Jay Astafa is making a name for himself in the world of vegan gastronomy. Three years ago, his vegan pizza won first place in a national competition, and, more recently, the young chef was a contestant on Food Network's "Rewrapped."
In the modestly appointed pizzeria-Italian restaurant, 3 Brothers Pizza Cafe, owned by his father, Andy, you'll find two separate menus -- a conventional one, plus Astafa's vegan roster, which features dairy-free cheese substitutes and soy-based products in place of meat. Even if you can't catch the elusive Astafa at the restaurant (your best shot is weekends), it's reassuring to know that if you practice a vegan lifestyle, you can order anything on his menu.
Meals begin auspiciously with crusty, hot, house-made vegan bread. A very good appetizer trio features crisp fried oyster mushroom imitating calamari, delectable tofu crabcakes whose crisp exteriors overlay creamy insides, as well as surprisingly successful ersatz chicken drumsticks.
A vegan pizza with "the works" is a shareable meal in itself. Topped with seitan meatballs, seitan sausage, soy pepperoni, vegan mozzarella and assorted vegetables, it's flavorful but heavy eating. Blame the inherently starchy quality of all those meat substitutes.
In the case of vegan spaghetti and meatballs, bready, slightly spongy spheres are plated over pasta in a bright marinara sauce. In comparison, the restaurant's light, well-seasoned beef balls leave the vegan version running a distant second. You end up wishing the vegetable lasagna with dairy-free cheese were made with layers of pasta, sauce and fresh vegetables rather than crumbled meat substitute. One night, seitan scarpariello features overcooked pasta and hard potatoes. On the other hand, a vegan bacon cheeseburger turns out to be highly satisfying. A shame it's accompanied by previously frozen fries.
A good vegetarian (but not vegan) choice turns out to be rigatoni Siciliano, pasta baked with eggplant, onions, tomato sauce and real mozzarella. Also from the regular menu is shrimp Francese -- a light, lemony winner.
One meal concludes with a vegan ice cream sandwich, another with a vegan chocolate peanut butter mousse bombe. Both are perfectly acceptable. And -- to vegans with a sweet tooth -- totally legal.