I walked into Avant Garden and had the pleasure of sitting down with the owner himself, Ravi DeRossi. His name might seem familiar as he has become synonymous with trendy New York bars including Death and Co. and Amor Y Armargo on 6th Street. Avant Garden, a vegan restaurant that features only vegetables, is a jewel that he has added to his lengthy list of other establishments. Upon entering, the design was what captured my attention first. Every aspect is painstakingly selected by Ravi himself and this is hardly surprising given his background as a painter. He told me that he studied under his friend and mentor Igor Gorsky, an influential Greek painter in the abstract expressionist movement. Now, Ravi says, “opening bars and restaurants is my canvas. ”When I asked what was the recipe for his success, he said it was a lot of “dumb luck” and that he is “naturally suited to working a lot. ” In fact, he quoted Thomas Edison saying that it is “10% inspiration, 90% perspiration, ” and that his hard work has certainly gone a long way. Ravi opened his first business, Bourgeois Pig on East 7th Street (now on Macdougal), out of necessity. He was not making enough money as a painter to support himself. “I didn’t know how to do anything but paint and write, ” he said, and he loved to drink, so opening a wine bar seemed like a perfect plan. His idea was to use money from Bourgeois Pig to live off of and to paint in his free time. However, he found that it was “so much fun” running a wine bar that he kept on going. As for his other restaurants and bars, he told me, "I’ll be sleeping and something will come to my mind. ” These late-night inspirations have resulted in fifteen different places throughout New York and Brooklyn, as well as plans to open an Avant Garden in Los Angeles. The idea for a vegan restaurant has long been in the back of Ravi’s mind, inspired by a trip to a Buddhist Temple in India and his own on and off vegan lifestyle. In addition to opening Avant Garden, Ravi, a self-described “big animal rights guy, ” has jointly launched a non-profit called BEAST, which stands for Benefits to End Animal Suffering Today. Ravi only does things that he wants to do. His passion shines through every single detail of his restaurant, and he even went as far as saying that this is the place of which he is most proud. He is pleased with the fact that it is 100% cruelty free, “except to these guys, ” he said gesturing to the staff busily preparing the restaurant for that evening's diners. They all laughed. This is a place of great camaraderie, where there are none of the fake meats that are found at most vegan food spots, and the atmosphere is chic and warmly lit. When I was there, in the fall of 2015, the restaurant had only been open for about a month, and already Avant Garden had a crew of loyal followers, a testament to the menu. Its menu was created by Andrew D’Ambrosi, who moved to France after being Avant Garden's head chef during the restaurant's first few years. Ravi explained that he had originally found Andrew on Craigslist and hired him to work at his restaurant, Cienfuegos. When the itch came to open up a new place, Bergen Hill, in Brooklyn, Ravi began the search for a head chef. They used Andrew’s kitchen at Cienfuegos to test out the world-renowned chefs who wished to head the restaurant. Ravi shared with me that Andrew came to him and requested, "'Before you hire [anyone] let me make a tasting for you'... He blew thirty chefs out of the water. ” Andrew spent two years making vegan dishes at Bergen Hill and testing them as specials. "Each of his dishes is great, " Ravi proclaimed, adding "When I am at home, I dream of the Tomato Jam Toast. "
Named after nonviolence, Ahimsa is kosher, vegan, and gluten free. The restaurant, whose first location opened in 2016, fulfils a teenage dream of Frank Shah, who owns Ahimsa along with his wife Maya. Growing up poor in Mumbai, Shah’s family could not even afford a biryani. Now, he serves biryani and more authentic North and South Indian dishes made fresh every day. Delicious Indian street-side dishes from Shah’s childhood like vada pav and bhel puri make Ahimsa unique among other Indian restaurants in the city. Being in New York is an important part of Ahimsa’s mission. Shah hopes to use the restaurant to expand non-Indian New Yorkers’ ideas about what Indian food is and to show non-vegan New Yorkers how many delicious meals can be made without meat or dairy.
I do try very hard whenever I am out for a meal to frequent the side street restaurants, but I cannot deny that I have eaten at Peacefood Cafe on the UWS often, as it is one of my favorite vegan spots. The atmosphere is as relaxed and informal as one can get in Manhattan. The food is consistently excellent and inventive. I love their soups, sandwiches, desserts and muffins. One of my sisters-in-law has terrible food allergies, and whenever she comes to the city, this is her first stop. She loads up on whatever home-baked goods they have on the counter that day. Needless to say, I am thrilled that there is also a location downtown on a side street. I recommend to anyone, vegetarian or not, to go and enjoy a meal there, as this location is equally as wonderful.
Guy Vaknin and his wife Tali opened Beyond Sushi in July of 2012 with the goal of producing healthy, beautiful and earth-conscious food. After learning of the depletion of fish in our oceans – not to mention the health benefits of a meatless diet – Guy set out to be the “first to pioneer the fish-less sushi movement. ” He views “sushi as a vessel that carries the perfect amount of flavor to just grab it in one bite. ” He also praises sushi for its consistency, which gives him room to play around in creating interesting and perfect balances of vegetables' flavors and colors. When describing his extensive background in the restaurant industry, Guy told us, “I had a dream to cook since I was young. I’ve always loved food. ” He grew up on a Kibbutz in Israel — and came to New York after serving in the Israeli army — to help out in his father’s restaurant. He went on to work at numerous other restaurants in New York, covering every possible position, and after a brief dalliance with computer engineering, returned to the food world by studying at the Institute of Culinary Education. Fresh out of culinary school, Guy became the executive chef at his father’s kosher catering company. When a request for a sushi station popped up, and knowing that meat and fish are restricted in some areas of the Jewish world, he decided he wanted to create something “cool and innovative — and not fish. ” It took two years to develop his vegetarian sushi, but after selling out at the Vegetarian Food Festival two years in a row, Guy decided to open a business on 14th street. Within three months — working solely with the help of his sushi chef — the growing popularity of his beautiful, healthy and delicious food quickly enabled him to expand into the thriving company that Beyond Sushi is today. One of Guy’s main goals is to balance sustainability and accessibility to encourage people to choose the healthy option of Beyond Sushi, and the passion that sustains this goal is his creativity. Even now that he has grown Beyond Sushi into a consistently expanding company, Guy still spends around 50 percent of his time cooking, and loves adding new dishes to his menu. He thinks of his business expansion in terms of community impact and wants to be “as big as possible. "
While gazing at the menu, one of the members of the Sideways team giddily pronounced, "This is totally hippy food. " It immediately took her back to her time spent in Oregon and she was thrilled. The tiny sandwich shop owned by chef Nisha Patel, is vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free, serving incredible bowls, wraps, salads and smoothies of healthy, delicious food. With their success in Brooklyn at the now well known and loved Smorgasburg, Shiv Puri and Shikha Jain decided to open their own brick and mortar in the fall of 2013. The only issue that anyone could have with this tiny gem is deciding what to order, as everything is excellent.
When I asked the Manhattan Sideways team how they would best describe the atmosphere at Hangawi, they said at once, “tranquil…serene. ” I knew we would have a delicious culinary experience at this vegetarian Korean restaurant, but I had no idea how pleasant and peaceful it would be. Barely through the front door, we were politely asked to remove our shoes and leave them on the floor. On the way out, we just found them neatly placed in cubbies along the wall. We were seated at a wooden table close to the floor, but not low enough to make us uncomfortable. Silky red cushions placed on top of the wood allowed our feet to dangle. The servers moved about with ease and grace, taking orders and serving one outstanding dish after another. Sipping on ginger tea that was packed with flavor, we ordered a few different dishes—there was so much that we wanted to sample! For starters, the small stuffed shiitake mushrooms stacked on a piece of tofu with cinnamon almond dressing was so delicious that I had to take tiny bites—I did not want the pleasure to end. The pumpkin noodles with sautéed vegetables had a divine flavor and were cooked to perfection. The last item that we ordered came in a cast iron bowl with a bubbling, richly spiced broth, tofu, mushrooms, vegetables and bite-sized rice cakes. Served on the side was kimchi – both plain and with a red hot sauce. All of it was absolutely amazing. I could eat at Hangawi multiple times a week and never tire of their menu, or the “balance and harmony” that they effortlessly convey.
Having had an excellent dining experience at Pippali on 27th Street, we were eager to eat at Pradeep Shinde's well known Chennai. We stopped by for the economical lunch ($8. 95) one day where we found all of the dishes on the buffet to be vegetarian. We returned to the line up of chafing dishes several times, sampling the medu vada (lentil donuts), the Manchurian cauliflower, which had a strong Chinese influence, the dal palak (spinach and lentil stew) and the matar paneer (green peas and homemade cheese). Although only a few options existed for the main course, there was a smorgasbord of dipping sauces to enhance the dishes. We sat for less than an hour and were amazed at the constant flow of people coming and going. The place was packed - as soon as a table emptied out, it was refilled by newcomers. The name, Tiffin Wallah, comes from a term for metal boxes used by Indians in the last century to carry their food to work, and certainly belies the workaday approach in Manhattan.
Tucked away on 48th Street among Broadway shows and throngs of tourists, P. S. Kitchen has been serving up innovative vegan cuisine in a refreshing, modern setting since 2017. The mission of the restaurant does not stop at supporting and encouraging vegan alternatives, as they also donate all of their profits to sustainable charities. Members of the Manhattan Sideways team sat down with one of the owners involved in the restaurant during the summer of 2019, to talk about the unique goals of P. S. Kitchen and to sample some of their refreshing takes on vegan fare. “It’s hard for people to change, so they need to really eat differently or be shown that there’s different food you can eat in order to try to change… that led me to wanting to do this kind of work, ” Jeff shared with us, adding that he has been vegan for about twenty years. He recalled that, growing up in New Jersey, there were only one or two vegan restaurants around. “It was a weirdo diet. People thought it was strange. The big thing I’ve seen change in those twenty-two years is that people have gone from thinking that veganism is not healthy to realizing that it’s the opposite. ”We quickly found evidence of this realization through a taste of P. S. Kitchen’s menu. A vegan caesar salad was rich and flavorful, an avocado and potato soup was delightfully creamy, and a pea protein burger tasted so close to the real thing that we found ourselves dissecting it in disbelief. Although Jeff's passion for veganism is clear, P. S, Kitchen’s aim goes beyond the impact of a plant-based lifestyle. Notably, a portion of the restaurant’s staff comes from backgrounds of adversity. “We work with a couple of different partner programs that are also the charities we donate to. ” Jeff went on to explain that depending on the month, 10-20% of P. S. Kitchen’s staff is sourced through these organizations, which provide job training and placement to individuals who would otherwise encounter obstacles in the job search. “We have partnered with Defy - which works with previously incarcerated individuals [and] helps them with job placement - and, we work with Restore, which does something similar - they work with previous sex traffic individuals and victims of domestic violence. ”There is no doubt that PS Kitchen is having an impressive community impact, and, how fortunate that many theater goers are discovering them on a daily basis - they are located only a few steps from both the Walter Kerr and the Longacre Theatre.
Punjabi was the very first business that I stepped into during the summer of 2011, when I first began walking on the side streets of Manhattan. Every time that I was in the East Village over the next few years, I always made a point to stick my head inside and say hello. I worried about Punjabi being able to survive, as the construction on Houston/1st Street was intruding more and more on their space. The deli has been in this location for over 20 years, and was accustomed to having multiple cab drivers lining up outside throughout the day and evening. For quite a while, the street was not accessible to vehicles, but somehow everyone still managed to figure out a way to get to Punjabi and grab some of their award-winning, vegetarian, Indian fare, or simply a cup of coffee and some snacks. The shop’s owner, Indian immigrant Kulwinder Singh, is fittingly referred to by his loyal customers as Jani — an Indian nickname meaning “known to everyone. ”Kulwinder originally left India to work on oil ships and bulk carriers based in Greece, but he landed in Brooklyn in 1980. While finding his feet, he picked up an assemblage of jobs, including a stint as a cab driver. He spent his days navigating the city in search of clients but never failed to drop by his friend’s Indian deli for a satisfying and affordable meal. Some years later, he bought the business with partner Satnam Singh, and he has since upheld its reputation for fast, flavorful food. Amid the hustle and bustle of running a Manhattan deli that is open from early in the morning until late into the evening, Kulwinder remains a devout Sikh, and he reserves two hours a day for meditation. Upon taking over the business, Kulwinder focused his menu on cuisine from India’s Punjab region and made it vegetarian in deference to his religion. Though the menu items on offer change based on seasonal availability, some options are a constant, including the chickpeas and saag curry and the delicious fried samosas piled high with yogurt, hot sauce and onions.
Confectionery is the brainchild of two passionate vegan chefs who owned separate bakeries in New Paltz, NY. Lagusta Yearwood began Lagusta’s Luscious as a boutique vegan chocolate shop, and Maresa Volante's Sweet Mresa specialized in macarons. They met, found that they shared a passion for sweets and vegan cooking, and Confectionery was born! Nowadays, the East Village shop serves a wide clientele, from random passersby following the sweet aromas to the front door, to avid cult fans in the city on vacation, and, of course, to those who either prefer or require a vegan diet. Confectionery is a space of inclusivity and giving, as evidenced by the prominent “Mitzvah Wall” that greeted me when I entered. The idea is to pay it forward: buy a cookie and put a note on the wall for someone to reward. When speaking with the counter server, a young woman who had been a fan of Lagusta’s Luscious for many years before working at Confectionery, she told me that she finds peace and comfort in the shop. “It's a nice, welcoming space where we can heal ourselves. ”