Written by Megan Labrise — Photos by Dion Ogust — Vegan? Never heard the word before. I assumed it rhymed with my name. In fact, with two Sharpie swipes, I used to change my friends’ sticker-labeled vegan brownies to Megan brownies while we ate in the college cafeteria. This was a small liberal arts joint in the Pacific Northwest. Not only did they have vegan baked goods, they also had a whole hot-food station devoted to veganism, purveying a daily nutrient-balanced “vegan special.” And the vegan special lived to ride again as tomorrow’s vegan Soup of the Day!
I quickly learned that “vegan” is pronounced VEE-gun, and means that its exemplifiers don’t eat animal flesh or animal products, for reasons ranging from ethical concerns over the treatment of animals to personal health and the negative effects of factory farming on the environment. According to the American Vegan Society, a nonprofit educational organization founded in 1960, vegan food is compassionate and conscientious cuisine: “The vegan diet excludes flesh, fish, fowl, dairy products (animal milk, butter, cheese, yogurt et cetera), eggs, honey, animal gelatin and all other foods of animal origin. It is an adventure in taste, and displays an amazing variety, the fundamentals of which are vegetables, grains, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds.” Many vegans don’t use or wear animal products, either – as in no leather shoes, no silk shirts and no woolen mittens.
While I wholeheartedly respect this way of eating and living, I am not an adherent and therefore get a little nervous when there are vegan friends to feed. No meat and eggs I understand, but I’ve come close to tripping up on more subtle particulars, like honey (maple syrup is a good substitute). No one wants to feed their vegan friend animal products accidentally, nor take their vegan friend to a restaurant where all they can eat is a side salad. This anxiety can result in a nervous condition known as “vegantimidation.”
Happily, an increasing number of Hudson Valley eateries are taking the guesswork out of it, offering a full spectrum of vegan cuisine, from diner fare to fine dining. Here is a by-no-means extensive list of the places where I’d take a vegan friend.
Karma Road in New Paltz: The food is so good that I’d be happy to take any friend, vegan or non-, to this vegetarian deli, bakery, juice and smoothie bar just east of the Wallkill River. Owners Seth and Jennifer Branitz keep it dairy- and animal-product-free. Their deli case is a revolving cornucopia of fresh, organic local produce and alternative proteins: broccoli almandine, roasted butternut squash, walnut/lentil pâté and excellent sweet potato biscuits, which they will gladly warm up. Order soups and sandwiches off the menu (I recommend the Avocado Explosion with carrots, sprouts and tahini), and pull your baked goods off the tiled counter (e.g. “Oh My God” Chocolate Cake). Try the potent Mango Stinger smoothie, made with fresh ginger. It’s located at 11 Main Street; call (845) 255-1099 or visit http://karmaroad.net.
Rock Da Pasta in New Paltz: Gotta light up your lighter for the psychedelic ‘60s vibe, the rock ‘n’ roll-plus-pasta puns (e.g. Spaghetti with Grateful Red Sauce, Purple Hazy Caprese, Stevie Ray-Violi) and the fact that 85 percent of the dishes can be prepared vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free – even cream sauces, which can be prepared with soy milk on request. Give a spin to Chef Ocoté’s Hey Jude, a dollop of “magical” mushrooms deglazed with onions and roasted garlic in an herbed (soy) cream sauce. Find it at 62 Main Street; call (845) 255-1144 or visit http://rockdapasta.com.
Homespun Foods in Beacon: Not a vegan joint per se, but a cozy café where there are excellent meat- and dairy-free options to be found, courtesy of owner Jessica Reisman and chef Claudia Levesque. Topnotch fresh fare includes the Harvest Salad: roasted squash, beets, apples, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries with pomegranate dressing (hold the chèvre) and the Middle Eastern platter: Homespun hummus, Homespun baba ghanoush, tabouli, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes with pita bread (hold the feta). Daily specials include vegan-friendly foods like Israeli couscous with apricots and almond. The vegan chocolate chip cookie is not to be missed. It’s located at 232 Main Street; call (845) 831-5096 or visit http://homespunfoods.com.
Zora Dora’s Micro Batch Ice Cream & Paletas, Beacon: ‘Tis almost the season for frozen sweet treats at Steven Astorino’s ice-pop Mecca just down the street. While ice cream is out, there are often myriad dairy-free options to be found; seasonal strawberry, raspberry and a killer margarita-flavored sorbet-on-a-stick are just a few. Find it at 201 Main Street; call (646) 206-3982 or visit http://zoradora.com.
Bank Square Coffeehouse, Beacon: If baked goods beyond the trusty vegan chocolate chip cookie are your yen, hit up this comfy corner coffeehouse for its impressive selection of vegan baked goods from Nature’s Pantry Kitchen in Fishkill. Blondies, scones and peanut butter cookies are a few treats that you may find. There are a few light savory dishes, too, like artichoke/chickpea and quinoa/citrus salads, and exceptional espresso from Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown, expelled by a beloved La Marzocco Linea MP. Visit 129 Main Street, call (845) 440-7165 or check out http://banksquarecoffeehouse.com.
I could go on: There are veggie mainstays Joshua’s and Garden Café on the Green in Woodstock. For fine dining, vegans can do no better than Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville. Chef Marcus Guiliano’s menu has its own vegan/vegetarian section, with recent entrées including Seitan Cutlets Picatta with capers, white wine, lemons and garlic and Polenta Cake with porcini, spinach and organic tomato sauce. The Artist’s Palate in Poughkeepsie is another great choice. Owners Charles and Megan Fells are accommodating and inventive chefs. As their mission statement emphasizes, “All dietary restrictions are handled with care.” And there’s always sushi! Much of the fishless is vegan. I like the ume shiso roll at Hokkaido in New Paltz best.
No need to be intimidated after all. Give your vegan friends a call and break some (eggless) bread.