The plant-based food industry has boomed in recent years with myco-protein chik’n and beet burgers that bleed, branded with names like Beyond and Impossible suggesting we’re scaling new heights.
Hello, Meatless Mondays
The pandemic only sharpened growth with renewed interest in health conscious eating, efforts to reduce animal consumption (hello, meatless Mondays), and awareness of strained farm-to-table supply chains coupled with new direct-to-consumer options. Suddenly, plant-based options surged on mainstream restaurants’ simplified, post-pandemic menus and customers continue to feed the demand for meatless options when dining out.
Downstate, we’ve seen a Michelin star and James Beard award nominations for a vegan restaurant, chef and veg-driven hospitality group. Upstate, CapNY is enjoying its own share of the action with more growth in the vegan/vegetarian dining scene in two years than the last ten. And they aren’t they aren’t doing it lightly. From the growing vegan list, we’ve picked five eateries putting flavor, fermentation and local farms at the forefront of their plant-based creations.
BAR VEGAN | Center Square | Albany
From Lark St. Poke to the Loft 205, sibling owners Will and Mary Phan have opened downtown spots that earn a loyal crowd. But after closing their popular college bar, LAX, during the pandemic, Will was inspired by vegan restaurant Avant Garden in Manhattan and reinvented the LAX space as a vegan restaurant, including an entirely vegan bar. Partnering with a local florist, the place has been beautifully transformed with shiny white subway tiles, leafy planters and trailing vines, and the menu offers shareable plates that won’t break the bank. From a kitchen carefully separated to avoid cross contamination with the Loft restaurant upstairs, try the sweet potato tempura sushi roll, edamame potstickers filled with a luxurious edamame puree (choose steamed or fried), stuffed avocado and bang bang cauliflower florets. All wines and spirits are vegan or organic.
TAKE TWO CAFE | Schenectady
Take Two picks up where much missed Shades of Green on Lark Street left off years ago. Owner Chelsea Heilman has created a gorgeous garden-inspired oasis on Schenectady’s State Street where foot traffic is high and it’s hard to miss her hand-painted sidewalk tables. An avid traveler, Heilman serves a chickpea curry, inspired by one from Iceland, along with a replica avocado-pesto-feta-walnut toast and a tofu scramble breakfast burrito with chorizo, chile, and homefries both inspired by cafes in Melbourne, Australia, and Colorado.
Among the most labor intensive ingredients is Heilman’s faux lox salmon. Carrots are given a 32-hour bath in a seaweed, soy and caper brine for umami bite – perfect to pile on a bagel with vegan cream cheese. Stop by and join an all-day crowd pouring in for sandwiches and vegan pastries. Fix your coffee as you like: A counter refrigerator is jammed with all the plant milks from oat to almond.
Meadowlark @ Troy Beer Garden | Troy
As if this stylish, leafy, downtown cocktail bar could get any greener, Meadowlark Catering – from the team behind Wizard Burger (Albany), Burrito Burrito and Takk House (Troy) – has taken over the kitchen reins at Troy Beer Garden. Upping the spice stakes with Nashville Hot Cauliflower, their much loved sticky, battered General Tso’s cauli rivals the namesake original in chili-garlic sauce and white sesame seeds.
But this short menu is designed for sharing so order up Cajun-spiced loaded pub fries smothered in chickpea cheeze sauce, smokey sweet BBQ, and pickled jalapenos and try their seasonally evolving taco trio, mac-n-cheeze or chickpea “all flat” wings. Who cares if the wings look more like fat fingers than boneless chicken when it’s packed with 15 herbs and spices and drizzled in green goddess sauce. While you munch, sip a Fakin’ Bacon Manhattan made from Bulleit bourbon, maple, Antica amaro and capped with a fake bacon spear.
WIZARD BURGER | Downtown Albany
It’s hard to overstate the craftiness behind the Wizard’s vegan creations. If you visit the Wiz on social media, you’ll find burger abominations flying off on intergalactic, space odysseys. Go in person and this purple-hued counter service spot has added a line up of boozy and non-alcoholic cocktails and an additional room in which to enjoy them surrounded with curios from plant terrariums to crystal balls.
Whether you go for lunch or happy hour, the team behind Wizard Burger has all their nighttime cravings on the menu. Get the Mumbo Jumbo – an Impossible burger topped with house chili, battered onion rings, tater tots and jalapeno-garlic crema – or a crispy chik’n Raptor, but don’t forget battered pickles on the side. Those with a sweet tooth might choose the Impossible Strawberry Snail with an Impossible patty and raspberry jelly on a glazed donut by tiny Strawberry Snail vegan bakery. Go ahead and sip zero-proof cocktails like the hibiscus-based Unbound, but keep in mind purple margaritas are 2-for-1 every Thursday.
THE JUICE BRANCH | Catskill & Hudson | Black-Owned Business
Painted all the colors of a tropical island, it’s no surprise George Salter’s juice bar is an uplifting place to hang out whether you visit his Warren Street, Hudson location for an antioxidant packed smoothie or hop the Hudson river to Catskill. In Catskill, you’ll find Salter whipping up his lunch du jour, teased a day ahead on social media. It might be crisply fried oyster mushroom sandwich or plant-based Smack-n’Cheez. Sink into a barrel chair in the window, dip into a book on juicing or the benefits of tea, and Salter will hand deliver plates. Pick from more than twenty-four smoothie combos, add boosts from ginger, elderberry or MCT shots. Munch on nutella and banana or avocado toast topped with hard-boiled egg, hemp and chia or fuel up with an acai or peanut butter banana bowl. (Note: Cash or Venmo only in Catskill)
Written by: Susie Davidson Powell | Food Writer and Times Union Dining Critic