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15 reasons why 2016 could be the Year of the Vegan in Philly

January always opens with good intentions, often plant-based ones, yet within weeks, old habits creep back in. But 2016 could be a tipping point.

The vegan Esta Loca Taco Salad at Gangster Vegan Organics in Norristown combines romaine lettuce, walnut taco meat, pico de gallo, guacamole, and more.
The vegan Esta Loca Taco Salad at Gangster Vegan Organics in Norristown combines romaine lettuce, walnut taco meat, pico de gallo, guacamole, and more.Read moreTRACIE VAN AUKEN/ For The Inquirer

January always opens with good intentions, often plant-based ones, yet within weeks, old habits creep back in. But 2016 could be a tipping point - the year when vegan eating becomes too easy, and too tasty, to pass up. Options certainly abound in Philly. Here are 15 of them:

1. Gangster in University City
Resolutions have life-changing potential. Just ask Vincent "Vinny" DePaul. After the collapse of his big-bucks L.A. T-shirt business, which had him hanging with celebs, rappers, moguls, criminals and "a lot of negative energy," he was handed a fresh-pressed organic juice that opened his eyes.

Moving back to Pennsylvania, he kicked meat and dairy, started creating healthy juices and smoothies, and in 2014 opened Gangster Vegan Organics on the edge of Norristown. That stereotype-busting name has garnered some social-media pushback, but DePaul stands firm: "I'm not making it up - I lived it."

This spring, he'll open a restaurant at 43d and Locust. DePaul is looking at a format of "build-your-own vegan food bowls, wraps - it'll be vegan toppings heaven."

It's a major step, but DePaul has the quiet confidence of someone who's gone through hell to the other side: "If there ever was a time, now's the time. People are waking up."

2. HipCityVeg No. 3 on Broad
Nicole Marquis will open the third installment of Philly's own vegan fast-casual food chain at 121 S. Broad St. sometime after February. Since the original Rittenhouse Square joint opened with its sandwiches, wraps and salads, HCV has been a huge hit, especially with lunchtime crowds.

3. West Philly vegan doughnut shop 
At long last, Dottie's Donuts, the creatively flavored creations selling out at coffee shops throughout the city, will open a storefront, at 45th and Springfield. Jeff Poleon says it's in the final stages, connected to the kitchen they've used since the beginning, and he aims to have doors open by February.

4. Almost-vegan Tasty in South Philly
Sofia Baltopoulos and Kate Hiltz ran This Charming Bakery, a plant-based caterer, for a couple years. When a space opened at 1401 S. 12th St., they tapped ReAnimator alum Ben Pierce to help launch The Tasty. Baltopoulos envisions "a friendly, affordable neighborhood diner" open by mid-February.

All dishes will be animal-free, but coffee drinks will have a nonvegan option for those who haven't kicked dairy. Look for "breakfast all day - pancakes, waffles, scrambles, hashes" plus "appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and dinner plates" and a daily rotation of baked goods. More at

5. Beyond the token veggie burger
Instead of just throwing a token veggie burger on the menu, more non-vegan eateries are creating unique offerings to draw in vegan diners. A great example is at Chhaya Cafe (1819 E. Passyunk Ave.), where manager Daniel McCabe cooks vegan specials such as January's pulled-pork waffle. A zingy mix of sweet and savory flavors, its created from barbecue-marinated, pulled Blackbird seitan on a vegan corn bread waffle topped with apple-avocado salsa. And it's delicious.

6. Christina Bakes!
Vegan maven Christina Pirello kicks off 2016 with a new line of Christina Bakes cookies, some of the best cookies you've ever had, including Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Walnut Biscotti, Peanut Butter and Almond Biscotti. No refined flour, refined sugar or animal products here.

And Pirello is firing up a new season of her TV show, Christina Cooks. Pirello is also instituting pop-up dinners on the second floor of Caffe Valentino at Moyamensing and Wharton (215-336-3033).

7. Just what the Juice Dr. ordered
Ardmore's Juice Dr., whose drinks are found at Hub Bub Coffee and White Dog Cafes, now delivers to Philadelphia. Applying a nutritionist's eye to juicing and cleansing, its program eases people into healthful smoothie consumption. Juice Dr. now has a two-week trial period where "all juices, no matter the phase (smoothie included) are $5.99." Info: 267-607-3353.

8. Old City's new flavors
The Plough and the Stars (123 Chestnut St.), where the indefatigable Lenka Zivkovic packs them in with one-of-a-kind offerings, now does Meatless Mondays. Happy Hour (5-7 p.m.) on Mondays will feature plant-based bar food (beer-battered "fish" tacos, vegan quesadillas, etc.). And every Monday, The Plough will have a plant-based dinner with salad and dessert for $16. Zivkovic also notes that around the corner at Ben & Betsy's Coffee & Gifts (220 Market St., 215-366-2037), she'll oversee Vegan Chef Lenka's Plant-Based Brunch, which will include a variety of events.

9. New mayor shows plant-based promise
In October, I asked then-candidate Jim Kenney to promise one plant-based option at all mayor's office-sponsored events. He only agreed to "lead by example on this issue."

Well, his Inaugural Block Party indeed had a vegan-labeled option - smoked mushroom, cabbage, avocado chimichurri taco - from the Taco Mondo truck. Owner Michael Sultan said his team had already picked that item before Kenney's staff inquired about a vegan offering.

Tomorrow, Sultan, along with Alan Krawitz and Carolyn Nguyen, will open a full restaurant, Revolution Taco, at 2015 Walnut St., which will feature several vegan and vegetarian offerings.

10. Vegan cheese spreads and free coffee
This weekend brings the launch of Free Coffee Fridays at Miss Rachel's Pantry (1938 S. Chadwick St., 215-798-0053): Dine-in customers get a free cup of Green Street organic coffee; add $1 for bottomless refills. Rachel Klein's also been has been churning out vegan pub cheese, cream cheese, feta and muenster to meet a growing demand. I see why, having enjoyed an exquisite jar of her garlic cashew cream cheese.

11. Kale chips in your kitchen
Starting this morning, the Whole Foods in your (Mid-Atlantic) neighborhood should offer a new, easy way to make kale chips at home: the Kitchen Twins Kale Chip kit created by South Jersey sixth-graders Emily and Lyla Allen.

This was fun to try, and the process was so simple even I could get it right. (Suggestion: Bump up the temp by 25 to 50 degrees for the crispiest chips.) It's great to see the next generation coming up with plant-based solutions.

12. Meatball, the eggplant
Warminster's Burpee says its new eggplant, the Meatball, has a density and texture that make it a suitable meat substitute. Use as a "hamburger," "cutlet" or in any recipe calling for meat. It's available in seed form or as a plant. I haven't tried this "game-changer" (Burpee's term) yet, but if you have, let me know what you think.

13. Rip Esselstyn's PlantStrong Challenge
Former firefighter and author/advocate Rip Esselstyn will be at area Whole Foods stores Jan. 11-14 with his new book, PlantStrong. Shoppers can also sign up for Rip's 28-Day Challenge.

14. Kids' cooking classes
Across the river, junior chefs (ages 8-12) can learn the essentials of plant-based cooking from Chef Christina Martin and her Kids in the Kitchen classes at Haddonfield's In the Kitchen Cooking School. The first class is Jan. 16. Register for one class or the whole shebang. 609-206-4511.

15. Vedge empire expands
Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby are working on a couple of "high profile collaborations in the Philadelphia area and beyond" involving "a new concept in our lineup of vegan dining options," the couple said in an email. Hmmm.

One sure thing coming is the V Street Cookbook, coming this year from HarperCollins. It promises to "have everyone eating langos and dandan noodles in the privacy of their own homes."

In Philly as elsewhere, it's not just a new year but a new era. As Gangster Vegan's DePaul put it, "We don't need to eat animals anymore. That had its time, it's done."

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 15-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. or @V4Veg on Twitter.