My co-workers seem skeptical when I suggest that our one dinner out in Philadelphia should be at a vegan restaurant. But Vedge is not really a vegan restaurant, even though there’s no meat or dairy on the menu. It’s on par with many of the stellar options in the city, and has earned national respect. Still is this really where I want to bring a group that includes a non-adventurous diner and a millennial male who may want a cheesesteak afterwards? With the support of one of my colleagues who is enthusiastic after dining here previously, we forge ahead to Vedge.
Vedge is notable for being both warm and cool. The decor in the historic townhouse is elegant and comfortable with wood tables, hardwood floors, and some lovely artwork. Tables are generously spaced, which provides added appeal. We notice a preponderance of waiters sporting beards, tattoos, and a hipster vibe. When I tweet about the observation the restaurant responds: “it’s a sign of the times.” Indeed.
Our bearded server suggests that we order three to four small plates per person for our group of five. The menu, created by chef/owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, is divided into three sections dubbed “The Vedge Bar,” “Hot Kitchen,” and “The Dirt List.”
Vegetables are the stars here, with only a handful of dishes highlighting tofu or seitan as a main ingredient. Some vegetables are pickled, while others are pureed, smoked, or roasted. Presentations are well thought out, with a focus on a primary vegetable enhanced by distinctive, and often unfamiliar, accompaniments.
A common misconception is that a meal consisting of veggies will not be fulfilling. Apprehension quickly dissipates as we begin our feast. Portions are plentiful, and the vibrant flavors and interplay of textures make for a deeply satisfying experience.
Rutabaga fondue is an entertaining way to start, as we take turns dipping bits of soft pretzel into the warm puree.
Wood roasted sweet potato pâté with jerk cashews, pickled red onion, and brown bread is a dramatic and imaginative dish.
Salt Roasted Gold Beets is a highlight of “The Vedge Bar” with “everything” lavash, avocado, smoked tofu, and crushed cucumber.
“Hot Kitchen” dishes dazzle with their International accents. Wood roasted carrot kimchee “reuben” with pumpernickel and sauerkraut puree is deli-cious.
Braciole looks like sausage, but is a combination of smoked and roasted eggplant with Italian salsa verde and cured olive puree.
Cauliflower socca is a taste sensation, featuring a venture into the unknown territory of beech chowder and saffron corn broth.
I’m not usually of a fan of seitan, a wheat-based gluten. So I’m surprised when grilled seitan with horseradish, sunchoke, pickled celery, and charred kohlrabi slaw takes hold as one of my favorite dishes at Vedge. If I had no prior knowledge of the ingredients, I would swear the protein is chicken.
Spicy zucchini takes the lead in a Greek-inspired dish that makes up in flavor what is slightly lacking in presentation, at least when compared to other offerings.
Our final selections come from “The Dirt List” which focuses on seasonal vegetables. These are the least intimidating items on the menu, incorporating more commonly used ingredients. They include:
Fingerling potatoes with a creamy worcestershire topping
Broccolini with smoked onion dashi and grilled shiitake mushrooms
And brussels sprouts shaved and grilled with smoked mustard (I recently made this at home using the phenomenal Vedge cookbook)
At the end of the meal we are fully sated, but I’m willing to take one for the team and order dessert. The team, however, can’t eat another bite. I’m wowed by Vedge and vow to return sometime soon with my family. I will definitely leave room for dessert.
I’m conscious of the initial apprehension about a vegan meal. But the smiles on my companion’s faces are genuine, and they proclaim that Vedge greatly exceeds expectations. And the flurry of texts to concerned loved ones who are anxiously awaiting a verdict? They’re filled with bravado about how we’ve pigged out and enthusiastically devoured all of our Vedge-tables.
Vedge, 1221 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia Magazine review by John Marchese: “Rich Landau Wants You to Eat Your Vegetables”