A Vegan’s Intro to New York

     I didn’t know quite what to expect from my first venture to New York City.  Having lived in Canada’s largest city for the past 11 years, there was a part of me that expected to not be overly impressed.  I thought maybe it would be just another big city – larger than my own, but maybe generic in the way all urban environments tend to be sooner or later.   I took the train from Newark Airport to Penn Station and from the moment I emerged out into the bustling 7th and 33rd streets intersection, I found that New York is as enchanting and magnetic as all the legends claim.  There is something special here for sure, something that you can’t always define in words, but that you feel perpetually hovering in the atmosphere.  I was lucky enough  to have a streak of nice weather when I visited (19 degrees C in February?!) and everyone, myself included, was clearly overjoyed to be outside, basking in the sun.  The parks were full until late into the night, the stores and markets were packed, and the city streets were pulsating.  Four days were obviously not enough to see even a fraction of what the city has to offer in diverse sights, museums, galleries, of course, restaurants.  New York is definitely a vegan haven.  Unlike Toronto, there is also a lot of higher end vegan restaurants serving gourmet fare.  As I was travelling on a budget, I sought out some of the more affordable places to dine and I can safely say that there was no compromise on quality.

I stayed in the Flatiron/Gramercy Park district, in a hostel on east 24th street called American Dream Bed and Breakfast, which I definitely recommend for an affordable, but no frills stay.  New York is super walkable, and American Dream is perfectly positioned to explore lower Manhattan.

By Chloe (60 West 22nd Street, various other locations)

A short walk away from my hostel, on 22nd Street, By Chloe is a rapidly expanding and very popular quick service chain that serves healthy options made with locally sourced ingredients.  They have a pretty large menu with breakfast, burger, salads, wraps, smoothies and juices, and even desserts.  On my first visit, I tried the Guac Burger – how could I not, given my unending love for all things avocado.  It was certainly not bad, though a little dry.  There is perhaps better bang for your buck found elsewhere, but it’s definitely worth trying.  With a few locations scattered around Manhattan and Brooklyn, there’s also a convenience factor that’s hard to beat.  They also have a stand alone store called Sweets by Chloe in Greenwich village that specializes in their desserts.  I tried the Old Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookie and the Matcha Blueberry muffin.  The cookie was great, and the muffin was okay, but again a tad on the dry side.  

I stopped by again on my way back to the airport and grabbed breakfast.  Of the three menu options I tried, The Sunrise was definitely the best.  Made with scrambled tofu, spicy seitan chorizo, black bean salsa, avocado, crema, in a whole wheat tortilla, it had a nice kick to it and was pretty filling.

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Blossom Du Jour (449 Amsterdam Ave, various other locations) – There may be some naysayers that think the idea of a plant based fast food chain is, in principle, not very vegan-like, but convenience food is a necessary reality and establishing a more ethical version (and more likely a healthier version) in a meat and fat saturated market is not a bad thing.   Like By Chloe, Blossom Du Jour is a quick service chain with 4 different locations spread around Manhattan.  I visited their Upper West location a couple of times, and yes, it is fast food, but it’s tasty and nutritious.  On my first visit I grabbed one of their pre-made Un-chicken Griller Wraps and a chocolate chip cookie.  Again, not the best bang for your buck, especially as it’s not 100 percent fresh and the wrap itself is not substantial in size or fillings, but it was well flavoured, the dressing was not excessive and the un-chicken has a nice texture to it.  On the second try, I went for their Skyscraper burger.  It’s a solid, traditional veggie burger and the produce used as toppings were superbly and surprisingly fresh.   

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Two Boots Pizza (625 9th Ave, various other locations)– I found Two Boots accidentally while wandering hungrily around Hell’s Kitchen.  It’s a vegan friendly pizzeria with several locations around New York where you can grab a daiya and sauce slathered pie or slice.  I consider myself a little bit of a pizza aficionado and generally prefer to make my own pizza, rather than order it from a restaurant.  I’m very picky, particularly about the crust quality, but Two Boots Pizza was definitely first rate.  The crust was not too dense or dry, and just the right amount of crispiness.  They even had a vegan month, where they offered a temporary assortment of new vegan pizzas.  This is the statement from their website about it:

“In our quest to expand the pizza universe to satisfy every type of eater, we have proudly been serving vegan options for two decades. First came “The Earth Mother” in the early ‘90s, honoring Bette Midler and her role in saving the East Village community gardens. Then in 2011, we introduced the “V for Vegan,” featuring Daiya, a tapioca-based cheese substitute, which has garnered enormous attention from vegans and non-vegans alike!”

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Vlife (348 7th Avenue) – Tucked away in a small, narrow storefront on 7th Avenue, Vlife is a fairly inconspicuous restaurant with a large and diverse menu that ranges from breakfast options like a Tofu, V Ham and cheese sandwich to decadent desserts and even bubble tea.  I tried their Easy V Cheese Wrap and it was a superb, sauce drenched, decadent tasting delight.  I would definitely like to re-visit and try some of many other menu items.

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Terri (100 Maiden Ln and other locations) – Another quick service restaurant, with a growing number of locations, Terri was definitely one of the highlights of my food tour.  They serve a number of meaty alternative sandwiches like Buffalo “Chicken” and Fish Fillet as well as salads and some tasty sounding breakfast sandwiches.  I opted for the Philly Cheesesteak sandwich.  Though obviously made without cheese or beefsteak, the sandwich lived up to its classically hearty and indulgent classic namesake.  All things considered, I think Terri was also probably the most affordable restaurant I found.  For 10.95, this was a substantial sandwich!

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Champ’s Diner (197 Mesarole St, Brooklyn) – Champs has a fairly stellar reputation for its vegan take on classic american comfort food and its retro diner setting.  It was the one New York vegan restaurant that, thanks to Instagram, I had heard of prior to my visit, so I made a special point of making the trip out to Brooklyn to try it out.  At this point in my trip, I had eaten a lot of heavy food and a lot of bread.  I was feeling a bit sluggish so I opted, much to my chagrin, for one of their more tame and lighter menu options:  The All Vegan Slam, which I ate begrudgingly while watching everyone around me dig into their tofu benedicts, gravy covered seitan steaks, and stacks of pancakes.  Despite my food envy, it was an excellent breakfast.   The portion sizes, true to the classic diner experience, are generous, so make sure you’re extra hungry when you go!   

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The Cinnamon Snail (The Pensy, 2 Pennsylvania Plaze)  Like a lot of great restaurants these days, The Cinnamon Snail started off as a food truck.  On their website Chef Adam Sobel writes that “The Cinnamon Snail was born out of a vision to bring vegan food to street, and make it approachable and even craveable to the mainstream non-veg eater, as well as die hard vegans like ourselves.”  Now with two brick and mortar locations, one near Penn Station and another in Brooklyn, Cinnamon Snail is doing just that with their decadent and delicious desserts and unbelievably delicious burgers.

The dessert options change daily but I got to try a cream cheese brownie, a cookie dough cinnamon roll, and a peanut butter blondie, all obviously amazing.  It was the Smoked Sage Seitan Burger that really won my heart.  This burger was easily one of the best meals I’ve ever had.  It’s a seitan patty, topped with baked ziti, kale, coconut bacon, and aioli on a toasted pretzel bun.  Yes that’s right a pretzel bun!  A must try for any vegan but also for any lover of great food.

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