Long Island restaurants serving outstanding vegan fare
When Yvonne Levy was growing up in the hills of Saint Andrew Parrish in Jamaica, she knew one thing for sure: she didn’t care about meat. “I would pay my brother to eat it,” she jokes from the kitchen of her Elmont restaurant, Toma-Tis Restaurant & Grill. “I’ve always wanted something herbal.”
As an adult, Levy learned to cook traditional and sturdy Jamaican dishes such as jerk chicken and oxtail. When she opened Toma-Tis in 2015, Levy’s menu paired traditional Jamaican fare with plant-based dishes she had long perfected with the attention of a chemist, using mushrooms to mimic the tail of beef or chicken, for example, or coconut to make macaroni and cheese cream or squash to color homemade nut cheeses. “I was always coming up with new dishes,” she says.
The word “vegan” can elicit mixed reactions from people – and the assumption that giving up meat and dairy means an unremarkable diet. Between 2% and 4% of Americans identify as vegans, according to various sources – but no matter how fast the number of vegans increases (or not), more and more chefs on Long Island are devising alternatives based on plants for macaroni and cheese. , Reubens and even Jamaican beef patties that avoid dairy and meat without sacrificing flavor or texture.
By 2019, Levy, now in her 50s, had gained such a widespread reputation for her plant-based Jamaican food that Uber Eats contacted her to create a vegan ghost kitchen, called Liv-In Vegan. The following year, presenter Action Bronson visited Toma-Tis for an episode of his cooking show on VICE-TV. The growing effervescence behind his food, along with the COVID-19 watershed, forced Levy to pivot Toma-Tis almost exclusively to plant-based dishes last year, using mushrooms, nuts, ingeniously veg, soy and roots to fool dishes like escovitched fish (Levy uses tofu) and jerk chicken (which she mimics with mushrooms in the same complex jerk sauce).
After the pandemic arrived, “that’s when the reality hit that ‘food is medicine’,” said Levy, who is also an engineer and nutritionist by training.
Between lunch, dinner and meals that she gives at a senior center in Rosedale, Levy only has a few moments a week to experiment – usually in the morning – and uses that time to perfect dishes such as vegan peas (made from red beans) and tiger nut root) and “goat” curry, shaped from tiger nut flour bound to flax seeds. “I came up with a raw lasagna, and I’m experimenting with a jerk burger,” she says.
Last year also brought a full pivot to plant-based foods for Organic Corner in Massapequa, moving owner Craig Margulies and his partners were working before COVID reshuffled the restaurant landscape. For years, Organic Corner had served vegan salads, sandwiches, and other dishes as part of its focus on healthy foods, but Margulies had occasionally noted the discomfort among vegan eaters that coffee still served meat. , for example. He was also struck that Long Island lacked more formal sit-down dinners for vegan eaters.
Organic Corner’s transition to a full-service vegan restaurant – with table service, live music, and organic wine – is complete: a giant Buddha statue greets arriving diners in a space that still has a counter in the back, but also an elegant farmhouse atmosphere with wooded walls, exposed beams and large windows that flood the room with light.
A few months ago, 23-year-old chef Viktoria Hermann started frequenting Organic Corner as a customer. Hermann, who became a plant eater while studying cooking at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, was hired by Margulies as a barista – and, ultimately, as a chef. “When we decided to do it all,” with a vegan menu, said Margulies, “she jumped in and took control.”
During the day, Organic Corner still serves fresh juices and smoothies, and its cases are stocked with healthy salads, but at 3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, the fruit press closes in anticipation of languid plant-based dinners. Hermann and the kitchen team made platters of zucchini noodle lasagna with cashew ricotta and gluten free breadcrumbs, or a creamy kale Caesar salad, or melted mac and cheese with cream of cashew and coconut. A “Dirty Corner” menu replicates comfort food such as poutine and nachos with homemade cheese sauces, but not a hint of Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger. “We didn’t want to go in that direction,” said Hermann, whose homemade burger is made from beets and topped with guacamole and a spicy cheese sauce.
There is beer, draft kombucha and organic wine, as well as gluten-free desserts from the kitchen of Organic Corner and Sweet Soul Bakery in St. James.
Margulies, who is not a vegan, said he noticed diners were traveling far from the far east and west. “A lot of people have negative connotations about veganism,” he said. “I wanted a place that could be called herbal, but also open to ordinary people, so they sit down and their eyes light up.”
Here are five places to enjoy finely tuned plant-based dishes on Long Island, from delis to multi-course meals.
Toma-Tis (796 Meacham Ave., Elmont): Chef-owner Yvonne Levy has spent much of her adult life devising plant-based alternatives to traditional Jamaican dishes and cooking an almost entirely vegan menu at her Jamaican take-out restaurant in Elmont. Oysters, cremini, button mushrooms and portabella mushrooms replace chicken in its version of the jerk “chicken” and are also used to trick the oxtail. She fuses tiger nut root and flaxseed for a curried “goat” cheese, uses a creamy coconut sauce for rasta pasta, and even makes puff pastry Jamaican patties from scratch. Pumpkin Jerk soup, barbecue jackfruit salad, and yucca fries are among other platters, while fresh juices and dairy-free smoothies are available to complement the robust flavors. Food is cooked to order, so plan ahead. Appetizers range from $ 8 to $ 12, entrees $ 20, wraps $ 12, and patties $ 3. More info: 516-599-0891. tomatisvegan.com
Organic corner (37 Broadway, Massapequa): By day, this juice and coffee bar is a nice place to unwind with a carrot smoothie or a bowl of açaí. By night – at least Thursday through Sunday evening – Chef Viktoria Hermann prepares an all herbal menu consisting of dishes such as cauliflower wings (with blue cheese dip), sushi rolls, penne pasta à la Vika (with a bolognese cauliflower)) and even vegan poutine. Small plates and salads start at $ 11, entrees are $ 18- $ 25, and there are vegan and gluten-free desserts such as crisps and cheesecake, as well as organic beer and wine. More info: 516-798-5670, organiccornerny.com
Ben’s Kosher Deli Restaurant & Caterers (59 Old Country Rd. At Carle Place, 7971 Jericho Tpke. At Woodbury, 140 Wheatley Plaza in Greenvale): Wait – has the longtime home of hot pastrami gone vegan? Not quite, but this spring Ben’s Kosher Deli leaned in with a plant-based menu. While vegetarian chili and vegetable soup isn’t quite revolutionary, there is now a plant-based vegan corned beef Reuben made from beets, chickpeas and tomatoes by Ms. Goldfarb’s Unreal. Deli, based in Los Angeles. At $ 19.99, it’s a few dollars more than the Hot Pastrami Sandwich, but that means carnivores and plant eaters can break bread together. More information: bensdeli.net
North Fork Table and Inn (57225 Main Rd., Southold): When celebrity vegetable maestro chef John Fraser moved into this revered North Fork restaurant last year, the menu immediately acquired a vegetal sheen – literally, as Fraser devoted himself to the presenting seasonal vegetables in all their natural glory. This spring, that means spring onion fritters, smoked grilled vegetables (like maitake mushroom and butternut squash) with jasmine rice and a spring pea agnolotti with pea leaf pesto. More info: 631-765-0177. northforktableandinn.com
Clementine’s herbal grocery store and bakery (4836 Sunrise Hwy., Sayville): The menu changes weekly at this new vegan grocery store opened by mom and daughter Cira and Chloe Jones in February. A recurring special dish is a crispy buttermilk “chicken” sandwich made with fried tempeh, vegan cheddar cheese and pickles, squeezed katsu-style between slices of bread. Tofu-chorizo and jackfruit tacos, mac and cheese with jackfruit fritters and grilled zucchini have all made recent appearances. (Be careful, some dishes may sell out before the end of the day). The bustling bakery at the back offers cupcakes, pies, pies, cookies, and other candy, and there’s soft serve ice cream as well, as well as a few tables to eat. Most dishes cost between $ 7 and $ 13. From Friday to Sunday only, with menus posted on social networks. More information: 631-664-1270 veggingoutatclementines.com