Philly for Foodies
We’ve done a mini ‘GO’ on my mother’s hometown, Philadelphia, through the eyes of the owners of Vedge, the restaurant that keeps the food buzz happening in Philly.
Philly for Foodies
Heralded as one of the country’s best vegan restaurants (and restaurants period), Vedge is bringing some serious culinary clout to the city of brotherly love. Today we speak to the chefs/owners (also husband and wife) Kate Jacoby and Richard Landau about their much-talked about restaurant, get their insider foodie guide to Philly and preview a recipe from their upcoming cookbook.
Q&A with Kate & Richard of Vedge
Rather than being a really great vegan restaurant, it seems Vedge has succeeded in being a really great restaurant that happens to be vegan. Was this part of the plan?
Yes, thanks. We wanted to be inclusive, not exclusive. So, we focus on the food (vegetables) and not the diet (vegan). Everyone, or nearly everyone, eats vegetables. People know they should eat more of them, and people are fascinated by all the cool heirloom things showing up at farmers’ markets and in their CSAs (community-supported agriculture, meaning a veggie box scheme that comes directly from the farm to the customer). We’ve been able to reach a really wide audience, and it’s great. Our forthcoming cookbook takes the same approach.
Many vegan/vegetarian restaurants tend to shy away from cocktails. How does your bar fit into the restaurant’s ethos?
I understand many people think that people are vegan and veg for health reasons and that those folks might not drink. But I love wine (and cocktails and beer) because I love dining, and I see it as an integral part of the dining experience. Our wines are “natural” wines from small producers, our beers are also smaller, craft brews, and our cocktails are approached the same way we think about food—fresh and made from scratch.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu right now?
I always say the roasted maitake mushroom with smoked leek remoulade and a celery root fritter. But on any given night, it’s something from our “Dirt List” (an ever changing menu of daily creations that features new stuff just-in from local farms). Last night, I oogled over a chilled asparagus soup with toasted almonds and mustard oil and some marinated black kale served with fresh Hawaiian (not local, I know) hearts of palm and cherry tomatoes. Green on green is gorgeous!
What advice would you give to home cooks looking to get more vegetables into their diet?
Don’t be intimidated by something you’ve never prepared before, and don’t be boxed in by how you experienced vegetables as a kid and in many restaurants recently. Asparagus doesn’t need to have an egg cracked on top of it, and beets don’t have to be served with goat cheese and candied nuts. Find some inspiration online or in a good cookbook and then seek out the freshest veggies you can find. Learn what takes well to salting and pickling, what needs a quick blanch, and what does great with a high temp roasting. Don’t think of veggies as afterthoughts and side dishes. Put extra effort into them and let them shine!
Kate and Richard’s Philly Picks
There are plenty of fun specialty shops in Philly, for certain types of food or specific ingredients and kitchen gear. We love H-Mart—a small chain of Asian supermarkets. Head up to Cheltenham Avenue, on the northern border of the city, and you’ll be rewarded by an amazing supermarket whose entryway is lined with tons of diverse little shops a la Seoul. Ride the escalator up a flight, and you’re smack in the middle of the most exciting food court in Philly. Korean BBQ, Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap and tons of banchan, ramen bowls, sushi, Vietnamese summer rolls—you get the picture. Lots of choices, all beautifully and authentically prepared.
There’s also a small Japanese market in Narberth, a small town just West of Philly, called Maido. Order some food, do some shopping, then grab a seat at the counter and enjoy an expertly made onigiri.
Date Night Restaurant
Definitely a hard question in this town. We love the Vetri restaurants—from the celebration tasting menu at Vetri to the pizza and antipasto at Osteria to the great beer selection and graffiti art at Alla Spina. Zahav is iconic in Philly for good reason. Vernick is doing some really great food and the new-ish Chef at Fork is fantastic.
Our family-friendly pick would be Nomad Pizza. It’s the best pizza in the city (and beyond?), and the vibe is really laid back and relaxed.
Casual Lunch (hoagie shop, food cart, stand, etc.)
Hard call. Wanna say the Jamaican Food trucks up on Callowhill, but we’ll go with Viet Tofu on Washington Avenue. It’s a little Vietnamese grocery shop that has quick stuff to grab, including tasty tofu bahn mi.
Not really brunchers, but people rave about Honey’s Sit and Eat—up in Northern Liberties and now with a location on South Street. They are known for their tofu scramble
The Barnes is gorgeous and has all kinds of activities, including stuff for kids.
The Mütter Museum (pronounced “mooter”) is fascinating if you like to see weird body parts in jars.
In the summer, Philly has some really cool outdoor places to hang out:
Race Street Pier is a new park that is great in the summer and Franklin Square is great for families—complete with a Philly-themed mini golf course.
Lastly, if you plan in advance, you can catch up with the next Night Market—a band of roving food trucks that meet up in different areas of the city. It’s sponsored by the Food Trust, and it’s a great way to sample the city’s best street food.
We can’t not say The Franklin. But since everyone already knows about how awesome that shrine of cocktail-dom is, try Emmanuelle in Northern Liberties for cocktails and the new kid on the block Strangelove’s for beer, in Washington Square West.
Angela Heithecker has a shop in Chestnut Hill called HobNob. She focuses on interior design, and she helped us with the design at Vedge, including turning us on to Philly-made Galbraith & Paul wallpaper.
For clothes, there are tons of cute shops in Old City, including Third Street Habit. And if you’re looking for cool crafts and gifts, you must visit Nice Things Handmade in South Philly—it’s a quirky collection of a million things you didn’t know you needed but could not continue to live without.
Anything else you love?
We also love the Franklin Fountain (yes, I know it’s all about Benjamin Franklin here, right?). It’s an adorably themed old-time ice cream shop, complete with vintage candy and sodas. And they have vegan ice cream!
We're really into Feel Food, a new vegan, organic café in the West Village. Latin American chef Fernando Aciar makes crazy delicious things out of superfoods—think sprouted lentil and brown rice wraps, bee pollen water, raw pistachio biscotti, and more. Fernando and his co-owner Gaeleen lend us...