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."
“I’m not a chef. I am a scholar of nutrition and an idealist who loves health and happiness,” proclaimed Angel Moreno, who left his home in Spain in the 1980s to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and to set up a chiringuito — the Spanish term for a cafe or juice kiosk — in the U.S.Before finding what he calls his “true purpose,” Angel was a pilot. “But this was killing my heart,” Angel said. He reevaluated his life and chose to pursue his aptitude for music. Though untrained, Angel had a good ear, a passion for playing the drums, and a desire to share music, poetry readings, and photography exhibits with the public. He came to open a handful of cafes and bars throughout Spain that were akin to laidback performance venues.Just as Angel planned to start a new venture in London, he met a master of Sufi (a form of Islamic mysticism). “This man was doing everything I wanted to do: yoga, traveling, and music. He was a fun guy.” The guru made such a powerful impression that Angel followed him to the States, where he spent the next decade doing odd jobs, learning to practice Sufism, and waiting for the right time to start his chiringuito.As Angel puts it, the universe eventually led him to the ideal place. It had two rooms — one that would serveas the dining area and a second space that was used to educate others about nutrition, health, and assortedimportant subjects. At first, “I didn’t even know what kind of cuisine I was going to offer.” But the teachingsof Sufi, which focus on purity and wellness, inspired him to avoid anchoring himself to any specific type of cuisine. “Instead, I did international dishes and used my knowledge to adjust any recipe to incorporate organic ingredients and to be vegan or vegetarian."Caravan of Dreams retains some of the elements of Angel’s first Spanish cafes, with daily live music andbright colors on the walls to spark joy in its guests. Yet the key component is the wholesome meals it serves.“Without health, we cannot be happy.”
At Ladybird, vegetables take center stage. According to Devante Melton, marketing director of DeRossi Global, Ladybird's parent company, “Instead of creating meat substitutes or serving dishes that propel that same kind of addiction to meat, we decided to create a vegetable bar that would be a sexy alternative without any of that pretense or exclusivity,” Since 2016, Ravi DeRossi has been on a mission to turn his restaurants vegan - and change the way we think about meat.“New Yorkers are very, very dedicated to meat as a necessity,” says Devante. “We go day-to-day in this kind of routine without actually understanding our food systems - what’s available, what’s produced locally. In doing so, we condition ourselves to believe that these things are necessary, but we don’t feel any need to lower our carbon footprint or create any environmental changes for us as a people. One way to do that is to go vegan.”Ladybird’s aesthetic is a cross between one's rich great-aunt’s living room and a trendy bar. Gold-framed mirrors adorn the marble-patterned walls, while plants dangle from the ceiling. Customers sit in green velvet booths or at the mirrored bar and drink wine-based cocktails served in crystal punch bowls. The food evokes the same sort of airy opulence as the décor. Manhattan Sideways sat down to sample a variety of items from the menu: Beginning with The Reunion Ibis cocktail - In keeping with the bar’s theme, the drinks are named after birds - followed by some of the restaurants most favorite dishes: Three types of toast (avocado, cauliflower, and mushroom and onion), kale salad, baby corn, and melt-in-your-mouth fried eggplant. The star of the show was a beet and avocado ceviche, a dish that made us wonder why anyone ever bothered making ceviche with fish. That is, in the end, the goal: to engineer a new sort of culinary literacy, where one's taste buds are far too occupied to even consider missing meat.
I have been a vegetarian for decades now, and I always welcome new information from those far more knowledgeable on the subject than I. Live Live has been my greatest discovery. In addition to being incredibly well versed on everything healthy, they are absolutely delightful to engage in conversation. Since 2002, Live Live has been “specializing in raw, organic, live and vegetarian health products.” They have a large selection of books, and the natural products that they provide for the face and body all smell and feel great, as their philosophy is “put things on your skin only if you can eat it.” From nuts, to dried fruits, to chips and chocolate, I have tried so many different raw snack foods that I have not had before and each one has been exceptional. Live Live is constantly looking for ways to improve lives as they travel all over the world to find the best items to stock their shelves. In addition, they have nutritional consultations, detoxification and fasting programs.
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.”
What a find...down a flight of stairs from street level on 8th Street, Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor is the "antithesis of a sports bar." Artisan and craft beer are brought together in a friendly environment that certainly had us feeling like we were right at home. The Parlor is also named for the Arts and Crafts movement, “a cultural revolt against the ideals of industrialization.”When we visited, we spoke to Robert, one of the two owners, with whom we thoroughly enjoyed chatting. Robert is an internationally recognized speaker and writer on dining out and traveling with special diets (he co-authored the series Let’s Eat Out!), and he also has a background in acting and producing on Broadway. He told us that the other owner, Don, has an impressive resume working with the FBI and counterterrorism efforts both in New York and around the world - which left us wondering what brought this dynamic duo together as friends and eventually co-owners. Robert informed us it was a love of American Craft Beer and the visual and performing arts...and that they actually met enjoying a pint of beer in Manhattan.Just as intriguing as its owners, the interior of Arts and Crafts is beautifully designed; the sophisticated wallpaper is custom made by Bradbury and Bradbury, and the soft green and beige pattern was Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite, supposedly. The constantly changing art is displayed along the wall opposite the bar, and an exposed brick wall and fireplace give the parlor a true “extension of your living room” feel. Described by Robert, as the “Bugatti of beer systems,” the twenty plus beers the Parlor keeps on tap rotate monthly and are kept by this state of the art system at a refreshing 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Robert also astounded us with how small the carbon footprint of the Parlor is — he told us they are very conscious of keeping things compostable and earth-friendly. In addition to their rotating display of art from both established and up-and-coming artists, the Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor also hosts a monthly lecture series on the subjects of art as well as culinary topics. We could not get enough of how interesting this place is — both the concept of art and beer coming together and the two fascinating minds behind it.
Warhammer is the retail branch of an online British company that has been providing its unique gaming service for thirty years. The 8th Street location is New York's hotspot for miniature table-top war gaming. Eager workers will walk customers through every step - how to assemble the models, paint the pieces, and how to play the game itself. It takes a certain kind of patience and skill set to contract one's army and may appeal to a customer who enjoys strategy games such as chess. While it is recommended that kids begin learning the game at age twelve, we met a half a dozen men from ages eighteen to fifty who were sitting around the large table, chatting and toiling away on their magnificently detailed pieces.
Over many months, we had the pleasure of observing the construction of Amelie through each stage of its creation. To experience the ambience of this spectacular bar and restaurant alone is worth the visit...but then there is also the impressive wine list and a full French menu. The award-winning team behind Amelie in San Francisco opened their east coast wine bar in early 2012 and all we can say is tres delicieux.
Coffee tends to be a grab-and-go phenomenon here in Manhattan – the coffee break does not generally get its due respect. Here to change that completely, Stumptown’s 8th Street location elevates the coffee shop experience to a level unseen by most caffeine-addicted New Yorkers. I only know this because Jared, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, is one of them. The double-height ceilings, large windows, and carved wood façade of the corner store actually used to house the historic 8th Street Books. The interior of the building has been meticulously and beautifully renovated to include an enormous wooden bar, coffered ceiling, warm herringbone floors, exposed brick walls and numerous small clusters of tables, chairs and benches. The store is divided between the intimate café area and a brew bar - a coffee exposition/educational space where baristas can engage customers in learning about different methods of making coffee and the various types of coffee beans. The brew bar has at least five different types of machines and manual brewers running at the same time with a lovely, knowledgable staff orchestrating all of it. Stumptown endeavors to build a community out of our many, rushed coffee drinkers, creating a perfect setting for relaxing and reading, or for someone to simply become better educated about coffee.