changing as we see more cocktail and entertainment venues like Morgan’s Pier adding genuinely daring veg dishes to menus, like the charred broccoli with avocado, peanut and molasses.

The juicy BMB, which is gluten-free and high in both protein and iron, has been making in-roads into much more traditional markets overall. According to the company, it can be found in more than 10,000 restaurants, hotels and universities nationwide, including select TGI Friday’s and BurgerFi locations.

Carroll - Vegetarian FoodThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Vegan Pickle Fried Chickn Sammy from Tattooed Mom. The sandwich comes with vegan chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, fried pickles, and Crystal hot sauce mayo. Also pictured, barbecue tater tots.

Fried, fried and more fried

Tattooed Mom may be a beloved watering hole for all the right reasons, but it also gets props for knocking it out of the culinary park with its new fried vegan “chicken.” The hearty sandwich, made from textured vegetable protein or TVP, is house-brined and piled high with pickles, onions, lettuce and tomato and a killer hot-sauce mayo.

As regulars know, this favorite Philly dive bar has long catered to herbivores with a hearty veggie menu before the trend took hold. It features some of the better and most affordable meatless dishes, like the go-to Mom’s vegan burger and Philly vegan cheesesteak. Healthier alternatives to the fried fake “chicken” even include the vegan blackened “chickn” sandwich or vegan chubbsteak wrap.

The KFT sandwich at Wiz Kid is another deep-fried delight. The Rittenhouse restaurant, which serves up all sorts of vegetarian twists on comfort food, does up the Korean fried tempeh like nobody else.

Shake Shack also serves up a decadent fried mushroom burger, while West Philly’s Local 44 has seitan nuggets and scallion hushpuppies with smoked maple mustard.

The Memphis Taproom in Kensington also makes a mean “chicken” fried cauliflower, and the Triangle Tavern has its own take on spicy seitan wings.

Another great place to grab fake “chicken” fingers is the Pub on East Passyunk (POPE) – or The Abbaye and Belgian Cafe – both of which have vegan wings that pair perfectly with the best pomme frites in town.

Carroll - Vegetarian FoodThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Frank the Pug Vegan Special at Sabrina's Cafe. Grilled sourdough stuffed with a balsamic roasted cremini mushroom, asparagus, and bell pepper hash, sliced tomatoes, basil chimichurri and topped with vegan cheese served with fries.

Sausage and such: The new brunch

Brunch can often become the great compromise between veggie and meat-eating friends angling for tasty bites. Fortunately, the brunch and weekend scene is thankfully testing the culinary waters well beyond the usual potato-and-egg platters.

At Front Street Café, for example, herbivores have the option of ordering vegan scrapple or smoked mushroom bacon (also try the Buffalo cauliflower with cucumber-dill dressing).

It’s no wonder there are lines out the door at perennial breakfast favorite Green Eggs, which serves a tofu scramble with vegan sausage and quinoa porridge, both game changers.

Honey’s Sit N Eat and Sabrina’s also have reliable veg-friendly alternatives, like veggie sausage and the Frank the Pug Vegan Special (with mushrooms, basil chimichurri and cremini mushrooms topped with vegan cheese), respectively. And Farmicia does a banging breakfast burrito with soy chorizo.

One of the best spots for all vegan breakfasts all the time is The Tasty, thanks to its array of dishes that’ll make you want to revisit old diner faves, like meat-free biscuits and “gravy” and the Monte Cristo with “hammy and cheez.”

Another winner is the vegan mushroom scrapple at the Triangle Tavern (don’t forget about the vegan meatballs for dinner).

Carroll - Vegetarian FoodThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

A plate of the mushroom scrapple breakfast at Triangle Tavern.

Veggie dogs and more

Craving a ballpark frank? No problem. Several spots have created some interesting new twists on the old-school street food, like the vegan corn dogs at Fox & Son with a wealth of options, like sweet potato batter and chedder-jalapeno sauce.

Another meatless pup worth barking about is the Veg-Dog “Mealionaire” at Destination Dogs. This spicy vegetarian sausage is topped with samosa filling and Sriracha mayo.

Heck, even the concession stands at Citizen’s Bank Park carry vegan dogs these days.

Fake meat sandwiches are getting even more creative at pubs around town, like the pastrami-spiced seitan Reuben with house-made sauerkraut at Local 44 and the tempeh club with vegan “bacon” and basil aioli at Royal Tavern.

Two other standouts: the vegan roast beef sandwich at Triangle Tavern and the smoked coconut club at Memphis Taproom.

Carroll - Vegetarian FoodThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Buffalo Chickn Cheezsteak and a kale salad with diced tomatoes and coconut bacon from The Tasty.

Competing for the best meatless cheesesteak…

Just about every vegetarian restaurant has tried creating at least one fancy new version of the famous Philly cheesesteak (the best may be the least glamorous “chickn” wrap at Govinda’s). And while some folks may still consider a plant-based “cheesesteak” a sacrilege to all that’s good and right on Philly’s gastronomic scene, there’s plenty of competition.

One of the most interesting versions of the alt-steak can be found at The Tasty, which specializes in three different vegan cheesesteak styles, including the chick’n, Buffalo chick’n and standard “cheezsteak.” The Memphis Taproom also has its homemade version: a roasted mushroom grinder.

The POPE stays more true to Philly form with sautéed onions and a choice of provolone, Swiss, American, cheddar or vegan cheese on its veggie “steak.” The Abbaye also does it up old-school “wit” or “wit-out.”

Hibiscus Café in West Philly also features a seitan-based “chicken” cheesesteak. A twist on it is the Jamaican jerk tofu wrap with brown rice and sautéed greens.

Carroll - Vegetarian FoodThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Grace Tavern's blackened green beans and fried pickles.

Try these dishes now

As standalone meals or sides, there are quite a few exceptional vegetarian and vegan plates that run the gamut in terms of rethinking traditional cuisine in fresh new ways. Here are some highlights:

• The blackened Cajun-style green beans side at Grace Tavern, a creative alternative to fries with fresh remoulade

• The eggplant fries at The Cambridge served with chipotle aioli

 Strangelove’s fried Brussels sprouts covered with Creole-style spices, and served with vegan harissa mayo

• The Belgian Café’s cauliflower “flatbread” topped with crimini mushrooms, asiago cheese and truffle oil

• Royal Tavern ’s vegan Sloppy Joe topped with vegetable chow chow on a toasted garlic roll

• The White Dog’s yellow tomato gazpacho with cilantro and a panko-crusted black bean cake

• English pea risotto croquettes at Farmicia with roasted squash, tomatoes, kohlrabi, mushrooms and romanesco

• Fried cauliflower at Zahav with garlic, mint and aleppo seasoning

• Zucchini pancakes at Continental Midtown

• Grilled corn on the cob with queso fresco and lime chipotle, and the cauliflower al pastor burrito with charred pineapple-corn salsa and black beans at El Vez

• Mixed pickled vegetables at Chaikhana Uzbekistan

• Edamame dumplings at Buddakan

• Vegetarian combo at Abyssinia

• Cheu Fishtown’s rangoons with corn, goat cheese and jalapenos, and a soybean falafel bun with yogurt and pickles

Don’t forget to ask for the vegetarian menu at Sampan where Pan Asian sides like edamame dumplings and Brussels sprouts are free from the restaurant’s famously fishy broth.