At this year’s NYC Vegetarian Food Festival, chefs eschewed “boring” health food in favor of celebrating unique and appetizing veggie snacks. The two-day event welcomes locavores, vegetarians, vegans, flexitarians, and anyone curious about healthy and sustainable lifestyles. A haven for foodies with a plant-based bent, the festival is a place where like-minded folks can recognize and celebrate vegetarian and vegan culinary innovations.
Forget plain tofu, kale, and sprouts. Instead, the festival brought plenty of ice creams, brownies, cookies, chips, dips, cheeses, and even lavish burgers. The newest wave of vegetarian food is (and has been!) upon us…and it bears a remarkable resemblance to, well, food. At this year’s event, there was the opportunity to try “pulled pork” made from jackfruit, vegan aioli made with avocados, and rich blondies that feature chickpeas (yes, chickpeas!) as their “secret” ingredient.
In a sea of vendors at Metropolitan Pavilion, finding the most memorable dishes of the weekend was no easy feat. After sampling plenty of plant-based delights, here are our picks for the tastiest and most creative vegetarian culinary achievements at the festival.
Original World Famous Burger
Always a crowd favorite, Marty’s V Burger has been serving vegan fast food at the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival since 2014. Marty’s offers some very popular sides — the “Mac and Cheeze” sold out in just a couple of hours — but the classic burger is the way to go.
This is a cheap, quick, no-frills dish that delivers on both texture and flavor. The burger patty — a blend of seitan, black beans, and brown rice — is tender while also retaining its shape, and its smoky taste is assertive enough to stand up to condiments. The patty is topped off with a slice of melted cheddar “cheeze,” special sauce (think Russian dressing), and enough crisp lettuce and sliced pickles to cut through the burger with some crunch. This dish succeeds entirely thanks to its simplicity: The few ingredients are fresh and harmonious, and the modest sesame-seed bun makes the burger the true star.
Known for her namesake macarons (which are also a must-eat), pastry chef Maresa Volante presented a few additional sweets at this year’s festival. The true standout was a small cookie that married two classic sweets for the perfect dessert pairing: the classic chocolate chip cookie and the s’more. The result was a soft cookie with a generous helping of chocolate chips and a gooey marshmallow center. Vegan s’mores are hard to come by (since marshmallows are not typically vegan, as most contain gelatin), and baking the perfect vegan chocolate chip cookie is easier said than done — so Sweet Maresa’s satisfying cookie was a double achievement.
Stationed in New Paltz, inside the artisanal chocolate shop Lagusta’s Luscious, Volante’s company’s baked goods were formerly only available at festivals, pop-ups, and online. Fortunately, for those looking to satisfy their vegan sweet tooth in the city, the duo just opened Confectionery! on East 9th Street.
“Faux Gras” Banh Mi
Regal Vegan launched their signature Faux Gras™ paté in 2009 and have since expanded their presence to include festival appearances and pop-ups. Faux Gras™ doesn’t masquerade as replacement for the original paté; instead, the product is a rich and flavorful alternative. The blend of walnuts, lentils, and caramelized onions can dress up any sandwich in a matter of seconds.
With banh mi, Regal Vegan picked the perfect sandwich to showcase their paté, crafting a unique take on the traditional Vietnamese sandwich. A mini–toasted baguette was brushed with Sriracha mayo and then piled high with a smear of Faux Gras™, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, jalapeño, and fresh cilantro. The sandwich achieved the perfect balance between sweet and spicy, soft and crunchy, and boasted an incredibly unique flavor profile — owing mainly to the addition of the nutty, creamy Faux Gras™.
Korean Roasted Root Vegetable Poutine
Formerly known as an award-winning “Vegan Food Truck,” the Cinnamon Snail is now housed at the high-end Pennsy food hall in midtown Manhattan. Led by chef Adam Sobel, the Snail creates experimental dishes that fuse various cuisines for inventive vegan fare. The menu at the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival was no exception, offering dishes like maple-bourbon bbq seitan and red-curry grilled tofu banh mi.
However, the Snail’s festival highlight was their vegan-Korean interpretation of poutine, traditionally made with French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. The Snail’s version layered roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes, beets, and turnips) with kimchi, pickled basil and red onions, Gochujang (a Korean condiment made from fermented chili), black sesame seeds, and smoked chili mayo. Although Korean poutine might confound purists, each bite balanced sweet and sour notes perfectly. This could easily make a convert out of any skeptic.
“Cali Kush” Hot Dog
The creators of Yeah Dawg, home to NYC’s most satisfying vegetarian hot dog, are no strangers to the vegetarian event circuit. Yeah Dawg is routinely represented at various festivals and pop-ups, along with a few stores and restaurants around the city. The signature “dawg” is soy- and gluten-free — instead, it’s made with root vegetables, seeds, herbs, and spices. The dawgs are tasty enough to enjoy plain, but we recommend dressing them up.
For example, Yeah Dawg served the indulgent “Cali Kush” dawg with kale Caesar (with seed-based dressing), avocado, coconut bacon, and chipotle mayo. The straightforward vegan hot dog concept was instantly elevated by the addition of creamy avocado, crunchy and smoky coconut bacon, and crisp, dressed-up kale. Yeah Dawg’s menu and mission may be simple — “We believe that people can be healed by food” — but their fare is the epitome of sophisticated fast food. In a day and age so dominated by fast-casual concepts and healthy options, Yeah Dawg is poised for sustained success.
Russian Blini with Vegan Caviar
Chef Elena Beresneva
The most memorable dish from this year’s festival comes not from a vegetarian restaurant or food stand…but from one of the presenters during a cooking demonstration.
Chef Elena Beresneva’s passion for cooking is rooted in a desire to convert her favorite childhood meals into vegan alternatives that preserve the integrity of Russian culture. Beresneva showed the process of making “blini” (thin savory pancakes) and garnishes for them — sautéed ramps, vegan caviar, and microgreens. The ramps were lightly fried in garlic and then layered onto the soft and fluffy blini. A dollop of Anita’s “Creamline Coconut Yogurt” added a fresh and creamy component that contrasted nicely with the crunch from the microgreens.
The centerpiece of Beresneva’s demonstration and dish was her vegan caviar. In front of a mesmerized audience, Beresneva warmed mushroom broth, soy sauce, and agar agar (an algae-based thickening agent) in a pot. She then inserted a dropper into the mixture and slowly released the liquid into a tall glass of cold vegetable oil. One by one, flavorful droplets of “caviar” began to form. The luxurious vegan garnish imitated the texture of the real thing, elevating an already-delicious dish to the next level.
In a vegetarian food scene often dominated by the usual suspects, this creative interpretation of a Russian classic made a huge impression.
More:Vegetarian and Vegan