Bacon and eggs are diner staples, but you won’t find either at Fare Well. The diner, bakery, and bar from Sticky Fingers owner Doron Petersan opens June 22 on H Street NE with a completely animal product-free menu.
Just maybe don’t call it vegan.
“As it’s gotten really popular and in the mainstream, it’s still really associated with a lifestyle… People are like, ‘Oh that’s vegan, I don’t need that. I’m not vegan,’” Petersan says. She prefers the phrases “veggie-centric” or “plant-based.”
Plus, Petersan argues labeling the food as vegan misses the point: “It’s like being a woman-owned business. What does it matter?… I’m not going to classify my business as one sex or another.”
Rather, what Petersan believes matters is how everything tastes. “If it doesn’t taste good to you, it’s not going to taste good to me,” she says. “I don’t have some magical vegan palate that allows me to eat horrible tasting food. I really, really like food.”
The first thing you’ll see when you enter Fare Well is a large cake display and pastry case—half for sweets (pies, cookies, shortcakes), half for savory baked goods (knishes, pierogi, stromboli). Beyond that, there’s a bar and seating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
While Fare Well is an untraditional diner in many ways, you will find all-day breakfast. Among the offerings: French toast casserole (and coconut whipped cream), tofu-chickpea omelets, and Southern fried seitan and waffles. Petersan counts potatoes among her favorite foods (really). But rather than serve home fries or hash browns, she’s opted for crispy potato cakes that more closely resemble latkes.
Other dishes include salads, a buffalo cauliflower dip, a mushroom-chickpea burger, and a truffled pot pie. Many options, like moussaka and several pastas, are inspired by the Greek and Italian immigrant-owned diners that Petersan encountered growing up in New York.
The restaurant makes its own animal product substitutes with seitan for sausages and cashews, almonds, or soy for cheese. A crumbly “feta” is created with dried aged tofu. “You age them the same way you age regular cheese,” Petersan says.
But Petersan says she doesn’t want to use any meat substitutes that are going to totally scare people off: “You’ve seen the fake shrimp and stuff like that? Fake scallops? I don’t eat that. It’s creepy.”
There’s also a full coffee bar with dairy alternates like coconut milk and “barista series” soy milk fortified with protein to help it froth for cappuccinos and lattes. Meanwhile, shakes come in flavors like lemon ginger and cookie dough. The restaurant also makes its own sodas, including cola, root beer, and grapefruit-tarragon.
General manager Matthew Halligan, who’s worked at Bourbon, Brickskeller, and most recently, Civil Cigar Lounge, is behind the bar menu, which includes four local beers and four wines on tap. To start, two of the wines are “certified vegan.” That’s right, not all wines are vegan. Some are filtered with animal-based “fining agents,” which might be made of gelatin, albumin (egg whites), or something else.
And while it’s fairly easy to find vegan wines by the bottle, it’s a little trickier when it comes to draft wines, Halligan says. He adds that Fare Well will be the only place in the city carrying the vegan wines he had to specially order.
Spirits, on the other hand, are mostly animal product-free. But for one of the cocktails, Halligan wanted to mimic the froth of egg white using an emulsifier called soy lecithin. The drink, called Queen of H Street, uses vodka, raspberry puree, thyme, white tea simple syrup, and lemon. “Shake it dry without ice, as you would with an egg white drink, and then add ice, shake it again, and then double strain it,” he explains.
Fare Well will be open Wednesdays through Sundays to start but will eventually expand to seven days a week.
Fare Well, 406 H St. NE, eatfarewell.com