For vegan dining, here's the best of the brunch

Posted: May 16, 2014

WHEN I gathered breakfast ideas from Philly vegans a few weeks back, I had to back-burner some interesting brunch suggestions to fit in all the harder-to-find early-morning items.

"What about my favorite brunch spot?" came the outraged cries. And since V for Veg is nothing if not responsive, having cleared the table from breakfast, we'll now relax a bit, kick back and check out some later-morning meal options.

Mi Lah (218 S. 16th St.) is a quaint but often overlooked spot that boasts the most venerable vegan brunch in town. From the fruit plate to vegan omelets, from seitan and waffles to tofu benedict, the brunch offerings are tasty and inventive, mixing old-school brunch faves, such as biscuits and gravy, with Vietnamese and Indonesian accents.

Mi Lah has been around for a while, of course, but Vegan Commissary (1703 S. 11th St.), in business only a few months, is already gaining raves for its weekend brunches, too. This South Philly spot puts a unique spin on everything, including pancakes and fruit, quinoa porridge, warm spinach salad and mini cinnamon rolls.

Mugshots Coffeehouse (1925 Fairmount Ave.) and Honey's Sit 'N Eat (800 N. 4th St.) also got nods, but a surprising number of entries tapped neighborhood bars.

Is it true that "brunch" was formed by combining "lunch" with "beer"? No. But certainly one factor distinguishing brunch from breakfast is the appropriateness of booze at the table, so it's no surprise that some readers' faves are at our town's best watering holes.

Memphis Taproom (2331 E. Cumberland St.) leads the pack with an extensive menu topped with a suggestion to substitute scrambled tofu for eggs where appropriate. A standout, according to one vegan expert, is the "Alt-Stir Fry Up" with white pudding, smoked coconut "bacon," baked beans, tofu scramble, potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms.

Royal Tavern (937 E. Passyunk Ave.) also got a couple of shout-outs for its specialties, such as tempeh hash, while other brunch fans pointed me to Cantina Dos Segundos (931 N. 2nd St.) and Cedar Point Bar & Kitchen (2370 E. Norris St). More and more bars, it seems, are seeing the value in making vegan options more plentiful and more visible.

Vegan doughnuts are not easy to find - definitely a good thing for people like myself - but Sweet Freedom Bakery (1424 South St.) is making these and other tasty treats harder to avoid: Last year the flagship shop on South Street opened a second location in Collingswood (577 Haddon Ave.) and is now readying a third spot, in Bryn Mawr, as more eaters of all stripes succumb to the lure of allergy-friendly, animal-free doughnuts, cookies and cakes.

Another vegan expansion has been underway at Essene Market & Cafe (719 S. 4th St.), the longtime mainstay for vegetarian and vegan foods: New owners Steve Clofine and Janice Innella (a/k/a "the beauty chef") have revamped the store's hot bar, turning it 100 percent plant-based. The popular Saturday and Sunday vegan brunch has its share of hits, especially the vegan polenta, but also featuring French toast, tofu scramble and vegan sausage in addition to lunch-based crossovers like soups and roasted potatoes.

Probably the biggest brunch-related news for vegans this past week, though, was the opening of a new cafe, P.S. & Co. (1706 Locust St.), just off Rittenhouse Square. Helmed by Andrea Kyan, of Pure Sweets (P.S.), this is a charming gluten-free, high-organic, brunch-friendly spot that boasts not only the full line of cold-pressed juices and tonics for which Kyan is known, but also house-made coconut yogurts, eggless quiche, amaranth porridge, muffins, tarts, wraps and an array of soups from butter bean to vegetable miso.

With an emphasis on light and healthful fare that can be enjoyed by as many people as possible, P.S. & Co. might be the perfect brunch spot for vegans. And if it's not, I'm sure you'll tell me what is.

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles the growing trend of plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter: @V4Veg.

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