Tempted by the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle? Street ventured downtown to check out two of Philly’s vegan hotspots.
Front Street Café: It’s 2 p.m. on a Tuesday and the Front Street bar is half–full. The clientele varies from prototypical Fishtown hipsters to a young mother with a rowdy baby. It’s a nice mix of people that complements the relaxed ambiance. Walking in, there’s a view of the full–service coffee bar, which shares a wall with the full–service actual bar. It’s a nice touch.
The most intriguing item on the starter menu is the buffalo cauliflower. It’s orange–colored, almost neon, and served family–style. But chicken wings are a hard food to imitate. How do you distill the chewiness of meat and the smell of a sports bar into a vegetable?
You don’t. Buffalo cauliflower doesn’t taste exactly like its non–vegan counterpart. It’s arguably better. The outside is crunchy, while the inside remains warm and (dare we say) meaty. It’s a near–perfect spice level and a great size to share—though you may not want to.
The black bean burger refreshingly doesn’t try to pretend it’s meat. Carnivores often deride “veggie” burgers as dry; this one, thankfully, is not. And it leaves you remarkably full. Front Street's grain bowl almost seems like a gussied–up Chipotle bowl; it's not abundantly flavorful, but it's a filling and solid dinner.
The bubbly event manager walks up to us, seeing the photo and note–taking. She chirps that they’re working on a new event space upstairs, fully equipped with a bar and sound setup. It’s a little too nice for a Penn date night, but the space will undoubtedly work for hipster weddings and possibly a Wharton club event or two. You heard it here first.
Front Street is worth a visit. If you ever want to leave the Penn bubble and escape to a very different part of Philly, Fishtown, too, merits a trip. And, of course, the natural lighting is excellent for food instas.
- TL;DR (too long, didn’t read):
- Don’t miss:
- Buffalo Cauliflower
- Tostada Grain Bowl
- When to go:
- Morning for coffee, evening for cocktails, literally anytime for the buffalo cauliflower
- 1253 N Front St, Philadelphia, PA 19122
- Price Range for a normal dinner per person: $$ (0–11 = $, 12–21= $$, 22–31=$$$, 32+ = $$$$)
Street Ate: Buffalo Cauliflower, FSC Black Bean Burger, Tostada Grain Bowl
Street Drank: Front 75 and Summer Tide
Charlie was a sinner.: The first thing our bubbly waitress tells us is that “everything on the menu is vegan.” For two pescatarians, it’s a bit of a daunting statement.
“Even the ricotta?
“Yup! It’s made of tofu and soymilk.”
We washed away any doubt about the quality of the food with mocktails and cocktails (both excellent). Then the ricotta. My life as a vegetarian can be categorized in two phases: BR and AR (before ricotta, after ricotta). For those of you who can’t stomach the thought of abstaining from cheese, try this. Licking the bowl, though, might be frowned upon. It’s not that dark in there.
The food isn't cheap. But it’s served tapas–style; one plate will run you about one session at the Wharton Behavioral Lab. But if you’re really searching to optimize your B4B (Ed. note: bang for buck. Economics!), go for the cocktails. Charlie was a sinner. has a motto: small plates, strong drinks. It delivers on both promises.
The avocado toast uses simple base ingredients, but the sourdough bread soaks up the light spice mixed in the avocado mix. The onions verge on overpowering, but it’s a small price to pay.
And on come the pastas. The potato gnocchi, pan–seared, is arguably too small a plate. It tastes like fall and leaves you wanting more. And the “silken” tofu and mushroom ramen brings the Japanese mini–food trend into the Gayborhood. The ramen, while not excellent, approximates its non–vegan counterpart remarkably.
The chocolate pot de creme, topped with whipped coconut, surprises as well. The whip tastes a bit like chocolate–flavored air; it quickly dissolves on your tongue. But chased with the pudding and the rum–drenched bananas, it works.
The bar fosters an ambiance that’s at once cool and intimate. When a surprisingly obnoxious birthday party comes in, ordering shots tall enough that they look like glasses of water, we exchange half–joking complaints with our seatmates. Complaints lead to conversations, and soon it feels like half of the small restaurant is chatting.
With the aggressively dark ambiance punctuated by what seems to be a silent short–film running on a loop, Charlie was a sinner. nearly veers into club territory. But the mix of veganism, cocktails, nightclub lighting, and intentionally tiny space works.
Street Ate: Our Ricotta, Avocado Toast, Silken Tofu and Mushroom Ramen, Potato Gnocchi, Chocolate Pot de Creme
Street Drank: French 76, Girl with Grenade
- Small plates. Strong drinks.
- Don’t miss:
- Our Ricotta, cocktails and mocktails
- If there’s a skippable thing on the menu, Street didn’t find it.
- When to go:
- Around 9 p.m. on a weeknight when you feel ready to treat yo–self.
- 131 S 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
- Price Range for a normal dinner per person: $$$