Interview: Meet Nicole Marquis, owner of HipCityVeg in Philadelphia! »
Healthful vegan fast food maven Nicole Marquis dreamed of serving fast food to Philadelphians and visitors to the City of Brotherly/Sisterly/Gender-is-a-construct Love. And when she built HipCityVeg, we did come, in arugula taco salad-chomping droves. Now it’s silly to even think of eating anywhere else in Rittenhouse Square! I mean, I guess you could think about it, but it’d be better to save your precious brain space for finding the best spot in Rittenhouse Square to sit with your gourmet vegan take-out deliciousness from HipCityVeg!
Nicole brought me into her adorable restaurant to have me try the groothie, an organic green smoothie made of a rotating blend of fresh local greens and fruit (amazing!) and one of the most popular dishes, the Crispy HipCity Ranch. This overflowing faux chicken burger was battered fried amazingness. I rarely go for that stuff but wow, am I glad I tried it! So ridic!
I love the decor of the place: the whole pieces of organic fruit spilling onto the counter (in an artistic way), hardwood floors, and pretty potted plants. So lovely!
Nicole e-mailed me responses to my questions about how she envisioned and created HipCityVeg, her role in supporting the fast-growing vegan scene in Philly, and her life’s mission to spread the delicious veggie love.
Vegansaurus: Are you native to the Philly area? Where did you grow up?
Nicole Marquis: I’ve lived in the Philly area all my life except for a period living in L.A. during college. I grew up in Lower Gwynedd, but have been living in Rittenhouse Square for a few years.
V: When did you become interested in vegan food?
NM: I first became interested in nutrition by reading Andrew Weil. Then I read Mad Cowboy and realized what animal cultivation was doing to the earth. After reading Eat to Live and The China Study, I realized that a plant-based diet is essential to my health. I became vegan a few years ago after being vegetarian for several years, but the change in conciousness was actually developing for a while before that.
V: How did you get involved with now-closed Philly vegan fine-dining restaurant Horizons?
NM: I worked in the restaurant industry for years, mostly as a server before managing a local night club. While working on another project I met Rich Landau and he recruited me to help run Horizons.
V: What made you decide to open HipCityVeg?
NM: I felt a mission to popularize plant-based food. When something has great importance to you personally you want to see it grow and flourish. I also wanted a world where I didn’t have to peice together a couple of sides every time I ate in a restaurant.
V: What has most surprised you about operating a vegan restaurant in Philly?
NM: I was surprised by the pent-up demand. People said they were waiting for this for a long time. Who knew?
V: How many customers do you get on average per day? More during certain hours of the day?
NM: We serve about as many people as can fit in the restaurant (and onto the sidewalk), really. Our busiest time in this location is around lunch.
V: What is your most popular dish?
NM: Our best-selling sandwich is the Crispy Hip City Ranch, which is delicious. But our overall best-seller is our signature drink, the Groothie. It’s a smoothie made of bananas, apples, organic greens, and a seasonal fruit. There really is nothing better for your body.
V: How do you envision the growing veg scene in Philly? Do you think it’s greater now for any particular reason?
NM: Philly is becoming a great vegan city. It really is a hip city. People here love to challenge their tastes, to embrace the fringe. But they crave real, clean, fresh food. I love my hometown.
V: What are your hobbies, activities besides running the restaurant?
I love yoga. I love the arts. I love eating in great restaurants. I love my family and friends.
V: Anything else you’d like to add?
NM: I want everyone to feel at home in my restaurant. I hope we share the vibe of love. We’re all family!
[Groothie and Crispy HipCity Ranch photos via HipCityVeg]
Divino, the restaurant that replaced Fellini, posts menu »
So, we loved Berkeley’s Fellini but it’s long gone so we just have to go get used to that and get over it—which is very hard for us as WE HATE CHANGE. Anyway, the replacement, Divino, has posted their menu and it looks like a bunch of slow food hoo-hah but I’m thankful they’ll still have some vegan options, and the brunch looks especially good.
I don’t know, I love that they still have vegan pizza but I’m bummed that it’s all made with fancy grilled vegetables and not ten pounds of vegan meat. I loved that Smiling Cow pizza—that stuff was ridic! But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, maybe the roasted kumquat and tutti di frutti will be delicious?? I’m willing to give it a shot! Maybe this will finally be the amazingly authentic vegan Italian food that we’re missing in this area? Maybe they’ll make a gnocchi to rival Portland’s Portobello? Maybe I’ll win the lottery and ditch you all to yacht around the world with Jay-Z, Beyonce, and little Jay-Z-Beyonce? THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.
I don’t think they’re open yet but people have been seen inside doing tastings but we don’t care about them because they’re not us. Anyone tried anything yet?? Anyone excited about them opening?? WHAT’S THE WORD LET’S EAT!
Thanks Jennifer Chen for the heads-up!
Bowzer’s Pizza in Alameda has vegan cheese, and cornmeal deep-dish! »
Bowzer’s Pizza is like a Patxi’s on The Island! Man, Alameda is really stepping it up. When I was but a wee lass, making my way around The Island’s culinary dining scene took everything I got. And now, you kids, just rolling around in your vegan pâté and your cornmeal-crusted deep-dish vegan pizza. It’s almost enough for me to blow the whole place up except that my parents still live there and I can’t really deal with that kind of tragedy right now.
I will say, the other night I was dining with my mom and she was acting like she had no clue about the takeout options around town and I was like, “WOMAN DID WE GROW UP IN DIFFERENT HOMES?” because I think I was actually fed sushi in place of breast milk. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for me to be vegan? I don’t really have the strong culinary memories that many people do. Or, if I do, it’s for wonton noodle soup at China Gourmet or Dragon Rolls at Kamakura. Seriously, what does pot roast taste like? And what about fresh baked apple pie? AM I EVEN A WHITE MIDDLE-CLASS AMERICAN? *takes off mask to reveal 200-year-old Chinese lady*
Also, here’s a pic of the regular pizza with Daiya. The menu says “soy cheese,” but it’s Daiya. BIG SURPRISE. The pizza was really fantastic, I love cornmeal crust, and potatoes are an option for a topping. Yes! And they deliver on The Island! Strongly considering moving back to Alameda, as we even have a movie theater now. THINGS CHANGE, PEOPLE.
Have you been to Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden in Alameda? Because they’ve got vegan pastries, tea-soaked quinoa, and THE BEST G-D VEGAN PÂTÉ ON EARTH. I wrote it up completely for SF Weekly but I just want to encourage you all to head to the isla bonita for some tasty treats. Plus, heated patio and also, VEGAN PÂTÉ. Get fucked, foie gras, this is where it’s at.
Thai IDEA Vegetarian is a brand-new, all veg restaurant in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, and it’s mighty tasty! I especially enjoy that the vegan dishes are clearly marked on the menu, and and every item has a vegan option. Well, that’s if it’s not vegan to begin with, which many are. Fantastic! On the menu, they clearly state that they don’t use any fish or oyster sauces, which is always my #1 concern at Thai restaurants. Obviously, they’re extra wonderful. Plus, the food is damn good. Anyway, read my entire review over at SF Weekly and then go read The Tender’s review to see that omnivores also love it (small victories!) and THEN go get busy on some of those Firecracker Balls! Sexy!
Lunch in Oakland is getting sexier, or at least more vegan »
If you’re around Lake Merritt and hard up for a sandwich, Merritt Station Cafe has got your back. Situated too close to a Gold’s Gym for my liking, it’s still a pleasant place to sit down to a large $4.99 Tofurkey sandwich with all the fixings! Check out this mega-sandwich that I had for mega-cheap! Also, the guys who made it were super nice! Also, I got to stare at people in Gold’s going up on down on ellipticals, and try not to think about sex. VERY ATHLETIC AND AWKWARD SEX.
Secondly: Have you been to Brown Couch Cafe (340 14th St. at Harrison) yet? It’s right around that area with Golden Lotus (it’s a Golden Era! in Oakland!) and No Worries and Rico’s Diner and Breakroom! Man, Oakland, with all your stealthy vegan food everywhere! Anyway, Brown Couch has several vegan menu items, and most others can be made vegan if you just ask. Definitely try the ridiculously tasty vegan chicken salad, which you can have in a wrap or on top of a salad. It’s ridonk. Also, the smoothies are fresh and tasty! The service is very friendly, and overall, it’s a fantastic lunch option and another excellent alternative in the area—all these delicious places make me want to get a business-lady job in downtown Oakland (LIES).
[Thanks to Kristy and Megan for bringing these fine establishments to our attention!]
Sura Korean BBQ: Oakland’s unlikely gem of vegan awesomeness »
Once upon a time I was walking down Telegraph Avenue in Temescal with a friend when we passed this restaurant that I would never in a zillion years have chosen. But this certain meat-eating person was like, “Oooh, Korean BBQ! Let’s go there!” and since I wasn’t really hungry I was like, “OK fine, whatever you want, friend-from-out-of-town, I will go sit with you and try not to grimace.” We sat down, ordered (seemingly) overpriced appetizers, and sat back to wait. Then Sura changed my life.
You know how some restaurants give you bread or chips and salsa to munch on before your meal? Here, they’re like, “Bread, schmead, let’s give people 18, maybe 21 different little side dishes to eat while they wait for their food.” Free. Without you ordering them. Each different, each incredibly yummy. We felt like we’d won the lottery or something.
The little dishes change often so you never know what you’re going to get, but can include pickled vegetables, spicy tofu, black sesame squash, sprouted mung beans, seaweed salad, kim chi, etc., etc., etc.
I’ve been there three times now, and though they don’t explicitly cater to vegans, with a little work a mind-blowing meal can be yours. UPDATE: This may be trickier than I thought. Fish sauce is a hidden challenge, sorry guys. Still, I think it’s worth trying to navigate, but do so at your own risk I suppose. Here are my pro-tips:
- Tell them right away, as soon as you walk in/sit down, that you don’t want any meat or egg dishes (dairy doesn’t seem to be so much of a problem). Every time I’ve been there they’ve brought out a weird hot-pot egg dish without asking. My omni friends ate it but you can Just Say No.
- You don’t need a barbecue table. Sit far away from them, as that is where people grill raw meat. Ick.
- When you order, tell them again about the vegan thing and make sure they don’t bring you any small plates with egg or meat. The vast majority of what they bring out is vegan anyway, and I’ve had them bring me EXTRA vegan stuff. Just be clear. UPDATE: MAKE SURE TO ASK ABOUT FISH SAUCE TOO! FISH SAUCE WARNING ALERT WARNING!
- While there’s no separate veggie section on the menu, they put little stars next to everything they can make vegetarian. Some things come with egg but they’ve been really good about following my requests to leave it out.
- Ask for barley tea.
The food is awesome:
Sanchae sotbap/herbed vegetables—herbed vegetables and mushrooms over rice
Doenjang bibimbap/House special green tea bean paste—seasoned vegetables with green tea rice and soybean paste. SO GOOD!
Other delicious things I’ve eaten but don’t have photos of:
- Hyunmi doenjang bibimbap/sweet brown rice—seasoned vegetable with sweet brown rice and soybean paste, cold.
- Beoseot/mushroom—tofu, mushrooms, and vegetables in hot pot. SO GOOD!
Sura Korean BBQ is located at 4869 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland, and is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. No website, but call (510) 654.9292.
Bonus: Sura’s only a few blocks from Scream Sorbet’s new shop. Waddle over for dessert, if you can manage.
Hodo Soy Beanery’s new kiosk makes the Ferry Building worth entering! »
Norm and Joe want to sell you tofus!
You’ve seen them at farmers’ markets around the Bay Area, hocking their delicious soys. You’ve hidden incriminating toothpicks in your pocket and covered your face with a scarf so that you could go grab another sample of their spicy yuba strips. You’ve considered selling out to the man so you could afford to eat this magical stuff every day. And now, ladies and gentlemen, you will drag your asses to the Ferry Building, past the “Praise the Lard” t-shirts and the innumerable fancy cheese shops, in order to patronize the brand-spanking-new Hodo Soy Beanery kiosk that is open as of Tuesday.
The soy has arrived, and it is good.
Hodo, which is based in
Emeryville West Oakland, sells its soy milk, tofu, yuba (a.k.a. tofu skins, a.k.a. chewy manna from heaven), and some prepared foods at area markets. But they’re kicking it up a notch with their kiosk, offering new grab-and-go foods that you can only get there. Foods like forbidden rice pudding ($4), Scharffen Berger chocolate mousse ($4), yuba Kung Pao salad ($7), the sky is falling sandwiches (vegan egg salad on Vital Vittles bread, $7), and soy custard fruit parfaits ($4).
Hodo gave me free cups of the rice pudding and chocolate mousse to try, and I can report that they are both worth eating. The pudding uses black rice and lots of cardamom, and includes coconut and golden raisins suspended in the impressively creamy tofu base. Except for the sugar blast, it’s almost healthy, but so clearly dessert. Win.
The mousse was less intensely chocolately than I had hoped, but again won big on texture. I do love me some creamy tofu.
The kiosk also has exclusive drinks, including chocolate soy milk ($3), Thai iced tea ($3), and a kale avocado smoothie ($4). They gave me a free bottle of that last crazy-sound one, because it’s Joe the tofu-seller’s favorite. I found its serious undertones of cucumber and very mild sweetness both refreshing and filling. But it involves chewing chunks of kale and thus is neither suitable for beginners nor for people on a first date. Luckily I’m a pro with no one to impress so I downed the whole bottle in one sitting.
Nearly everything the stand offers is vegan (some of the granola they sell contains honey), and most of it is gluten-free as well (not the sandwich bread). They’re open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. They take cash or credit cards with their cute little iPad register. And for the moment at least, Hodo will still be doing the farmer’s market thing outside on Saturdays, in addition to the permakiosk indoors.
Main bummer: Because of Ferry Building and health code rules, they’re not able to offer samples at the moment. Let us hope they overcome these limitations.
Coming soon: recipes cards for some of the new products so you can learn to make them at home. As the proverb says, “Give a man some tofu, he eats for a day. Teach a man to tofu, and he can throw stellar dinner parties and invite you.” Or something like that. Carry on.
SF’s Saigon Sandwiches: NOT vegan (or even vegetarian), but can be made so! »
An AWESOME Vietnamese-speaking friend of Vegansaurus very kindly helped us get the full answer on whether or not Saigon Sandwiches cooks their tofu in meat juice and the crappy answer is: YES, the do. This is major-bummer sadness, but our investigator also reported that the sandwich artists were really nice and super forthcoming with a solution, even though he didn’t even ask for one! Turns out, you can ask for the tofu to be cooked with soy sauce (make sure to specify no fish sauce, just soy sauce!) and BAM! It’s vegan! Without the mayo, of course.
Man, life can be complicated sometimes. But it can also be delicious, and I’m here to report that with all those specifications, this sandwich is THE BOMB. I also just thought of something: we should encourage them to put up a sign by the tofu sandwich that says, “Ask if you want it made vegetarian or vegan” so that people know the tofu isn’t automatically veg. I bet if enough people ask (politely! And get your Vietnamese-speaking friends to ask, too! Or get them to teach you how to ask in Vietnamese and practice a bunch to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself/accidentally ask one of the employees to eat your mom’s penis!), it would happen. I’m currently in the Marty’s vegan dining rules state of mind where I ask about ERRYTHANG but you know, lots of people don’t. And it’s a bummer when your tofu comes covered in blood, for realz.
If you are getting an enormous sandwich for about 10 cents from a hole in the wall that’s crazy crowded and the sandwich artisans are working at crazy fast speed and you don’t speak their language, you’re just gonna have to decide if it’s worth it or not. if it is, you just gotta let go and let god, you feel me? I am OK with eating the tofu banh mi from Saigon Sandwiches (tofu cooked in soy sauce/no mayo, natch) because I am super-poor, I go at slower times of the day so nothing’s rushed, and I want to support their veg options. I also have a stomach of steel and when the apocalypse comes (three days!), I’ll be totally fine eating directly from garbage cans and sewers.* Anyway, I’m off track, the point is, if that makes you uncomfortable—perfectly understandable, you’re a better person than I—then you gotta find another place to get your banh mi fix! I’m not sure where, as I don’t think Banh Mai is still serving, and I haven’t tried Bun Mee yet. Anyone? They have an eggplant banh mi that looks pretty awesome—anyone know if it’s vegan? Or do I have to go do more investigative journalism?
[unappetizing pic of half-eaten tofu banh mi from yelp!]
*And you know what? You will too if you want to defeat that devil army!
That’s the chicken fried tempeh from Greenburgers in SF. Why is it so hard to take a good savory food photo? It’s like they always come out looking like a big pile of garbage or a big pile of throw-up. If you have any tips, let me know! Please note: the tips should be for dining in low-lighting and using the iPhone’s camera. I know, it’s an ideal situation.
Anyway, trust that everything on that plate tasted DELICIOUS. Perfectly cooked tempeh coated in crispy-fried deliciousness, served with amazing asparagus (yay spring!) and your choice of fries or sweet potato fries. It comes with mashed potatoes normally but those aren’t vegan. YET!* It was exceptionally tasty. ALSO: Greenburgers JUST debuted a vegan sloppy joe (!!!), so I’ll be back very soon to try.
All in all, definitely give Greenburgers a shot, and let me know what you think! It’s definitely the cleanest/nicest place on this block of the Haight, and a totally acceptable place to bring your fancy parents or fancy friends who don’t like a side of Hep C with their food. Prudes! And I only say that because I know someone that actually happened to. And her name is Natasha Lyonne. And it also involved lots of drugs and possible sex with a parking meter. No matter, still love that bitch! I don’t know where this review is going but imma stop it right here. GOODNIGHT, SIR!
*Greenburgers! Earth Balance and coconut creamer make excellent mashed potatoes!