In yesterday's V for Veg column I noted several upcoming vegan restaurants, and the one coming up the soonest is Steve Laurence's Vegan Commissary, which opens tonight at 11th and Morris (1703 S. 11th St.).
The menu will be flexible and mutable according to fresh veggie options, but even the initial lineup is quite eclectic, to say the least. (See below for the opening menu and holiday schedule.) I asked head chef Leigh Needham - who was brought on earlier this year to help shape and refine some of Laurence's wholesale offerings and who created the Commissary menu with Laurence - what was the big idea.
"There were some foods we wanted to do that I hadn't seen a lot [in Philly]," Needham said. "We were working with the question, how do we present vegetables as an entree instead of how a meal is usually presented with the protein centerpiece and the veggies as, you know, the peanut gallery?"
It's a good question, and there's not a single right answer - after all, such was the wild idea put forward by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby when they closed Horizons to open Vedge, the "vegetable restaurant." Laurence and Needham's answer was "to draw upon different cultures that have done this already in the past - what you might call 'cultural vegan options' that already exist" and adapt the various dishes into a coherent, easy-to-grasp menu.
So the first thing I had there (during a promotional pop-up event) was a spicy banh mi along with a lighter-than-air vegan macaroon, while tonight's offerings run from Togarashi Won Tons to Chick Pea Tagine to the Italian Market Sandwich to Butternut Squash Gnudi.
Needham said the gnudi (a kind of non-pasta gnocchi) was one of the dishes the most fun to create. The challenge was "to present tofu in a new style," he said, resulting in a dumpling that's "crispy outside, creamy inside, drawing on the sweetness of butternut."
Another fave is the nori cake. "I wanted to create something that tastes 'seafoody' without mimicking a particular [animal] dish. I had a lot of fun playing around with that - going for that seafood flavor without having it taste like shrimp or crab or anything specific."
Does it work? Wouldn't surprise me, as everything I've sampled there has been distinctively flavorful. You can stop by and judge for yourself tonight - the place opens at 5:00 p.m.
Cheers to this new South Philly vegan hangout, in 2014 and beyond!
Vegan Commissary opening menu
Edamame Hummus, Togarashi Won Tons
Spicy Miso Soup
Butternut Squash Gnudi
Wild Rice Salad
Poached Pear Salad
Italian Market Sandwich
Crisp Polenta, Root Vegetables, Melted Greens
Nori Cake, Arugola, Green Goddess
Za'atar Grilled Eggplant, Chimichurri Trumpets, Quinoa, Pomegranate
Chick Pea Tagine
Baked Ziti, Artichoke, Spinach, Tomato, Feta
Creme Brulee, Winter Squash, Almond Cream
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
Eggnog Cheesecake, Gingersnaps
Friday 12/27 and Saturday 12/28 - dinner 5 to 10 p.m.
Sunday 12/29 - brunch 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Monday 12/30 - Closed
Tuesday 12/31 - noon to 8 p.m. (Regular menu with brunch and sandwich additions)
Wednesday 1/1 - Closed
Thursday 1/2 and Friday 1/3 - dinner 5 to 10 p.m.
Saturday 1/4 - brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner 5 to 10 p.m.
Sunday 1/5 - brunch 10a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday - 5 to 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday - 5 to 10 p.m.
Saturday - 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sunday - 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.