Halloween in Manayunk: It's not scary, it's vegan!

PHOTO: DEREK DAVIS Romanesco: Broccoli kin.
PHOTO: DEREK DAVIS Romanesco: Broccoli kin.
Posted: November 01, 2013

GHOULS and goblins aren't our only primal fears. There's also the fear of trying certain foods. Don't get spooked, now, but I'm talking about vegan foods.

It's odd. Take eating insects: Everybody's hipster-brave about that now, testing their mettle at tastings premised on a global shift to bug-based cuisine. And macho meat-eaters long ago conquered all the more "unsavory" body parts of animals, even if only by way of hot dogs. But vegan cream cheese? Drinkable kale? Weird-looking plants? Terrifying!

Maybe such folks are just afraid they're going to like it. Either way, "trick or treat" is a good paradigm for facing the unknown and maybe being pleasantly surprised. And since Manayunk had a Main Street Halloween fest over the weekend, I went to take in that scene.

Wending my way through pint-size pirates, lions and ballerina fairies, I found some options showcased at Derek's (4411 Main St., 215-483-9400, dereksrestaurant.com). The menu nicely marks "vegetable dishes (no animal products)" with a "V." This includes the "signature burger," which comes in a vegan version, as well as the "Who Needs Cheese?" pizza, with tomato sauce, baby spinach and portobellos.

And for Halloween week only, the restaurant has a vegan special: Romanesco roasted in an apple-cider glaze. This cousin of broccoli and cauliflower may look crazy, but don't worry, it won't bite!

Another Main Street mainstay, Winnie's LeBus (4266 Main St., 215-487-2663, lebusmanayunk.com), attracted many colorful characters to grab a handful of candy. Chef John O'Brien explained the harvest theme for current restaurant offerings, which include a vegan heirloom applesauce and vegan chili. One item not suitable for young trick-or-treaters is the pumpkin-infused vodka that Le Bus uses for several cocktails around Halloween time.

That's a vegan concoction that could build the courage of many as they try new foods.

In addition to handing out candy, Couch Tomato Cafe (102 Rector St., 215-483-2233, manayunktomato.com) had free dessert items as buying rewards, including a vegan granola bar. And let's not forget that this place has about the only vegan pizza (with Daiya cheese) for miles around. Also vegan-friendly is the menu, with "VG" icons marking the many vegan selections and pizza toppings.

Whirled Peace (4321 Main St., 215-487-0489, whirledpeacefroyo.com) makes vegan fruit smoothies with soy, almond or coconut milk, and has nondairy yogurt with many vegan sundae toppings. Among those are nuts, fruits, certain candies and - for those who want to party like it's 1979 - vegan carob chips. Mmmm, carob!

The biggest plant-based news on Main Street, though, is right across from the start of the Tow Path at Lock Street: a brand new vegan restaurant, The Art of V (4165 Main St., 215-483-1074). Hmmm, wonder what the "V" is for?

Having honed his chops at Cafe at the Mills in East Falls, Chef James Mitchell knows his way around flavorful dishes and was busy doling out samples to the adventurous of all ages.

A fellow customer volunteered that she didn't even like beans, yet Mitchell's red-bean chili had become a favorite. After a couple of spoonfuls I could see why. She also noted that she'd enjoyed her cinnamon-and-nutmeg-powered pumpkin smoothie despite the fact that "I don't even like pumpkin!"

I had to laugh, because the same thing had just happened to me, even though I've always disliked pumpkin.

Had Mitchell alerted me to its main ingredient before handing me the sample, I would've turned it down. And here it turned out to be terrific.

See? That's just what I was afraid of.


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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