Monday, September 10, 2012

HipCityVeg, Philadelphia

When I think of Philly, I think of cool, funky shops on South Street and hip, yet down-to-earth people in an industrial city. Thoughts of great vegan food aren't one of the first things to come to mind. But, when I heard about a new vegan cafe that had opened up just a few months ago, I knew it was time to schedule a day trip. Plus, I hadn't visited my friends there in over two years! So, to Philly we go!

My friends who lived in the area had heard of the new HipCityVeg, but had not yet been there so Zach and I met up with them and we headed downtown to Rittenhouse Square. From all that I had read, I expected two things -- limited seating and awesome food. HipCityVeg did not disappoint.

HipCityVeg was opened by Nicole Marquis who was formerly the Manager at the now-closed Horizons, an excellent vegan restaurant. Horizons was closed to make way for the new Vedge venture and from what I hear, the owner is very supportive of Nicole and HipCityVeg. In fact, it has been noted that the owners continue to serve as a mentor to Marquis even though they have no stake in her cafe.

Nicole wanted to offer the city fresh and fast high-quality vegan food. They offer delivery via bicycle, source locally, and serve the meals in compostable packaging. The interior is even made of recycled and energy-efficient materials. How's that for being eco-friendly?! 

When my friends and I arrived, it was only 10:45 a.m., but we were already ready for lunch. I guess you could call that brunch! The menu listed so many appetizing items such as a Jerk Caesar Salad, Ziggy Burger with smoked tempeh, and Bistro Bella with herb glazed portobella.

When I inquired as to which items were good, the woman at the counter remarked that everything was good. Hmmm. Well, that didn't make the choice any easier. After debating between a crispy chick'n, portobella sandwich, and Philly steak, I ultimately felt that I was somewhat obligated to try the steak sub since I was in Philly.

I started off with a green lemonade, which was made of freshly squeezed lemons and organic kale juice, lightly sweetened with raw organic agave nectar. It was like a boosted lemonade.

Zach started with The Groothie, which I realized must be their most popular drink because everyone was buying it. This was a delicious green smoothie made of organic apples, leafy greens, bananas, and seasonal fruit. I'd liken it to a lighter version of a Naked Green Machine.

The food was served in this funky compostable packaging that fit the burgers like a glove and when unwrapped sort of looked like a burger diaper. My sub, however, was just wrapped normally as it was too large to have that sort of wrapping. I must admit I was pretty nervous about this one. The Philly Steak, as they called it, was not a cheesesteak and I was wondering if it would be flavorful enough without the cheese. One bite and my worries immediately dissipated. The steak sub was made of thinly sliced seitan with grilled onions and mushrooms, lettuce and tomato on a fresh, toasted roll topped with ketchup and vegan mayonnaise. Was I in vegan heaven? Words can't describe just how good this steak sub was. After having been disappointed with a vegan cheesesteak here in this same city several years ago, nothing could have prepared me for the richness of seitan coupled with the perfect accompaniments on fresh bread that was to die for. Oh my goodness.

Zach's sandwich was incredibly good as well. He ordered the Crispy HipCity Ranch, which was battered chick'n (I think it was gardein), lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and peppercorn ranch. So fresh and so flavorful.

He also ordered the sweet potato fries that came with a cilantro-black bean dip. Yum! They were crispy, but not overly so with a mayonnaise-based dip with cilantro and black beans -- a great pairing.

Believe it or not, I ate that entire sub. I really just couldn't stop -- it was that good. And afterwards, we had to wonder if the cupcakes, and other sweets were made in-house or imported from one of the local vegan bakeries. When they told us they were made in-house, we had to try one. So, we all, very responsibly, shared a single vanilla cupcake. And it was damn good.

The owner, Nicole, and head chef, Lauren Hooks should be commended for their venture into the wonderful world of casual vegan food.  With sandwiches priced around $8.50 each, the prices are right, the cafe is hip, and the food is outstanding. Although there is limited seating, if you can't score a seat, you can always take your food out and enjoy it in Rittenhouse Square. But, no matter where you eat it, I am fairly certain you will enjoy your meal. I know we did.

There is a statement on the website that really rings true: "Yes, HipcityVeg is about health and compassion for living things and the earth, but the food is about tasting good. It’s as simple as that." They hit the nail on the head with this one.

127 S. 18th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 278-7605

Hip City Veg on Urbanspoon

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