I MAY NOT BE the first to notice this, but, geez, what a year, huh?
I mean for veg dining in Philly, of course. Long a pioneer in this area (hey, without us there would have been no American Vegetarian Society back in 1850), our town is really moving into the big leagues. This year saw the opening of four noteworthy plant-based businesses, each carving a slightly different niche in a different neighborhood.
HipCityVeg has taken Rittenhouse Square by storm (superstorm?) with its mix of burgers, salads and green smoothies. And vegan fast food with a little more of a "health" overlay is the mainstay of VGE, in Bryn Mawr, which does sandwiches, wraps, soups and a kick-ass potato salad.
In June, longtime vegan-catering fave Miss Rachel's Pantry became a café on Passyunk Avenue, with plentiful sweet treats and homestyle lunches by day, plus weekend prix-fixe dinners at the cafe's big communal table. And the all-vegetarian (almost all vegan) food truck Kung Fu Hoagies has gained a cult following for its vegan banh mi. So far, the colorful cart's success has been dinged by its location shifting - fans don't always know when or where to count on seeing it. But word is that 2013 may see a permanent KFH home.
Meanwhile, Blackbird Pizzeria this year expanded from its signature pizza and cheesesteak focus to include a well-received "chickpea Parm" sandwich. The laid-back joint just off South Street has also started making seitan in-house for its cheesesteaks and its new 'wings' that come with root-beer BBQ or habanero-citrus buffalo sauce.
VegNews Magazine this summer named Philly the vegan-friendliest "middleweight" city in a head-to-head contest with Washington, D.C. (Disclosure: I was the writer who made the case for Philly, but I didn't get to vote!) Vegan author Carol Adams tweeted: "of course Philly wins, that's where Vedge is!" - and VegNews cemented this idea by naming Vedge "Restaurant of the Year" in its 2012 Veggie Awards. Plus, on Wednesday Philadelphia magazine ranked Vedge No. 3 among the year's top 50 restaurants.
The ripple effect of Vedge - and its precursor, Horizons - continues to be felt citywide, and not just in the "upscale" realm (e.g. vegan tasting menus). Today, new burger joints more often than not offer a veggie (often vegan) version - witness the superhyped Pizza Brain, which opened with vegan pizzas on the menu.
We visually chronicled these vegetarian and vegan options throughout 2012 in our twin photo galleries (philly.com/vsigns) of venues touting such wares. The galleries together comprise over 120 pics, thanks largely to the keen-eyed photogs who fueled our Vegetarian Awareness Month Photo Contest.
News for the new year
Now 2013 looks set to continue the animal-free trend, though many developments are currently hush-hush. I can tell you that HipCityVeg will soon introduce several new menu items that owner Nicole Marquis is "very excited about . . . we're strengthening our relationship with Rich Landau [of Vedge, who also designed the original menu]."
Back over at Vedge, Landau and wife, Kate Jacoby, are not doing any laurel-resting - The Vedge cookbook should be out by late spring, so you can try replicating some of those awesome creations at home. And by the end of 2013, your kitchen may not be the only venue other than 1221 Locust where you can find Vedge-style offerings. That's all V for Veg can say for now, but stay tuned.
Lastly, lest you think the kale-chip trend is waning, VGE has just started offering them - nicely baked and subtly seasoned - as a stand-alone. "We were doing them as a garnish," owner Fernando Peralta explained, "and people kept asking if we'd put them on the menu."
Next time you're on the Main Line, check 'em out. And wherever you are, have a green, peaceful and crunchy new year!
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist,
writer, musician and 10-year vegan.
"V for Veg" chronicles the growing
trend of plant-based eating in and
around Philadelphia. Send your veg
tips to VforVeg@phillynews.com
and follow @V4Veg on Twitter.