Philly food is so much more than cheesesteaks. Let us show you.
I met Eric only a few weeks ago through RUN215, but it seems at this point that I’ve been friends with he and his wife Karen forever. Eric and Karen are the first absolute, 100% vegans I’ve ever hung out with for longer than a single conversation, and it’s been great to see their animal-loving lifestyle (the pair founded the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance in 2009 and have four dogs of their own). It’s been great to be introduced to all the awesome vegan food in the city, whether from a strictly vegan restaurant or as individual vegan dishes at “normal” restaurants, and I’m thrilled to share all of these excellent tips on where to get delicious vegan food in Philly. Check it out!
How long have you been part of the food scene in Philadelphia, and what drew you to it?
Well, I am not part of the professional Philly food scene but I have been a food snob, I guess the current term is foodie, since I was a little kid. I am an Italian who grew up in South Philly and lived with my grandmother, Little Lil, so I had no choice but to love food! As far back as I can remember I used to push a chair up to the stove and stand on it and watch in amazement while my grandmother cooked dish after loving dish so effortlessly. She instilled in me my love of both good food and cooking. Until recently I never gave much thought about how the food I cooked and ate got to the market…I just knew how to cook and eat it. Then a number of years ago my wife, Karen, and I decided to start down a road of a healthy lifestyle. We started working out at the gym and eventually tried running, which has become an important part of my life; Karen and I are currently training for the Philadelphia Marathon. Of course we started to pay more attention to what we ate; my wife had been a vegetarian for over 20 years but I ate just about anything. In our journey to eat better we came across a lot about factory farming and we decided to go see a movie called Vegucated and that really opened our eyes to not only the health aspects of food but the ethical aspects as well. Shortly after I read a book, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and he addressed how some cultures eat certain animals while other cultures will keep those same animals as pets. Being involved in a number of dog rescues for a lot of years, I asked myself why I loved dogs so much but never gave a thought about the life of a pig, chicken or cow. So after reading that book I thought about the line I had so easily drawn between pet and food and realized I could no longer draw that line…it had to be completely erased. I have been a vegan now for just over two and half years, and have been living a very fulfilling culinary life! My only regret was I didn’t come to this realization sooner! I’m able to combine my love of both food and running with Team Humane League. The group runs every Monday night, and finishes the run at a local restaurant that serves great vegan food. It’s a great way to get some exercise and try a great new eatery!
What is your perfect day of Philly food – breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
As a vegan I am extremely lucky to be in Philly; it is so vegan friendly with amazing innovated food—no need to order the salad as a Philly vegan! Breakfast would be from a restaurant that is now looking for a new location, The Vegan Commissary. They did a take on cream chipped beef – creamed chipped beets. A fantastic cream sauce with Swiss chard as the stand in for the sliced beef, and thinly sliced red dehydrated beets served over scratch-made thick-sliced bread toasted and buttered with Earth Balance. I hope they get a new location soon because I really miss eating this. Lunch would be the Korean fried tempeh Reuben sandwich from V Street. I tried it for the first time the other week and really wish my office was in Center City so I could get this sandwich often! A breaded and fried slice of crispy tempeh with sriracha, Thousand Island dressing, and radish kimchi all between buttery rye bread—outstandingly delicious. Dinner would be at Vedge. This place is like the vegan Mecca! My meal would consist of the salt roasted golden beets with avocado and smoked tofu, grilled seitan, and the fingerling fries that are served with a creamy Worcestershire sauce. And the pastry chef is like a wizard-my favorite is her sticky toffee pudding cake. It is outrageously rich and soul satisfying! And if you don’t want a full sit down meal…head to their bar for a few beers, an order of those fingerling fries and the Korean seitan tacos.
If you only had $10 to spend on a single food item in Philadelphia, what would you get?
The Root Beer BBQ seitan wings at Blackbird Pizzeria. I was skeptical the first time I tried them a couple years ago but man have they made me a believer! Probably not at all healthy, but they are delicious and addictive. Deep fried and super crispy, they get covered in this sweet and slightly smoky BBQ sauce with the perfect amount of root beer flavor. These things are my ‘go to’ eats anytime I finish a run anywhere near Blackbird!
What would you consider your “local” – the place you visit most often?
Grindcore House at 4th and Greenwich. It’s a few blocks from my office, they play some good old punk music, and they have great coffee. They only offer a few sandwich options, but they are all very good. My favorite go to sandwich at Grindcore is the seitan sandwich…thinly sliced seitan, pickles, spinach and vegan mayo and mustard on whole grain bread. A very deliciously satisfying sandwich that kind of reminds me of a corned beef sandwich. They also have some great pastries from Vegan Treats out of Bethlehem PA, but more importantly – daily deliveries of Dottie’s Donuts, a Philly vegan doughnut company. Their doughnuts and cinnamon rolls are outstanding. They have really creative flavors of doughnuts, with my favorite being the peanut butter, chocolate and pretzel doughnut. I will walk over a few times a week to get my fix, or if I don’t have a mid-morning snack with me, they make a really good PB&J that I’ll snag occasionally.
Where would you take an out-of-towner to get a true taste of Philadelphia?
Well, the quintessential Philly food item is a cheesesteak, right? Everyone who comes to Philly wants to try one, and now even vegans can eat them. Really up until the past year or two, it was a tough find for a vegan. Thankfully a number of bars and eateries have stepped up to the challenge. I have tried a decent number of seitan cheesesteaks around Philly and hands down my favorite is from Blackbird. That is where we would end up with an out of town guest because, vegan or not, it’s killer good and a great representation of the actual sandwich. They bake their own rolls, toss some thinly sliced seitan on the griddle with oil, peppers and onions and then slather on this thick, creamy, cheesy faux-cheese sauce that is so dead on, it’s wild! This ain’t no lightweight vegan salad sandwich…you know you’ve eaten when you are done with one of these!
What is your favorite food or drink event in Philly?
The annual Philadelphia Vegfest organized by the Humane League of Philadelphia. Vegetarian and vegan vendors set up shop for a day and it’s a great way to taste a variety of the great vegan food scene in Philly. It’s also a great resource to find non-food vegan products. To me this is a great opportunity to showcase that being vegan is more than just the ‘diet’ and food aspect, which is what people generally think about when they hear ‘vegan’. So from an educational standpoint it’s a great to be able to expand people’s understanding that the cruelty-free lifestyle extends past one’s diet.
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