It’s easy enough to be a vegetarian on Long Island, the land of margherita pizza and eggplant Parm. For vegans, however, dining out has historically been a trickier challenge. To avoid meat, dairy, eggs, honey and other animal products often meant sticking to a rota of salad, fries and the occasional sodden veggie burger.
Flash forward to 2017. With the ranks of vegan and plant-based eaters swelling — driven partly by eaters who are more conscious of animal welfare, as well as those who restrict animal products for health reasons — vegan cuisine has taken colossal leaps forward. Led by demand, as well as innovative chefs at restaurants such as Shelter Island’s 18 Bay Restaurant, veggie-based dishes can be as sexy and delicious as their meat- and fish-centric counterparts.
“Before I was vegan, I thought the only thing to eat that was vegan was tofu,” said Pamela Kambanis, 26, co-owner of Plant Wise in Dix Hills, where no meat or dairy crosses the threshold. “People don’t think vegan food can be tasty, or there’s a misconception about people who are vegan, or plant-based . . . But it’s just a very compassionate view of caring for yourself, and for animals.”
Eateries such as Tiger Lily Café in Port Jefferson have long catered to vegan eaters — and in the past few years, these pioneers have been joined by a new generation of places that reject the maxim that being vegan means giving up flavor, texture — and entrees.
“We have a lot of vegan and vegetarian friends, and we understand that vegans almost always get served a couple of side dishes,” said Adam Kopels, half of the chef-owner couple behind 18 Bay Restaurant on Shelter Island, one of Newsday’s Top 100. During their four-course tasting menus, he and partner Elizabeth Ronzetti strive to compose their veggie-centric dishes in such a way that they reflect the presentation and depth of flavor of the other plates on the table. “We always have an excessive amount of vegetables around us, so it’s not that hard.”
Kopels said that tweaking the menu to be vegan can be as simple as a swap — a piece of marinated daikon in place of striped bass in a crudo — or more dramatic, such as substituting chanterelle risotto in place of pasta or serving a slice of Ronzetti’s vegan chocolate cake.
For vegans, nut-and starch-based cheeses and oil-based mayonnaise (aka Vegenaise) are often part of the meal, yielding such things as vegan aioli and cheesy vegan pizza. The use of coconut oil and flaxseed (in places of eggs) have helped fuel a growing oeuvre of vegan pastries and desserts. And with Americans eating a fifth less beef than just a decade ago, it’s not just vegans devouring dishes such as cauliflower au poivre.
Here are some of the best renditions of plant-based food on Long Island, and the places that serve them:
Tula Kitchen (41 E. Main St., Bay Shore): A Reuben is one of life’s greatest pleasures. At the airy, decade-old Tula Kitchen in Bay Shore, vegans can indulge in its messy lines as well. Tula’s meatless, dairyless version of a Reuben comes on toasted swirly marbled rye with a slather of Vegenaise-based Russian dressing, chunks of roasted tempeh and a mop of sauerkraut. It’s a monster of a sandwich, and unless you’re really hungry, you will probably take some home. Come dinnertime, chef-owner Jacqueline Sharlup’s menu migrates to dishes such as honey-marinated seitan with a cauliflower-bean mash and roasted broccoli. The space feels like a bleached French farmhouse, with doors thrown open to Bay Shore’s bustling main drag (there are plenty of nonvegan dishes, too). More info: 631-539-7183, tulakitchen.com
House of Dosas
House of Dosas (416 S. Broadway, Hicksville): As with many of the Indian places along Broadway in Hicksville, House of Dosas (a Newsday Top 100 pick) is vegetarian — though the use of ghee, or clarified butter, in much Indian food renders the food off-limits to vegans. At House of Dosas, however, several of the rice- and bean-based crepes can be fried in vegetable oil, if you ask. A standout is this onion rava masala dosa, a lacy-crisp, chewy semolina crepe with dots of browned onion and hints of coriander and pepper, shown. Spicier still is the Pondicherry dosa, pulverized lentils rolled around chili- and cumin-flecked shredded potatoes and onions. More info: 516-938-7517, houseofdosas.com
Purple Elephant ( 81B W. Fort Salonga Rd., Northport): Though this eclectic 3-year-old restaurant (which began life as a market) changed ownership in May, not much about the Latin-flavored menu has changed, including the raft of vegan dishes. New owner and executive chef Sam Li still turns out a version of mac-and-“cheese” drenched in melted Daiya Cheddar, crispy avocado tacos and a handful of meatless appetizers and entrees. For his vegan twist on steak au poivre -- shown with roasted sweet potatoes and a huckleberry lemonade -- Li sears and chars a hunk of cauliflower and nestles it onto a reduction of almond milk, garlic and peppercorns. “People come in with their vegan friends and everybody can eat together,” said part-time manager Jennifer Flores. A raft of nonalcoholic drinks, such as a zesty, handmade huckleberry lemonade, may entice diners away from the booze behind the bar. More info: 631-651-5002, thepurpleelephant.net
3 Brothers Pizza Cafe
3 Brothers Pizza Cafe (75 Merritts Rd., Farmingdale): If someone guided you blindfolded into 3 Brothers Pizza, and then took that blindfold off, you might swear you were in an old-school pizzeria — with its glass case of slices, trophies atop the counter, ringing phones and close-clustered tables. And that would be half true: There is a regular pizza menu at 3 Brothers, but it is matched by an encyclopedic vegan menu that mirrors every Italian dish with a meat- and dairy-free version. Chicken scarpariello becomes seitan scarpariello, eggplant rollatini is stuffed with cashew-milk ricotta, and 12-inch pizzas come on vegan crust topped with melted nut cheeses, such as the Daiya mozzarella atop the margherita pie. The best dish here doesn’t involve faux cheese: It’s an oyster-mushroom version of calamari, shown, with shredded oyster mushrooms that have been battered and fried to a feathery crisp, then served with both marinara sauce and a lemony, oil-based aioli made from Vegenaise. (This is one of a trio of 3 Brothers pizzerias on Long Island; the other two are in Copiague and Lynbrook, and all three are owned by the Astafa family). More info: 516-755-1100, 3brotherspizzacafefarmingdale.com
Plant Wise (15 E. Deer Park Rd., Dix Hills): There isn’t a lick of meat or dairy inside this tidy, tiny café in a Dix Hills shopping center — nor is there any oil, and only a scant amount of gluten. “When we became vegan, we found a lot of restaurants out there don’t necessarily focus on the healthy part of it,” said co-owner Pamela Kambanis. Emblematic of Plant Wise’s approach to healthy, meat-free food is the masala bowl, foreground, a heap of perfectly cooked chickpeas over brown rice and topped with a coconut-based sauce laced with Indian spices such as coriander and garam masala. It tastes like korma — but the baked falafel sunflower-seed tahini that comes with the dish lend it a Mediterranean feel. More info: 631-486-9222, eatplantwise.com
Sweet to Lick Vegan Bakery
Sweet to Lick Vegan Bakery (78 Hillside Ave., Williston Park): This 4-year-old vegan cafe has a relaxed, eclectic vibe, as well as sloping glass cases full of baked delectables such as blondies, cupcakes and ginger-ale crumb cake. Baker Michael Sabet mastered the tricky art of vegan baked goods after meeting his vegan future (and current) wife, Kathee, more than a decade ago. Sabet’s oeuvres include made-to-order cakes such as lemon-coconut cake with vegan “buttercream.” But this homey spot does savory lunches, too. The K-Pop Hero, shown, that combines strips of soy-and-ginger-marinated seitan wedged into a hunk of fresh baguette with slivered radishes, shredded carrots, pickled onions, cilantro and punchy gochujang-laced Vegenaise — a banh-mi for the meatless set. More info: 516-385-8833, sweettolick.com
Arata Sushi (18 Cold Spring Rd., Syosset): Japanese and sushi restaurants can be an oasis for vegan eaters, albeit much of the creature-free food comes on the appetizer menu. Adopt a tapas mentality as you browse the menu at Arata Sushi in Syosset (one of Newsday’s top 100 restaurants of 2017), which yields plenty of vegan gems such as slivered, tempura-battered yams fried golden and served with a finger-licking miso sauce, and the shimmering nasu dengaku, jewel-like hunks of eggplant glazed in miso and then broiled. For rolls, it’s hard even for omnivores not to fall in love with roasted peanuts and avocado tucked into rice, shown, or the sweet-and-sour ume shiso roll, a smear of umeboshi plum paste rolled with a minty shiso leaf. More info: 516-921-8154
Radio Radio (24 Clinton Ave., Huntington): Chef Michael Meehan kept plant-based eaters in mind when he put together the menu for this busy barbecue spot; meat-free eaters can go for a heap of luscious pulled jackfruit, shown, slathered in barbecue sauce — or take it in a taco with some Napa cabbage slaw, shredded carrots and vinaigrette. How does the kitchen get the jackfruit to emulate the texture of pork? “We dehydrate it for about an hour-and-a-half before cooking so it gets the same texture,” said sous chef Julia Saltman. Also on offer: Seitan tacos and vegan cornbread. More info: 631-923-2622, radioradiohuntington.com
18 Bay (23 N. Ferry Rd., Shelter Island): Co-owners and chefs Adam Kopels and Elizabeth Ronzetti create what they call “seamless and balanced” vegetarian and vegan fare that hits on all four tastes: salty, sweet, bitter and sour. Before arriving for one of their four-course tasting menus — which change every week, depending on what’s in season — vegans who make themselves known can tuck into dishes such as an antipasti, shown, made with local vegetables, beans and herbs. More info: 631-749-0053, 18bayrestaurant.com