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Although Manhattan doesn’t really suffer from a dearth of slice joints, the options it presents for the carb-craving vegans in our midst are a bit lacking. True, making pizza vegan is as easy as leaving off the cheese, but plain marinara sauce and a scattering of desiccated broccoli aren’t really the stuff that satiety is made of. And by the same token, melting a wad of Daiya cheese over tomato sauce doesn’t seem quite right, either. Seeing as how everyone else is privy to a wealth of pizza toppings, it seems only fair that vegans should be afforded the same creativity, especially given that pizza is one of the planet’s most versatile foods.
Second Avenue’s Viva Herbal Pizzeria sounds like a hair product or medical marijuana dispensary, but its variety of dairy-free pies has made it something of a vegan pizza mecca. Across town on Hudson Street, Slice, the Perfect Food, also has both an awkward name and numerous vegan options. And so we embarked on this week’s Battle of the Vegan Slices.
Our first stop was Slice, which bills itself as “a magical world where pizza is good for you.” To that end, it offers organic ingredients, gluten-free crusts, and “artisan flatbreads” that promise to “evolve the current pizza eating experience.” Many of their pizzas can be customized to be vegan, but we chose one that was already defiantly dairy-free: the Radha, which comes bearing hummus, black olives, basil, sun-dried and regular tomatoes, diced purple onions, and “bruschetta topping.” A very generous slice costs $6.50.
Although putting hummus on a pizza is to most pizza fanatics as desirable as putting dog food on a pizza, Slice actually manages to carry it off, mainly because everything else on top of the hummus is flavorful and fresh enough to, if not negate it, then definitely lessen its weirdness. The olives and basil work particularly well, and if you concentrate on those, it’s almost possible to ignore the pizza’s real problem, which is the crust. As you start at the tip of slice and move outward, you travel the entire spectrum from chewy to punishing to injurious. In a magical world, pizza may indeed be good for you, but it also doesn’t make your gums bleed.
At Viva Herbal, we found no less than five vegan pizzas, topped with things like tofu, tempeh, and seitan. This seemed promising: vegan pizza that was both balls-out vegan and displayed the kind of creativity we craved. After a fair amount of deliberation, we chose the Santa Rosa slice because its toppings were similar to those on the Radha: sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, tomato sauce, roasted garlic, mushrooms, and miso-marinated tofu — the latter, like the Radha’s hummus, also derived from beans. A slice, equally as generous as Slice’s, costs $4.
Here, the problem wasn’t the whole-wheat crust: Although it was more or less flavorless, at least it was crunchy and tore apart easily. The issue was, as one might suspect, the tofu. If it had tasted remotely like miso, we could have plowed through it. But it tasted instead like sour air and stale, empty rooms, and was also weirdly sweet. More simply put, it was revolting.
Which was too bad, because the rest of the toppings, which we ended up picking off and eating separately, were pretty good, even if everything could have benefited from a shake or two of salt. We loathe throwing food away even more than we loathe Viva Herbal’s miso-marinated tofu, but we also loathe wasting calories on bad food. And so we chucked the thing and beat a hasty retreat.
We’re not really sure we can declare a winner in this battle, because neither slice tasted remotely of victory. But if the criteria for winning is based solely upon being able to finish the slice, then the award, such as it is, goes to Slice.
Theoretically, pizza made with a Viva Herbal crust and Slice topping would be pretty good. But in practice, as much as we hate to say it, vegans might be better off going to a regular pizzeria and holding the cheese.
Viva Herbal Pizzeria
179 Second Avenue
Slice, the Perfect Food
535 Hudson Street
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