Originally published August 8, 2012.
IT WASN'T that long ago that sidling up to the bar for a beer and a veggie burger was a comical incongruity. But as vegan food goes mainstream, pubs around Philly are now stepping up to serve us not just burgers but creative sandwiches and snack concoctions that often rival their meat-based mainstays.
Some intrepid pioneer had to map this territory by drinking all over town. I couldn't pull it off alone, so I teamed up with the man who knows the ropes: Joe Sixpack.
We started our journey at the venue that earns the "most improved" award in terms of veggie food — Khyber Pass Pub (56 S. 2nd St., 215-238-5888), now a sit-down joint without live music. OK, some people would say that's a non-improvement from the legendary, loud and lively grease-pit the Khyber used to be, but the food tips the balance.
BBQ pulled pork, fried chicken, coleslaw, Italian sausage and buttered popcorn are rendered in all-vegan versions. I particularly liked the sausage, with more fennel kick than you usually get. I mentioned my plan to stick to vegan beers, and that turned the conversation into a kind of beer summit over the question of what's practical and possible in living vegan. You can see Joe Sixpack's summary on this page, but I said that with easy resources like Barnivore.com, why not go ahead and do beer we can agree is vegan?
I was drinking an Allagash White, which I knew was vegan because I used to get it at Horizons, and Joe, taking off from wheat beer and white beer and why they're likely to be vegan, recommended a Franziskaner Hefelweisse, which went with both the pulled pork and sausage sandwiches perfectly.
Another place we hit that night was Dos Segundos Cantina (931 N. 2nd St., 215-629-0500), where tasty, crispy seitan tacos were on special. While not in the Khyber's league (though owned by the same folks), Dos Segundos' menu features some seitan-based options among other veg-friendly Mexican-tinged offerings.
At The Abbaye (637 N. 3rd St., 215-627-6711), I had their vegan wings washed down by a Troeg's Perpetual IPA. This was the only IPA I had (I usually go a little mellower). I don't know if that was a factor, but the wings were pretty much overpowered by the beer. In Joe's opinion, what they were missing was "bones," and he has a point. Such creations would benefit from something extra, texturally, to provide more resistance and contrast.
We closed the night out at the Standard Tap (901 N. 2nd St., 215-238-0630), which offered a chickpea sandwich that I was too full to try (but somehow managed to squeeze in a Victory Whirlwind Wit).
Other than the Beer Summit, I also hit Monk's Cafe (264 S. 16th St., 215-545-7005) for a veggie cheesesteak (vegan without cheese), Local 44 (4333 Spruce St., 215-222-2337) for a seitan-pastrami reuben, and South Philadelphia Tap Room (1509 Mifflin St., 215-271-7787), where I enjoyed its one-of-a-kind "vegan hoagie" along with a Kenzinger Kolsch.
That texture-rich multilayered masterpiece was the "all-around munchable" winner from my own travels. But you may have your own to add to the list. The important thing is to recognize Philly as not just a great beer town — but a great pub-food town.
V for Veg-Out: The third annual Vegan Spirituality Retreat, this year featuring Rae Sikora, will be held in Gladwyne on Saturday. 215-620-2130 or veganspirituality.com.