The Vegan Tree
742 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Rating: 4.5 / 5
Good for Groups: No
Being vegan and going out to eat = tough life. Every menu gets reduced to a garden salad with dressing — as long as there’s no dairy in it. While everyone gets to order dessert, you sit there watching people munch away at a crème brûlée or a milkshake. It was with much determination (and willingness to eat a great meal) that we decided to discover a great vegan option for casual weekend dinners out of town. That was when we ended up at The Vegan Tree.
Trust us, we did not just pick it because its name screams vegan. The atmosphere was quaint. Small square tables were set up with simple picnic patterned tablecloths. Nothing was spectacular, but it was comfortable. The decor was cute, not in the casual remark sense. Pastel purple, light blue and mellow green vases held short sunflowers. Specialties were written with a hot pink sharpie and placed on small doilies, which made looking at them all the more pleasurable.
A counter displayed desserts including brown sugar cheesecake, chocolate cake and carrot cake slices all enticing you and luring you in. Again, everything is vegan and, even so, right for the taste buds.
The service was pleasant. Two women took turns at waiting on us since there were only a few customers. They were kind and offered to explain any of the dishes to us. It seemed strange that the location was not bustling on a Friday night, but after considering that it is a vegan restaurant, it seemed alright — we assumed not too many people are fond of going to a restaurant where everything is a soy-based substitute of the actual thing.
South Street itself is an adventure. Not only do restaurants offer a variety in good food but also in experience. Down the street we noticed a restaurant, Hot Diggity, specializing in unique hot dog dishes and a take out places claiming to have the best gyros. And, don’t forget about the reputable Jim’s Steaks, known for its delicious cheesesteaks.
This week’s Vegan Tree menu highlights four entrees and two desserts: Ocean Sushi Roll, Golden Nuggets, Asian Seaweed Salad, Chocolate Cake, and Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie. Not being vegan myself, I entered this adorable restaurant with a couple suspicions. It was hard to believe that anyone could really imitate the flavor and texture of chicken or create a beautifully crafted cake without any dairy products. Nevertheless, with the assurance of my partner, we stepped in and slowly began challenging my suspicions.
We first wet our palettes with the Ocean Roll. Each of the nine pieces looked more like the Korean Kimbap than the traditional Japanese sushi. The seaweed exterior encased warm black rice, imitation crab, fresh cucumbers, and my favorite, smooth and buttery avocado. With our hunger levels sky high, each piece was well appreciated. Tasting a lot like a California Roll, this dish was delicious but not particularly spectacular.
Next, the most interesting dish arrived: The Golden Nuggets. My questioning of fake chicken was finally answered. The Golden Nuggets came with approximately 8 triangular pieces and a sriracha/mayo dipping sauce in the middle. With the first bite, we both let out an exclamation of surprise. “This tastes just like the chicken my grandma use to make,” Gaby noted. For me, if I were ever blindfolded, I would not be able to tell a real chicken nugget and this apart. Each bit was as tender and juicy as a nugget can get. Immersing each piece in the sauce, we happily pretended to be eating real chicken.
Next arrived the Asian Seaweed Salad. The preparation took a little longer than expected, but I was willing to wait, as I rarely come across a salad with well-prepared seaweed. This dish arrived with a mixture of spring greens, seaweed, and large slabs of tofu laid on top. Once the waiter placed this in front of me, I immediately began spearing pieces of lettuce and seaweed into my eager mouth. Starting from the pieces on top, the salad tasted fresh and well-flavored with a sesame oil dressing. The seaweed was clearly prepared well with no lingering seawater saltiness. Unfortunately, as I got to the bottom layers where most of the dressing gathered, each successive bite became a little too salty. Using the bland flavor of the large pieces of tofu balanced out the flavors and helped me finish the dish.
The dessert at Vegan Tree was definitely my favorite part. Gaby ordered the Chocolate Cake while I bought a simple Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookie. My dessert was not noteworthy. The cookie itself was pretty flavorless. Without the chocolate chips, the cookie would have tasted like a dry biscuit. On the other hand, I was lucky enough to steal a few bites of Gaby’s dish. With the first bite, I really could not believe that this rich and moist cake had no dairy products in it. The combination of chocolate frosting and chocolate bread created the perfect amount of sweetness unrivaled by any I have eaten before. This was our guilty pleasure with half the guilt.
As we exited, we noticed a sign by the entrance with a sketch of a cow and a caption that read “I am a happy cow with a family and friends. Please don’t eat me! Go vegan.” There is no doubt a place like this makes it much easier to avoid eating these friendly animals.