A crowd nearly the size of a home Capitals game is expected at Yards Park on Saturday for DC VegFest celebrating all things vegetarian and vegan (provided that Joaquin takes a right turn out to sea; the event will be cancelled if weather conditions are severe). Picture a free sample day at Whole Foods, plus dogs and an even crunchier crowd bopping to live music in a beer garden.
One of the biggest draws to the festival, however, are the speakers, including chefs Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby. They co-own Vedge, a wildly successful vegetarian restaurant in Philadelphia that has meat eaters and vegetarians alike fighting for reservations. Landau was a 2015 James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. While there’s nothing quite like Vedge in D.C., the grass is getting greener for District vegetarians.
Fare Well, the vegan comfort food joint from Doron Petersan is steamrolling toward its fall opening on H Street NE. Petersan, of Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats, is billing the restaurant as a bakery, diner, and bar; Amanda Desaulniers will execute the menu. Standouts during a September pop-up at G by Mike Isabella included chicken-fried seitan with mushroom gravy and smashed fingerling potatoes; cashew and almond burrata; and a lemon pistachio trifle.
“As consumers become more aware of the foods they choose and the direct effect it has on the environment and their health, they are choosing more meals with plants as the center of their plate,” Petersan says. “Even the Culinary Institute of America’s Pangea restaurant is boasting their ‘plant forward’ dining concept.”
Meanwhile, José Andrés just opened his second location of Beefsteak in Dupont Circle(1528 Connecticut Ave. NW). The “vegetables unleashed” quick-bites concept that mimics Cava Grill (without all the lamb) soft-opened Monday. Customers choose from a bounty of seasonal vegetables that get blanched in hot water before being added to bowls of healthy grains, sauces, and toppings. The blanching water must turn into some pretty potent vegetable stock during the day. If only it could be put to good use—like filling IV bags in one of those mobile Hangover Heaven buses rolling around Las Vegas.
Native Foods Café, an all-vegan Palms Springs, Calif. import, is similarly finding a happy home in the D.C. area with locations in Penn Quarter, Farragut North, and Falls Church. They take the approach of morphing dishes familiar to omnivores into vegan fare such as Reuben sandwiches, Greek gyros, or Thai meatball bowls.
The vegetarian wave is sweeping over more that casual dining. 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church is launching “Meatless Monday,” an eight-course vegetarian tasting menu, on Oct. 5. It will be available until December, or longer should it prove a hit. Chef Bertrand Chemel said he noticed a significant uptick in requests for vegetarian requests, especially during specialty, prix-fixe dinners. “It has to be more than five different sides of vegetables, we have to try to make it fun for the vegetarian,” Chemel says. One of his dishes is a giant raviolo stuffed with burrata that oozes out when pierced with a fork. It’s gussied up with broccoli florets, broccoli puree, black truffles, and Parmesan.
D.C. doesn’t have a Vedge quite yet, but maybe we’re getting closer. Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, a downtown restaurant that serves a raw vegan and vegetarian tasting menu on Friday evenings, served as a trailblazer with its innovative cuisine. Then there are fresh new restaurants reeling in accolades like Garrison that are treating vegetables with the same care as proteins. Thirteen of chef Rob Weland’s 21 savory dishes on his dinner menu at Garrison are vegetarian, suggesting a future of vegetarian dining that is more about appetizers and entrees, and less about sides.
2941 Restaurant, 2941 Fairview Park Drive, Falls Church; 703-270-1500; www.2941.com
Beefsteak, 1528 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-986-7597; www.beefsteakveggies.com
DC VegFest, Yards Park (N and First streets SE), www.dcvegfest.com
Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, 1341 L St. NW; 202-347-8349; www.elizabethsgoneraw.com
Fare Well, 406 H St. NE; wwweatfarewell.com
Native Foods Café, 1150 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-296-1674; www.nativefoods.com
Photos by Laura Hayes