Between 2001 and 2014, Vedge and V Street owners Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau opened two restaurants, outgrew two others and wrote four cookbooks. But they didn’t dare make a cheesesteak. They may not eat meat, but the reigning royalty of the Philadelphia vegan food scene knew that the city’s iconic cheesesteak is a sandwich that demands to be taken seriously. Two years ago, they got serious.
Wiz Kid, the duo’s new fast–casual enterprise, delivers a cheesesteak as serious as any. And yes, it’s vegan. Though other restaurants in the city have been serving seitan cheesesteaks with packaged vegan cheeses for years, Wiz Kid owes its unique success to its namesake “wiz.” Jacoby spent two years developing the “wiz,” and that time that has paid off since Wiz Kid’s October opening inside the gargantuan new Center City Whole Foods. The secret, surprisingly, is rutabaga. It confers a subtly cheesy flavor to the sauce, enhanced by the addition of miso, nutritional yeast (a parmesan–like vegan staple) and vegan mayo.
The Whole Foods stand offers three sandwiches: the WK Chopped (a veggie and tofu powerhouse topped with green goddess dressing), the KFT (Korean Fried Tempeh) and the Wiz Kid Philly, all priced at $11. The eponymous sandwich comes piled high with marinated seitan, mushrooms, fried onions, spicy pickled peppers and, of course, the wiz. For an extra kick, try the togarashi fries, which come covered in a punchy Japanese seven–spice blend containing nori, sesame and chili pepper ($4).
As a meatless Philly native and longtime fan of Jacoby and Landau’s collaborations, I had high expectations for the Wiz Kid Philly sandwich. The meat eater who came with me didn’t. We ended up meeting somewhere in the middle.
Every element of the sandwich is absolutely incredible. The seitan is tender and completely permeated by the juicy marinade, while perfectly sweet with hints of smoke. The mushrooms and onions are sautéed to perfection, although we’d have preferred a slightly higher ratio of veggies to seitan. Even the hefty potato roll that the “cheesesteak” is served on has an incredible flavor. The highlight of the sandwich, undoubtedly, is the wiz, with a dead–on consistency and taste that won our meat eater’s full approval.
The sandwich only falls short in the textural marriage of its ingredients. When assembled, the sandwich is definitely messy to eat, but it lacks some of the juicy, carnal sloppiness of a real Philly cheesesteak. While the seitan is far from dry, our biggest complaint was that the substituted protein didn’t really soak into the bread in the way you’d expect from a cheesesteak. This isn’t exactly the seitan’s fault—one extra spoonful of marinade or broth poured right onto the bread probably could have created that soggy on the inside, crispy on the outside balance that Philly loves so much.
Our advice: definitely don’t pass up on this spot. You’d be hard–pressed to find better and more creative sandwiches in Philadelphia. Just make sure you check your cheesesteak–purist attitude at the door and keep an open mind.