Let me start by saying I am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian. I prefer to think of myself as a flexitarian. Basically, I'll eat what I damn well please pending it doesn't kill me. I happen to enjoy vegan and vegetarian based dishes; I find them flavorful, creative, and healthy. More and more diners across the world are going meatless (no one forgot about you, Keto) for various reasons and certain cities like Austin, Portland (OR) and Philadelphia are excelling in meatless dishes. For months I'd been hoping to explore Philadelphia's booming meatless dining scene and I recently had forty eight hours to make it happen. I was hoping to try at least four places but due to technological difficulties and pure popularity I was only able to visit two (the best two): Vedge and Charlie Was a Sinner.
Arriving late on a Friday I called Vedge ahead to make sure I could still come in for a quick bite. At 8:45pm there were plenty of diners but oddly no one at the bar. Upon seeing the drink menu the barren bar stools confused me further because it is a well crafted and reasonably priced list. I know I'd be a regular. I was presented with an amouse bouche of butternut squash soup that was gone in a smooth velvety shot. I ordered two smaller plates in order to save room for dessert: a rutabaga fondue and avocado stuffed with riced cauliflower.
Nothing could have prepared me for how creamy and decadent the rutabaga fondue would be. Presented in a small crock with a fresh pretzel roll, I'm still salivating over the texture and flavor of the fondue. My stuffed avocado was also quite good but could have used a bit more of the romesco sauce to help the cauliflower. Admittedly, the fondue was a hard act to follow. My dessert was a sensory playground: white chocolate panna cotta, chia seeds, snickerdoodle cookies and ginger ice cream. When you remember that this is all VEGAN, it kind of blows your mind a little bit. The ginger ice cream had a great concentrated flavor that acted as an anchor for the rest of the flavors, even the snappy snickerdoodles. For lacking gelatin the panna cotta had superb texture and gentle nuances of white chocolate. Overall, an impressively delicious meal that would leave any omnivore drooling for more.
If the name alone doesn't raise an eyebrow the menu at Charlie Was a Sinner certainly will. Another all vegan menu but with global influences ranging from mu-shu tofu to bucatini and "meatballs". A narrow lounge with dimmed lights and tiny tables, Charlie is trendy and popular with locals but we managed a seat after a few minutes wait. Our server told us the daily punch flavor and after strawberry, rosemary and rum I said yes. In the middle of winter it was DIVINE. Our smaller plates of shisito peppers with romesco sauce and an avocado toast with habenero veganaise arrived quickly and were consumed quicker. The peppers were plentiful and seasoned well enough to stand on their own; the romesco just amplified the smoky flavorful and provided a twinge of acidity. The toast was piled with avocado, red onion, radish, and a spicy mayo drizzle that might just make me convert. If this wasn't tasty enough, the gnocchi were exquisite. Tubular potato gnocchi were coated in a butternut squash and brown butter sauce with crispy Brussel sprout leaves scattered among the dumplings. It was difficult to share this dish and I half considered ordering another but the chocolate pudding was way too tempting and way too good to pass up. The only sin committed here is that I didn't order enough food.
Even though it was a stunted visit, I eagerly look forward to visiting Philly's meatless dining scene in the near future. Despite the cheesesteaks, TastyKakes and cream cheese, Philadelphia has proved it is the Northeast's veggie Mecca. Until the next dish, ciao!