Pledged to the Plant Life
by Karen Chernick
When LJ Steinig won her Grand Champion title at Philly MAC-Down 2016, the city’s first vegan mac and cheese cooking contest, she had the whole group of Philly Vegan Lady Gangsters rooting for her.
The gang is a closed Facebook group of more than 500 “vegan women who all work in a variety of ways to make the world a better place for animals and for each other.” Steinig, a high school English department chair for an online school, initially started the group in July 2015 to make more like-minded pals. A small group of her female Facebook friends had been meeting monthly for vegan dinners at Miss Rachel’s Pantry in Point Breeze (a practice that many of the gangsters still maintain), and Steinig turned those dinner parties into an ongoing virtual vegan feast.
The group also provides a space for the city’s lady vegans to share product recommendations, broadcast which local supermarkets stock plant-based canned tuna, ask for advice about how best to navigate a particular steakhouse’s menu, and vent about recent altercations with omnivores.
“Beyond dinner parties and talk of products,” Steinig says, “the gang has really evolved to do some wonderful things together.” The Lady Gangsters often fundraise for Woodstock Farm Sanctuary and the Humane League, volunteer their time and protest for animal rights.
Always eager to point a hungry lady (or fellow) vegan toward a worthy dining option, the Philly Vegan Lady Gangsters were happy to share recommendations for some of their favorite and least-known plant-based eats around the city. Below, please find their crowd-sourced advice.
The clientele at Kensington’s Memphis Taproom may be mostly bearded and meat-loving, but the gastropub promises that their vegetarian and vegan options will knock your nonleather shoes off. PVLG’s junk food vegans agree. Gloss over the menu’s meaty Mr. American Cheeseburger and McMemphis Chicken, and look for the Spaghetti Sandwich. Complete with lentil meatballs, marinara sauce, vegan cheese and, of course, spaghetti, the sandwich is a perfect precursor to the restaurant’s peanut butter pie (also vegan). If you can convince someone to go halfsies with you, have them order the Smoked Coconut Club with grilled lemon garlic tofu and tomato herb mayo.
Better yet, visit the taproom’s summer beer garden and order a jackfruit po’ boy with Creole remoulade (you might also try one of three other types of vegan burgers—or multiple varieties of vegan hot dogs).
This family owned Indonesian restaurant in Point Breeze doesn’t have a website, but somehow word got out among the Lady Gangsters that Hardena/Waroeng Surabaya caters to vegans. Rachel Klein of Miss Rachel’s Pantry recommends trying the vegan sayur singkong—collard greens simmered in a coconut milk broth. Other PVLG members swear by the sweet-braised jackfruit stew (served only on the weekend) and say that any of the tempeh dishes are bound to be delicious.
As befitting a Lady Gangster recommendation, Crust Bakery is owned and operated by a team of self-proclaimed sassy ladies (some of them PVLG members themselves). Since they have no storefront, their subscription boxes offer diners a way to keep abreast of what’s going on in their commissary kitchen.
Boxes ($30 each) include an assortment of five mystery desserts, combining both classic items and seasonal favorites. Past subscription boxes have included desserts almost impossible to find anywhere else: vegan twinkies, cannolis, dunkaroos and baklava. Each month is different, and subscriptions can be purchased on a month-to-month basis.
A punky South Street establishment for 20 years, Tattooed Mom’s menu is half-omnivore, half-veg. Steinig and the rest of the gangsters swear by the Vegan Pickled Fried Chickn Sandwich (which washes down nicely with a pickletini cocktail from the bar). The house-brined, fried chickn is topped with fried pickles and hot-sauce mayo in a sandwich that is sour, spicy, crunchy and sweet all at once.
Insider tip: Also order the Vegan Chubbsteak. Steinig heard from a friend to ask for it before it finally made it onto the menu, and says the vegan cheesesteak and tater tots in a wrap are pure magic.
Individual vegan Vietnamese dishes are found easily enough all over the city, but a full, vegan, 16-item pho menu is rare. Head to this mom-and-pop pho shop in East Kensington for vegan shrimp summer rolls, vegan seafood noodle pho, and vegan duck and mushroom egg noodle soup.
And it’s all at an affordable price—the vegan beef pho will only set you back $8, cheap enough to order another for tomorrow’s lunch.
PVLG’s answer to the Good Humor truck, this food truck serves a variety of banana whips—all-natural ice cream made entirely from frozen bananas. The whips and other fruit-based treats can often be found in West Philly’s Clark Park and Manayunk. Follow the truck on Facebook to find out where it will park next.
As a restaurant committed to sustainable practices and preserving Philadelphia’s natural resources, it is no surprise that Fishtown’s Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen has a respectable list of vegan and vegetarian options. The retro-American classic menu includes standard fare such as veggie burgers and plant-based breakfasts, but also boasts barbecue seitan wings served with an apricot horseradish cream and fried brussels sprouts.
Cedar Point also serves a twist on the iconic Philadelphian hoagie with its red curry cheesesteak, a sandwich stuffed with grilled seitan tips, red curry aioli, peppers, onions and daiya cheese. (Pairs well with a Beetlejuice cocktail from the bar, a gin-based drink made with fresh beets.)
Martha’s Vegan Jawn Hoagie is a plant-based Philadelphian sandwich at its best: Stuffed with eggplant, carrot terrine, radish and arugula—then dressed with tofu mayo—it is worth the trip to Kensington. If you’re not in the mood for finger food, try the vegan quiche with fermented ramps, chile roasted carrots and a crispy hash brown crust, or sample any of the house-made pickles.
PVLG recommends ending your meal at Martha with the vegan blackberry tea cake, garnished with a lemon berry glaze, fresh mint and raspberries.