VEGANISM: a type of vegetarian diet that excludes…any animal-derived ingredients. Many vegans also do not eat foods that are processed using animal products, such as refined white sugar and some wines.
I’m not a vegan; I’m not even a vegetarian. However, an extreme intolerance for dairy motivates me to search out food alternatives. Vegan fare assures my dietary safety. For many carnivores, this cuisine may not sound appetizing. Once dairy, meat, eggs, and any ingredients with a stitch of animal derivatives are eliminated, what items are left to whip up something tasty? Yet, like all great art, restrictions can often lead to the greatest creative inspirations.
Lucky for those of us residing in Manhattan, there are several delectable vegan eateries to wine, dine, and indulge a dairy-free sweet tooth. Here are a few NY vegan establishments that have won me over with their delicious culinary delights and ambiance, serving up some of the best meals I’ve had since moving to the city two years ago.
For the casual vegan dining experience.
On the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 82nd Street is a little cafe that I know quite well. Opened in 2009 by Eric Yu, Peacefoods Cafe is one of my NY sanctuaries. Whether I’m gathering with friends for a bite to eat, craving a nondairy caffeinated beverage on the go, or needing solo time with my computer and a cup of organic tea, Peacefoods manages to fulfill many of my foodie needs.
I’ve never been dissatisfied with anything I’ve ordered at the cafe, but there are several standouts on the menu. The chickpea fries are divine, made with Indian spices and served with their house dipping sauce. For a light meal, their quinoa salad tantalizes my taste buds and gives me pep for the rest of the day. Their roasted Japanese pumpkin sandwich is delish; throw in some of their roasted veggies and I’m in culinary ecstasy.
No trip to Peacefoods is complete without sampling from their bakery case; the savory biscuits filed with vegetables are a favorite, as well as their raspberry spelt crumb bars, and the magic cookies are truly magical!
For when you want to up the anti on your vegan dining experience.
Just around the corner from Peacefoods is Cafe Blossom, a more upscale vegan experience with inventive entrees and an impressive vegan wine selection. With mood lighting and chic decor, this Upper West Side restaurant serves up creatively plated, delicious meals with New York flair.
Several menu options are also gluten free or raw, covering many other dietary concerns and wants. Recently, I dined on some of their imaginative appetizers: black-eyed pea cakes with red pepper coulis and chipotle aioli, root vegetable phyllo pastry with white wine mustard and ‘cream’ sauce, and raw nachos served with a side of cashew ‘sour cream.’ I polished off the meal with a chilled glass of effervescent kombucha and a slice of moist carrot cake–if you decide to skimp on something here, I recommend it not be on the cake.
For when you just want something sweet.
Those who know me well understand how much of a miser I can be about venturing down to the Lower East Side. It’s a long trek for this uptown girl. However, I willingly navigate the unfamiliar terrain for baked goods from BabyCakes. Located on Broome Street between Orchard and Ludlow, this tiny bakery offers up allergen-free goodies like cupcakes, cookies, donuts, quick breads, savory biscuits, brownies, cakes, pies, and a variety of specialty items. Some personal favorites are the dreamy red velvet cupcakes (available gluten-free or spelt), the skinny buns sweetened with agave, the biscuits filled with ‘cream’ and jam, and the decadent chocolate cake.
Founder Erin McKenna is building herself a baking empire, extending the bakery’s reach with new locations in Los Angeles and Orlando. And for those who prefer the DIY approach to sweets, McKenna shares her culinary insight in these two cookbooks: BabyCakes: Vegan, (Mostly) Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York’s Most-Talked-About Bakery and the recently released BabyCakes Covers the Classics.
Go all out for the ultimate vegan experience.
A bit further uptown, nestled in the Gramercy Park neighborhood, is another sublime vegan New York dining experience. Pure Food and Wine is a raw food restaurant, offering plant-based foods with no processed ingredients. Nothing is heated above 118 degrees, preserving the food’s nutritional value. There is more to the raw food movement then its moment of fame on the HBO series Sex and the City. If you don’t believe me, then take a trip down to Pure Food and Wine; here, you’ll find an inspired menu of raw cuisine, going much beyond an ordinary salad.
Dishes like zucchini & heirloom tomato lasagna with basil-pistachio pesto, sweet corn and cashew tamales with chilli
spiced portabella, or cauliflower cous cous with cumin scented persimmon dolmas has earned the restaurant a reputation for excellence and gained recognition as one of the city’s best restaurants by New York and Forbes magazines. And I can’t overlook their beautiful desserts. My friend and I once shared the frozen black forest shortcake with chocolate cherry ‘ice cream,’ almond chocolate ‘cream,’ and sake sesame fruit. We washed it down with a glass of sparkling shiraz.
Sarma Melngailis, author of the cookbook’s Living Raw Food and Raw Food/Real World, co-founded this critically acclaimed establishment, but credits the people in the kitchen as the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the restaurant. She also has a blog called Sarma Raw with plenty of tips for a healthy lifestyle and, around the corner from Pure Food and Wine, is One Lucky Duck–the restaurant’s take-out stop and shop.
The adventures continue…
I’ve only begun this journey of eating my way through New York’s vegan fare. There are more restaurants and cafes to visit and my stomach is certainly up for the challenge. If you know of New York places to get great vegan food, I would love to hear your suggestions. Please email me at [email protected] or share as a comment on this post. I also invite those of you outside of Manhattan to share your vegan adventures. Till next time!