Snow fell prodigiously, a fallen tree closed Lincoln Drive, and many of those expected wound up being thwarted from attending the finals of the Best Vegan Cheesesteak in Philly contest.
Still, a healthy throng of vegan and vegan-curious spectators cheered our judges panel (Frank Olivieri, Jr., Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Dr. Ana Negron and Ed Coffin, R.D.) as our three finalists - Blackbird Pizzeria, Royal Tavern and Jerry's Kitchen - submitted their wares for tasting.
American Vegan Society president Freya Dinshah was on hand as part of the store's day-long celebration of FARM's Great American Meatout, and as the cheesesteaks were cooling, she graciously agreed to step in and collaboratively judge along with the imminent Coffin.
In 2014, with the help of many food-loving Philadelphians, after 1000 votes, an online poll and a nail-biting blind tasting event, we named the Best Vegan Cheesesteak in Philly. It was Blackbird Pizzeria.
But is it still? Since that time, Blackbird has changed its recipe - and owner Mark Mebus claims this year's edition is even better. Meanwhile, we saw 23 venues nominated last year, but even that wasn't all the places that offer a meatless, cheeseless version of the iconic Philly sandwich. If you know of one, let them know, as we open the 2nd Annual Daily News / V for Veg Best Vegan Cheesesteak in Philly Contest - not just a fun event, it's a Philadelphia tradition!
Back when I first heard about this amazing vegan joint up in Willow Grove, it was the Jamaican BBQ seitan "wings" that lured me up there to try Horizons - and kept me coming back.
When Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby moved their establishment "downtown," off South Street, the dish came with, but the "wings" fell off, as Landau decided to forgo any explicit references to animal equivalents in naming dishes. By the time they opened Vedge, the BBQ seitan was a relic compared to the revolution Landau was working with pure vegetables, and to this day the dish hasn't been seen in the Landau/Jacoby flagship.
As of lunchtime Friday, however, the Jamaican BBQ seitan has made a reappearance of sorts over at V Street, now in sandwich form, as Landau has added two seitan-based items to the lunch menu, the first appearance of the increasingly popular meat substitute at the Rittenhouse Square "street food" bar.
This recipe is by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, who helms the vegan restaurant Modern Love in Omaha. It first appeared at the Post Punk Kitchen blog. it's also included in Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week
This is for all you fishheads out there. A mix of mushrooms stand in for the clams to create a super satisfying chewiness, while some chopped up nori give this chowder a true taste of the sea. It’s thick and creamy and loaded with the finer things, like potatoes and carrots. Crumble some saltines over the top and you’ll be able to hear the Atlantic ocean lapping at your feet. For authenticity, make sure to serve this while talking like a character from a Stephen King movie.
1 cup cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
2 cups vegetable broth
4 teaspoons organic cornstarch
Every January, more people, it seems, try vegan eating for at least the month. You know, a trial period: If you find that you don't like those ways, you can send 'em back in 30 days. The concept may be rooted in antiquity, or perhaps only in 1984, but either way it seems to be gathering steam over the past decade.
When I talked to Cory Booker at the beginning of December and asked what was to become of his end-of 2014 "vegan experiment," he said "One of the ideas I'm debating is going one more month, from Jan. 1 to Feb. 1, and inviting people to do a one-month experiment with me. Maybe do a video and see if we can get a lot of folks."
If you're curious about trying this, there are several options whether or not you want to check in with Cory Booker. Really, the only hard thing about living vegan is the lack of support in our culture, but more and more institutions are springing up to fill in with that support, giving people time to get their bearings in a new pattern.
Let's face it: Many aspects of air travel are a total drag, and this holiday season may be draggier than ever as passenger volume will be exceedingly high. But one thing we all love to complain about, airport food, is steadily getting better, as illustrated by a new report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
For the 14th year in a row, the group's dietitians surveyed the top 30 busiest U.S. airports and found that 23 of them offer at least one healthful plant-based entrée. They ranked the airports by dividing the number of restaurants with such an entrée by the total number of restaurants at that airport. The 2014 results are awash in Kasem-esque patter about who's moved up or down how many slots since last year, but also with plenty of good info about what the cholesterol-free, fiber-rich options are at each of the contenders.
Philadelphia International Airport had been off the list since 2006 but came back strong, just missing the Top 10 by tying with JFK and O'Hare for the #11 spot. PHL got a score of 78 percent, based on 53 of its 68 restaurants making the grade for healthy plant-based fare. Such as? PCRM gets specific here:
Here are 10 vegan food books worth owning or giving as gifts, all of which were published this year - plus one that can't be counted as vegan but is still worth a look.
The Vegetarian Flavor Bible by Karen Page with photos by Andrew Dornenburg (Little, Brown)
Easily one of the most remarkable food-oriented books to come out this year, it's restricted from the list below on something of a technicality: While overwhelmingly vegan-friendly, this A-Z guide, true to its title, is vegetarian rather than vegan. It's not just semantics - with entries on buttermilk, eggs, cheese (12 pages of entries, plus listings within other entries throughout the book) and the like, it's analogous to a vegetarian cookbook that happens to contain a healthy number of vegan recipes - yes, vegans can skip over the nonvegan bits, but we can do that in an omnivore cookbook too.
That said, any vegans who are interested in better understanding flavors and/or improving their own cooking should check this out: With the help of Dornenburg's sharp-eyed photos, Page walks us through each ingredient's strengths and affinities, making clear why some foods work together better than others and how different foods might be balanced or substituted in different cases with positive results. Additionally, notes from vegan chefs are included, both within the ingredients' entries and in a well-composed, exhaustive introductory section that contextualizes the data to come. Rich Landau and/or Vedge are mentioned several times in specific reference to bringing out vegan flavors. The book succeeds as both educational reference and fascinating recreational reading. All in all, a near-vegan winner that's hard to improve on - yet it still might be, as The Vegan Flavor Bible.
Long story short, you send in your choice for Best Vegan Cheesesteak, plus, if you like, a reason you think it's the best. The first vote each place gets constitutes its nomination, and I will record those and their reasons in full here in updates to this blog post. The 2nd, 3rd, etc. votes just add up for that place, and at midnight on March 11 the top three vote-getters move on to the finals. I will keep the tally up to date as much as possible, but at least every 12 hours.
There are various ways to vote, as the rules specify. You can email me your choice for favorite Vegan Cheesesteak, or you can tweet it with the hashtag #vegancheesesteak, or you can send in the coupon that runs with my V for Veg column, OR you can simply indicate your choice right here, via a comment on this post. It's worth voting, not just because of your sense of civic responsibility, but because one person chosen randomly will win a delicious vegan dinner for two at Sprig & Vine in New Hope.