“I don’t eat anything with a face.” It’s a phrase often uttered by vegetarians to graphically define their eating habits. Vegans are even stricter: No animals and nothing produced by animals (milk, eggs, even honey).
Unlikely though it may seem, New Orleans has a vegetarian/vegan scene that is on fire, with a growing list of restaurants, bakeries and pop-up dining events that center on a plant-based diet.
This year saw Jazz Fest’s longest list yet of vegetarian/vegan food offerings: almost 20 foods and drinks, including a vegetarian version of locally beloved Miss Linda Green’s Yakamein.
And this Saturday and Sunday, NOLA Veggie Fest returns to the New Orleans Healing Center, 2372 Saint Claude Ave. A benefit for the Humane Society of Louisiana, the vegan festival features food samples, vendors, guest speakers and cooking demonstrations.
Until the last few years, New Orleanians and visiting vegetarian/vegan diners were relegated to salads, steamed vegetables, and pasta, pasta and more pasta. Today, the number of vegetarians and restaurants that accommodate them is growing rapidly and worth attention from everyone, not just those who eschew meat. Here are some options.
Breakfast and brunch
This is a category where there is much culinary love. Surrey’s and Satsuma have been on the leading edge, offering vegan/vegetarian morning meal options with Tofu Scrambles, pancakes and French toast. Each has two locations (Surrey’s, 1418 Magazine St., (504) 524-3828 and 4807 Magazine St., (504) 895-5757; Satsuma, 3218 Dauphine St., (504) 304-5962; and 7901 Maple St., (504) 309-5557).
More recently, vegan brunch has been the Saturday bastion of Santa Fe Tapas (1327 St Charles Ave., (504) 304-9915), with a sturdy vegan Bloody Mary; roasted root vegetable salad; and a wild mushroom tostada piled high with mushrooms, guacamole, corn relish and garnishes.
Refuel in the Riverbend (8124 Hampson St., (504) 872-0187) is another place to find great vegetarian breakfast options, such as grits topped with roasted vegetables and herbs.
Lunch and dinner
There is a lot of promise and more on the horizon. At Feelings Café, (2600 Chartres St., (504) 945-2222) the vegan menu was originally crafted by chef Anne Churchill (she’s been on the road cooking for Dave Matthews and others) for restaurant owner Jim Baird, a vegetarian. Feelings offers “mushroom boudin,” more like a tamale with shiitake and button mushrooms sautéed in coconut oil with roasted garlic jasmine rice, pressed into a cornhusk and steamed.
Dana Hon’s Carmo Café (527 Julia St., (504) 875-4132) is a haven for vegans, vegetarians and those eating gluten-free. Tropical textures and flavors are found in the broken noodle salad of tofu, peanuts and a riot of vegetables tossed in a ginger chili vinaigrette; and in sandwiches of grilled plantain patties loaded with vegan cheeses and salsa. There are also crisp Armenian breads that can go savory (scallions, veg and cheese) or sweet (bananas, cinnamon sugar and vegan cheese).
New on the scene is the monthly pop-up restaurant Y@mandu at Church Alley Coffee Bar (1228 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.). Chefs Mark Majorie and Chad Galiano’s favored vegan food muse is jackfruit – a starchy, fibrous fruit found fresh and canned at local Asian markets. It takes on flavors beautifully, and mimics the texture of crabmeat and pulled pork.
Y@mandu’s hip and popular vegan menu includes jackfruit pot stickers with chive blossoms, bean sprouts and mushrooms; and a fool-them-all banh mi sandwich piled with jack fruit “pulled pork,” pickled vegetables and vegan mayo.
Superfood Bar (4113 Magazine St., (504) 891-7733) has expanded the size of its café and the menu. For those interested in moving beyond the delectable pineapple-basil smoothie, there are stellar salads and a terrific raw falafel.
Desserts and treats
Snoballs! Yes, snoballs can go vegan too. Using all natural tints for the syrups and incorporating non-dairy items into the mix, Piety Street Snoballs’ John Morales has devised a cool menu of vegan snoballs and floats (612 Piety St., (504) 782-2569). One week there was a raw strawberry kombucha with coconut ice cream, and tapping into the trend for “stuffed” snoballs, he rolled out a snowball layered with coconut bliss ginger cookie ice cream. The eye-catcher is his Vietnamese coffee snoball made with homemade condensed almond milk.
Dianna Elcan’s Rocket Girl Treats, housed in the former Bee Sweet Cupcakes on Magazine Street, will shut its tiny doors to look for bigger digs. Meanwhile her tender vegan cupcakes and spectacular vegan and gluten-free doughnuts are available to order by phone (504) 891-8333.