Local vegan options are often of the accidental type - a salad without the savory fixins, a double order of French fries, a BLT with no "B" and, in more fortuitous circumstances, some manner of hummus-based dish. But these days the city is blossoming with yet more inventive, delicious and intentionally vegan treats.
"Vegan food used to get a bad rep," says Earth House chef Ian Phillips, a recent hire at the collective who's introduced an entirely vegan menu. "People heard the word 'vegan' and they would immediately think 'quinoa and sprouts.' But vegans have plenty of savory and appetizing options."
Phillips also runs a vegan catering business, Killer Tofu, which he started about a year ago. While his initial interest in veganism stemmed from his devotion to hardcore punk politics, the roots of his reasoning go much deeper. "My dad has had tons of health complications with diabetes, complications could have been controlled with a vegan diet," he says. "I wanted to avoid my own hereditary issues with simple dietary solutions."
Phillips's menu changes have helped boost the once floundering café. The shift towards vegan food has quadrupled sales and has made the cafe a destination, and not just a place people end up at while waiting for a show or movie.
While not a vegan himself, Sinking Ship owner Damon Lyden has plenty of reasons to include vegan items on his menu. "I love cooking and I love food", Lyden says. "And I don't care if it's vegan or there meat in it, as long as it tastes good."
After rattling off a half-dozen vegan options on the Ship's menu (including a vegan chili with a description simply reading, "Vegan as fuck"), Lyden excitedly pointed out that his top-selling appetizer was seitan wings, a dish provided by Phillips's Killer Tofu.
"The Ship draws a lot of people who just come for the vegan food." Lyden says. "It's easy to be vegan now. It's not about eating meat, it's about having a good product."
New arrivals in the Midtown area have made vegan fare a part of their menu since the beginning. Twenty Tap offers several options, including a Bahn Mi Sandwich that replaces the original's cold cuts with silken tofu. Just down College Avenue, the Biscuits and (mushroom) Grrravy at SoBro Café has picked up devoted followers; the restaurant also makes a point of offering seitan as a salad topper, apart from traditional meat options.
The Broad Ripple Brew Pub, an old standby in the area, has long been serving fantastic vegetarian and vegan dishes, as has the Three Sisters Café. A recent surge in immigration to the city's west side has yielded a fantastic crop of ethnic restaurants with great vegan options as well.
"I've always been a fan of the various Indian buffets in the city" Phillips mentions, "But right now, I'm super-pumped about Ethiopian food. I've met with the chef at Abyssinia, on the west side and he's a great dude with a great menu."
Other great restaurants with plentiful vegan options that get Phillip's stamp of approval include Jasmine Thai on E. 96th Street, WB Pizza on Allisonville Road and, of course, Pogue's Run Grocer on East 10th Street.
"Veganism is a national trend" Phillips notes, citing baby steps like Meatless Mondays, an initiative encouraging carnivores to cut out meat one day a week. "Cooking and eating vegan is easier now than it ever was. It's much more accepted than it ever has been."