Celebrating vegan pizza

Posted: June 28, 2013

IT'S NO surprise to find a veggie burger on a diner menu. Nowadays, anyplace with burgers that lacks a veggie option is self-consciously retro.

Surprising to some, though, is that the same thing is now happening with pizza. To celebrate Vegan Pizza Day - a national event taking place this Saturday - let's survey the local scene.

Just a few years ago, vegan pizza in Philly was as scarce as a medium-rare unicorn, but today you can find it at a dozen places, as more businesses apply the veggie-burger principle (don't give a party of people that includes a vegan a reason to go elsewhere).

Take Pizza Brain (2313 Frankford Ave., pizzabrain.org), which opened with terrific hype as the Pizza Museum, based on an info-taining decor that celebrates everything pizza-related. Who could claim comprehensiveness without including a vegan variety?

I stopped by recently and found its offering to be delicious. It's their regular crust and tangy sauce with Daiya cheese, to which you can add veggies or whatever, though I stuck with the plain cheese because, you know, science.

The smallest option, a personal pizza (no vegan slices available), seemed sized for a bigger person - which indeed I was by the time I left. There was no room for dessert. Which was sad, since Little Baby's Ice Cream (with plenty of vegan flavors) has a stand attached to the restaurant.

Pizza Brain joins stalwarts like Manayunk's Couch Tomato (102 Rector St., manayunktomato.com), chains like Slice (1740 Sansom St. and 1180 S. 10th St., slicepa.com) and newcomers like PWS (3233 Powelton Ave., pdubbz.com) as mainstream pizza joints that have included plant-based eaters in their business plan. (See an ongoing list here: bit.ly/11oXm5u)

The normalizing of vegan pizza is partly due to the foresight of local pioneers like Ed's (3513 Lancaster Ave., edswingspizza.com) and Blackbird (507 S. 6th St., blackbirdpizzeria.com).

And then there's Vegan Pizza Day. Founded by a California blogger and a Chicago vegan-cheese company, the holiday is now in its third year and gathering steam. No parades are scheduled yet, but you can celebrate by eating at one of these venues or by making your own at home, thanks to recent vegan-pizza lines from Tofurky, Daiya and American Flatbread.

However you slice it, this event underscores the fact that vegan pizza has arrived, with tasty cheese that melts and/or a variety of healthful veggie toppings.

Speaking of toppings, Blackbird, already a beloved institution, continues to push the vegan-pizza concept in fun directions. Owner Mark Mebus says he'll be celebrating the day by previewing some of the new varieties on his upcoming revamped menu.

It's worth noting that all-vegan spots like Blackbird have helped blaze the trail into which non-vegan venues are now tiptoeing. Stop in for a slice, and taste the future!

Another place you can do so this Saturday is Govinda's Gourmet to Go (Broad and South, govindasvegetarian.com). That's right, the venerable fast-food spot is about to start doing pizza!

Owner Hari (a/k/a Howard Brown) says that vegan pizza will be added to the regular menu in July, and on Saturday you can try out a slice or two.

Tell 'em V for Veg sent you!

Even if you can't get to any of these locations, remember: Your neighborhood pizza place can and should make tomato pies. (Hold the sprinkled Parmesan!)

Vegan Pizza Day might be a good time to suggest adding vegan cheese on one. Come on, it's a pizza party!

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that it's now the case that any pizza joint you walk into will have vegan pizza on the menu. All I'm saying is that it will be.

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan.

"V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia.

VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.

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