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.
Royal Tavern (937 E Passyunk Ave, 215-389-6694) was crowned as this year's top Vegan Cheesesteak, with former titleholder Blackbird taking solace in the fact that its rival won with seitan made by Mark Mebus. Olivieri, the proprietor of Pat's Steaks, suggested the quality was rising across the board. "I think they all stepped up their game this year. The sandwiches are just getting better," he told V for Veg.
Royal Tavern's Mark McKinney, who last year took second place with Cantina Dos Segundos' "vegan cheesesteak burrito," later told me he was especially intrigued to attempt the real deal - only vegan - because "I never have had an actual Philly cheesesteak." He has more to say about his recipe in this Thursday's V for Veg extra.
Meanwhile, there's no time for Disney World, as McKinney says he's busy dealing with "the business [the win] is causing - we've tripled our vegan cheesesteak sales since Friday."
And the chef who put Royal Tavern, Khyber Pass, Cantina Dos Segundos and others on Philly's vegan-friendly map is prepping for a new slate of plant-based treats at Triangle Tavern, set to launch in mid-April.
"Wait'll you try the vegan meatballs," he promised. "And the vegan hot roast beef sandwich."