Philly’s International Vegan Nirvana

It was an unconventional find but I had to discover it for myself. When I heard of a new place in Philly taking the local food scene by storm, I was curious. Flora vegan restaurant is located in suburbs of Philadelphia, in the Jenkintown neighborhood. It’s not easy to get here if you are just visiting for the weekend and don’t have your own car. A cab ride from downtown is about 30 minutes and the train – walk – can would take an hour. Even so, dinner at Flora was the best meal I had in Philly.

The 16-seat enterprise was the vision of 4 friends who have known each other since high school, worked at family establishments, and decided to start a small neighborhood restaurant that caters to a niche clientele. None of them are trained culinary professionals but have learned basic techniques by working in the kitchen through school and college. They wanted something intimate, local, customizes and healthy. With limited seats the chefs able to present artfully created unique dishes to diners.

What distinguishes Flora from other vegan restaurants is originality and flavors. Unlike other places that substitute tofu and gluten to make imitation meats, Flora retains ingredients in their original form. The dishes are inspired from all around the world, and adapted to vegan personalities. They also try to source food from local areas, including their own gardens. In fact, many of the people who come here are not necessarily vegans, but hooked on Flora’s promise to deliver a healthy, nutritious and fresh meal in a romantic restaurant setting.

Menu changes with the season and offers 3 or 4 course options. We start off with couple of salads that are pleasing visually and to taste. Sliced carrots delicately spiced with Moroccan seasoning, puree of chickpeas and garnish of homemade pickled radishes and parsley leaves come together in a symphony of flavors. As expected, the dish is light, healthy and delicious!

moroccan spiced carrots

Thinly sliced roasted beet with grapefruits drizzled with a crunchy pistachio vinaigrette are a clear evidence that cheese is not always essential to a well rounded salad. This plate is too pretty to eat, but we managed to clean off every morsel.

beet salad

One of my favorite dishes was the roasted brussel sprouts with a tangy onion marmalade, and wafer thin crackers made out of rolled out and fried sushi rice. The brussels are cooked to perfection – soft with a crisp bite. It takes a creative genius to bring together such varied combinations!

roasted brussels

A vegetarian Thai coconut curry with peppers, eggplant, okra, potatoes, rice and peanuts, is fragrant with herbs and spices, as it should be when freshly prepared. It is the perfect comfort dish on a chilly March evening in Philly.

coconut curry flora restaurant

We continue this culinary journey around the world with a twist on Mexican tamales. This one is stuffed with mashed lentils and served with a salsa verde sauce. The chipotle kicks in at every bite making this the spiciest dish on the menu.

tamales

For dessert we head to New Orleans. I can never refuse fresh warm beignets with melted chocolate. I peek into the tiny kitchen to see if they are actually being made to order and yes, powdered sugar is drizzled on top as they make their way to my table. As soon as I finish the treat, I want to order another one.

beignets

It was a refreshing change to eat food that tastes fresh, original and true to its flavors. Add to that stunning presentations and we have the perfect vegan restaurant.

Flora Restaurant 307 Old York Road, Jenkintown, (215) 779-7945

Note: Bring cash or check and BYOB

24 hours in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a destination for history buffs. There are numerous museums, art galleries, parks and festival to keep you busy for a week. It is also one of the upcoming foodie destinations offering ethnic, organic and vegetarian cuisines. But if you only have a day or a weekend to spare in the nation’s oldest city, then here are some must do’s…

Start the day with a hearty breakfast at Sabrina’s Cafe (4 locations). Run by an enterprising couple Robert and Raquel DeAbreu, Sabrina’s has come to be known as the most hip brunch place in the city. Everything is prepared using fresh ingredients and served in a casual setting. There are plenty of vegan, vegetarian, gluten and dairy free options to choose from.

Bill of Rights philly

After breakfast, walk a few blocks to the birthplace of American democracy, Historic Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park (INHP) . The area comprises of must-see free attractions including the Liberty Bell Center (a global symbol of freedom adopted by abolitionists, suffragists, Civil Rights advocates, Native Americans, immigrants, war protestors), Independence Hall (where the Founding Fathers came together to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776), Congress Hall, the New Hall Military Museum, Franklin Court, the Bishop White House and the Graff House.

independence plaza philly

If there’s enough time, stop by the National Museum of American Jewish History which traces stories of Jewish immigrants to the US across 360 years.

Walk back through the bustling Chinatown district where a decorated Chinese gate leads you through Asian shops, restaurants and businesses, ending up at the famous Reading Terminal Market for lunch.

Chinatown philly

Established in 1892, Reading Terminal Market is the nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers’ market. There are over 80 merchants selling everything from fresh veggies and fruit, homemade candy, and seafood to self serve meals. Lunch options include Indian, Chinese, Trini, gourmet sandwiches, and the locally acclaimed Philly Cheesesteak. You could also try the Best Sandwich in America (according to Travel Channel) at DiNic’s.Reading Market Terminal Philly

Amish merchants from neighboring Lancaster County bring their farm-fresh products and distinctive prepared dishes to the Market four days a week. Try the famous Philly soft pretzels.

Read Top 10 Spots to Get a Philly Cheesesteak.

Take the afternoon to shop at King of Prussia Mall, the largest mall on the East Coast with 8 department stores (including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales and Macy’s), more than 40 eateries (including Morton’s and The Cheesecake Factory) and nearly 400 specialty shops (including Burberry, Apple, Louis Vutton and Sephora). The best part is there is no sales tax on clothes and shoes in Philly.

Late afternoon is perfect to stroll along rows of impressive Renaissance, American, Impressionist and Modern art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The building itself looks like Greece’s Parthenon, and is the third-largest art museum in the country. After 5pm on Fridays there is live jazz or international music concerts and a cash bar in the Great Stair Hall.

Walk down South Street, Philadelphia’s famous street bustling with restaurants, shops and galleries. Step back into the 80’s for an American classic dinner at Juniper Commons. An extensive Gin menu features nostalgic cocktails that would make you chuckle and buzz. Try the Flying Caucasian – a take on the White Russian with coffee syrup, cream and gin.

Juniper Commons philly

Philadelphia offers extraordinarily high quality music experiences in Classical, Jazz, Rock, Folk, World, Dance Club and Neo-Soul and Hip-Hop. Walk down Avenue of the Arts to see world class performing art centers such as Opera Philadelphia (country’s most historic opera house), a 150-foot glass vaulted rooftop at the Kimmerl center and many local venues performing live music, comedy, dance and more.

End the night with late night drinks and laughs at The Crazy Sofa. The new entertainment venue has become popular gathering place for food, drinks, piano, jazz and dancing.

Restaurants Doing Good in Philly

Having already given the city their brilliant talents, several of Philadelphia’s restaurateurs and food purveyors also give back for the greater good of the community. And while Jose Garces and Marc Vetri have both established foundations that make an impact, Philadelphia diners have a chance to show their generosity as well. At Rosa’s Pizza, for example, patrons can pay an extra dollar for a slice of pizza for someone less fortunate. This pay-it-forward approach even caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who recently featured the shop on her show.

Here’s the scoop on those in the Philly food scene paying it forward:

Education & Health Initiatives:

  • Di Bruno Brothers, the specialty food retailer and importer, celebrated its 75th birthday by raising $75,000 to build the Neighborhood Kitchen at St. James School in North Philadelphia. The facility provides nutritional support to the school’s students—that means on-site lunches and meal deliveries for under-resourced families. The Neighborhood Kitchen also develops programs to engage students in the cooking and serving process, offering them hands-on opportunities to learn about the culinary arts and nutrition.
  • Focusing on specific needs of immigrants, Garces Foundation runs programs addressing health, language and cultural skills and nutrition. Each quarter, the foundation hosts Community Health Day, giving uninsured patients free dental care, physicals and medical screenings. Classes in English for the Restaurant and Everyday Living help narrow the language and cultural gap for restaurant workers. And each summer, the foundation hosts Luna Farm Field Trips to the Garces family farm, where children grow fruits and vegetables, cook their own healthy lunch from their harvest and engage in fun forms of exercise. The group also supports after-school and summer tutoring programs for children at Southwark School in South Philadelphia.
  • Children at a dozen local schools eat well thanks to Marc Vetri’s Eatiquette initiative. Funded by the Vetri Foundation, the program provides students with balanced, from-scratch meals loaded with fruits and vegetables. Serving lunches family-style, the interactive program enlists the students as peer servers and in doing so encourages respectful conversation, teamwork, patience and sharing, as well as basic table service skills, an awareness of how healthy food makes them feel and other niceties of dining. org
  • Not content to rest on the success of his popular restaurant Tequila’s and Siembra Azul, the hand-crafted tequila he spent years developing to perfection, David Suro Piñera established the Siembra Azul Foundation. Since 2007, the foundation has supported the efforts of several local and international groups dedicated to providing health care services and educational support such as English language classes, computers and school supplies, among other projects.

hunger burgerPay-It-Forward Restaurants:

  • Hunger Burger, a new addition to Reading Terminal Market, gets in on the giving with its “buy one, feed one” initiative. For every burger sold, the restaurant’s owners—husband-and-wife team George and Kim Mickel—donate a portion of their proceeds to feed a child in need. Various groups will benefit from this good will, including Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry program.
  • Rosa’s Pizza is an unassuming pizza spot that has made a big difference in the lives of those with limited to no financial resources. Customers can purchase a $1 slice of pizza for themselves and pay another $1 to underwrite the cost of a slice for someone in need. Customers making a donation write a message on a blank Post-It Note, which is then stuck to the shop’s wall. Each day, about 30-40 people cash in a note for a slice. When Ellen DeGeneres heard about owner Mason Wartman’s program, she featured him on her show and surprised him with a $10,000 check.

  • Leave it to Federal Donuts to find a way to turn chicken backs from his fried-chicken-and-donuts menu into serious change to help some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable citizens. Partnering with the Broad Street Ministry, which provides free meals and services to people in need, a group including CookNSolo (Steve Cook and James Beard Award winner Michael Solomonov) launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to open the Rooster Soup Co., a philanthropic restaurant that will sell soups made from Federal Donuts’ unused chicken backs with the net profits supporting Broad Street Ministry. The campaign raised $179,000, and the search for a restaurant location is now underway.


No Tips Allowed:

  • Tipping the staff at Girard Brasserie and Bruncherie in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood is discouraged, but the staff isn’t complaining. That’s because chef/owner Brian Oliveira and Cristian Mora pay them $13 an hour, an unheard of sum for servers, as well as paid time off, paid sick days and health benefits.

 ~ Courtesy of VISIT PHILADELPHIA®, formerly known as Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation.