Do images of flavorless tofu and bean sprouts come to mind when you hear the words “vegetarian food”? As recently as five or 10 years ago, it was difficult for anyone embracing an animal-free diet to find restaurants that would accommodate their tastes and preferences. Things have changed; today’s health conscious diners can enjoy some of the most creative and surprising cooking throughout the entire state. According to Andrea Kyan from Philadelphia’s P. S. & Co., carnivores “won’t miss the meat, dairy and all the other stuff they think they need to make food taste good, and eat to feel good.” Here is a short list of some of Pennsylvania’s finest establishments committed to vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
Upohar is the Bengali word for gift. It is an incredibly appropriate name for this unique Lancaster restaurant, which was founded in 2011 by Srirupa Dasgupta. The inspiration for the venture started in 2008, when Dasgupta heard Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus speak about for-profit businesses that also have a social objective. Lancaster has an active refugee community—each year about 500 people are resettled there. Upohar was started with the social mission of hiring refugees and others that have difficulty finding work, such as homeless people. Her employees are paid twice the state minimum wage. Dasgupta employs people from all over the world, including places like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bhutan.
“We make food that we enjoy eating ourselves— most of the menu consists of family recipes of our staff members, though some are recipes I’ve collected during my travels and from other sources ,” says Dasgupta. “We consider what’s in season and assemble an international menu that’s colorful, flavorful, textured and nutritious.”Diners might be surprised “that a hearty and satisfying meal with complex flavors and textures can also be vegan,” Dasgupta adds. Upohar is available for groups, catering and events and can accommodate 38 seated guests.
Vedge was opened in 2011 by the husbandand- wife team of Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby. The accolades have been well documented both locally and nationally, and they keep coming—Restaurant of the Year by VegNews Magazine in 2012, one of GQ magazine’s Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2013, James Beard-nominated in 2014, winners on Food Network’s Chopped and listed among the country’s best dining experiences by Eater.com’s National Eater 38 for 2015. A world-class experience by any definition, made even more remarkable by the fact that Vedge runs a completely vegan kitchen, it boasts unique handcrafted cocktails and has a thoughtful, well-balanced wine list. The handsome restaurant features two private rooms; the Club room can accommodate up to 16, while the Cove room is a semiprivate dining room with room for up to 25 people.
According to Joe Pachella, events manager, the inspiration for the unique cuisine comes from chef Rich and Kate’s passion for food and travel.“They love discovering new vegetables, developing new cooking methods and flavor combinations and exploring the world’s food cultures,” he says.
Pachella also notes carnivores will be surprised with how satisfied they will feel. “With rare exception, most die-hard meat eaters are very pleasantly surprised by how little they actually missed the meat,” he explains. “The flavors and textures are stimulating and the portions are rich and satisfying. Couple that with warm hospitality and set it in an elegant Frank Furness building and most meat eaters are surprised by how sophisticated and inspiring a vegetable restaurant can be.”
Located about an hour north of Philadelphia in scenic New Hope is Sprig & Vine. Opened by chef Ross Olchvary and his wife Melinda DeAugustines, the restaurant is their vision for a seasonally inspired vegan restaurant that specializes in the use of locally sourced ingredients. Olchvary actually worked at Horizons in Philadelphia (a restaurant owned by Vedge’s owners) for several years before setting out on his own in 2010. Featuring a constantly changing assortment of small and large plates, the menu highlights the best of the locally grown, seasonal ingredients. The menu changes frequently, so check back often to see what’s cooking, and it’s also BYOB. Sprig & Vine can accommodate up to 51 guests in its dining room.
Owner Elaine Smith says “Pittsburgh is meat central,” but that “people usually end up having a good time” at Zenith, a spot located on the South Side of Pittsburgh that is part vegetarian restaurant, part art gallery and part antique shop all rolled into one unique and eclectic space. Known for its Sunday brunch, you can book Zenith out and get the full Sunday brunch spread featuring its famous buffet. The menu changes frequently, but is always health-conscious vegetarian and vegan fare. Grab a delicious meal, and then wander around a thrift store full of vintage curiosities and collectables. The dining room is a large “L” shape that can hold up to about 90 people, depending on table arrangements. Zenith is BYOB, but if you book an event and supply the alcohol, they will staff a bartender.
Located a stone’s throw from Rittenhouse Square on Locust Street in Philadelphia, P. S. & Co. was opened in 2014 by Andrea Kyan. The opening was the culmination of five years of hard work. After becoming a convert to the vegan lifestyle in 2007, Kyan found herself craving sweets. After numerous baking experiments she realized she could turn her passion for a healthy lifestyle into a profession. Pure Sweets was born soon thereafter at the Philadelphia Whole Foods Summer Markets.
“‘P.S.’ stands for Pure Sweets, which is how I started back in 2008, selling healthy snacks and sweets online for six years,” Kyan says.“It slowly grew into the current retail space. ‘Co.’ stands for collaboration and/or company. Great things happen when you’re open to ideas, and that’s what P.S. & Co. has become. I’m lucky to have a wonderful team of folks who believe in the mission as wholeheartedly as I do. Together, our ideas are exceeding my wildest expectations.”
P.S. & Co. takes great pride in hosting groups and events, according to Kyan. P.S. & Co. can handle anywhere up to 45 seated or 100 standing. “We are doing something no one else is doing in the city, which is serving the cleanest food that actually tastes great,” she says. “We focus on flavor just as much as our ingredients.Not a single restaurant in the area is 100 percent organic. Restaurants have gluten-free options, vegan options, they use organic ingredients when it’s convenient, but we are committed to only sourcing 100 percent organic ingredients all the time.No excuses.We also only serve gluten-free and plant-based fare.”