There’s a reason the phrase plant-based is popping up on restaurant websites more and more: the word vegan turns off a lot of people. For all of the diet’s ethical and environmental virtues, the term triggers, for some, assumptions of boring, flavourless food served with a side of self-righteousness.
Chinatown’s just-opened Virtuous Pie (583 Main Street) is one place that proudly describes itself as plant-based. Specializing in pizza and ice cream, it is indeed a vegan spot. But executive chef Jim Vesal says it’s just as imperative to provide a welcoming space for all as it is to make dishes that even nonvegans will salivate over.
“One thing that’s really important to us is we want to be really inclusive,” Vesal says by phone. “I’ve eaten at tons of vegan restaurants, and some are very activist in the way they approach things. We’re advocates, not activists; we want omnivores and meat eaters and pescatarians to feel really welcome here. There’s never any judgments.
“We’re going to win people over to the food,” he adds. “A lot of people think that with vegetarian and vegan diets, you have to sacrifice a lot. People will say, ‘I love cheese, I could never give up cheese.’ We want to show people there’s a better way to eat and you can still have great food. Everyone loves pizza, and it’s one of those things where cheese and meat are such big parts of it that if you’re doing a really good vegan version of it, you can do anything.”
At Virtuous Pie, making vegan pizza taste good means using creative ingredients like kimchi, jackfruit, gochujang (Korean chili paste), tempeh bacon, roasted fennel, walnut pesto, and scalloped potatoes, to name a few. There are three house-made cheeses: cashew mozzarella; almond ricotta with truffle oil; and tofu-based feta. Its ice creams—which come in flavours like salted caramel and pecan, coffee and donuts, basil and peach jam, and turmeric with black pepper—are cashew- or coconut-oil based.
The restaurant is just one of a growing crop of local eateries that are proving that plant-based fare is bursting with tasty possibilities. It joins the ranks of the Acorn, Heirloom Vegetarian, Nourish Café, Chau Veggiexpress, the Naam, and North Vancouver’s Buddha-Full and Café by Tao. Here are two more.
Nice Vice 0% Dairy Creamery
(1022 Mainland Street)
Nice Vice started out as a food truck (which can still be found roaming downtown, Kits, and Olympic Village) and now lays claim to the title of Canada’s first plant-based creamery.
Because the product contains no dairy, it can’t legally be called ice cream, hence the name vice cream. Geared to purists, the organic products are free of soy, allergens, additives, and GMOs. Instead of cow’s milk, owner Chris White uses ingredients like sweet-potato milk and kabocha squash to give the stuff its creamy texture.
Its creative flavours include blueberry ginger, litchi strawberry, chili chocolate, lime with tangerine and basil, watermelon hibiscus, and Earl Grey bergamot with activated charcoal.
And for those who disagree about just how much salt makes the perfect salted chocolate scoop, Nice Vice also has a salt bar, with jars from the Delta-based Salt Dispensary in flavours like lavender, cherry smoke, and Thai ginger on offer. There are hot sauces too, such as beet or peach, to add some heat to your cold treat.
Zend Conscious Lounge
(1130 Mainland Street)
Founded by Steve Curtis, who heads a nutraceutical company called ZAG Group, Zend is Canada’s first kava bar. According to its Facebook page, it’s also a “place of community…a place where collectively we create a space of love and joy, while sharing healing food and drink”. But what really makes it unique is that according to the company, all profits—100 percent of them—go to charity.
If that alone isn’t reason to visit the place, the gluten-free, organic fare is. You’ve got your health kick covered with dishes described with terms like phytonutrients, prebiotic, antioxidants, and alkalizing boost. But dishes stand on their own for their flavour.
Enchiladas consist of dehydrated-kale tortillas, spiced walnut “meat”, crisp veggies, and a raw mole sauce; the spiced carrot wrap is packed with vegetables, a sprouted chickpea patty, house-made sauerkraut, and cashew cream. Then there’s a triple-chocolate torte, with fudge, chocolate-avocado mousse, and a cocoa-and-coconut crust.
Breakfast is served until 2 p.m. daily, with items like buckwheat pancakes and beet Bennys. Who said bacon makes everything better, anyway?