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 like 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 combined traditional Jamaican dishes with the plant-based dishes she had long refined with the attention of a chemist, using mushrooms to mimic the tail. beef or chicken, for example, or coconut to make macaroni and cheese cream or squash to color homemade nut cheeses. “I always came up with new dishes,” she said.

The word “vegan” can evoke mixed reactions in people – and the assumption that giving up meat and dairy means an unremarkable diet. Between 2-4% of Americans identify as vegans, according to various sources – but no matter how fast (or not) the number of vegans grows, 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 cuisine 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 craze 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 each week to experiment – usually in the morning – and uses that time to perfect dishes such as vegan peas (made with kidney beans). and tiger nut root) and “goat cheese” curry, made from tiger nut flour bound to flax seeds. “I imagined a raw lasagna and am experimenting with a jerk burger,” she said.

Last year also brought a full plant-based food pivot for Organic Corner in Massapequa, moving owner Craig Margulies and his partners were working before COVID revamped the restaurant landscape. For years Organic Corner had served salads, sandwiches, and other vegan dishes as part of its healthy focus, but Margulies had occasionally noted a discomfort among vegan eaters that coffee still served meat, for example. He was also struck by the fact 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 wooden walls, exposed beams and large windows that flood the room with light.

A few months ago, chef Viktoria Hermann, 23, 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 go all out,” with a vegan menu, said Margulies, “she immediately 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 juice closes in preparation for languid plant-based dinners. Hermann and the kitchen team prepare platters of zucchini noodle lasagna with cashew ricotta and gluten free breadcrumbs, or a creamy kale Caesar salad, or melted mac and cheese with walnuts cashew and coconut cream. A “Dirty Corner” menu replicates comfort foods like poutine and nachos with homemade cheese sauces, but not an ounce of Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger. “We didn’t want to go in that direction,” said Hermann, whose house burger is made with 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 she noticed diners were traveling far from the far east and west points. “A lot of people have negative connotations about veganism,” he said. “I wanted a place that could be called green, 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 prepares an almost entirely vegan menu at her Jamaican restaurant in take away to Elmont. Oyster mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, button mushrooms and portabella mushrooms replace chicken in its jerk version of “chicken” and are also used to trick the oxtail. She fuses tiger nut root and flaxseed for the curried ‘goat’ cheese, uses a creamy coconut sauce for the rasta pasta, and even makes puffy Jamaican patties from scratch. Jerk pumpkin soup, barbecued jackfruit salad, and yucca fries are among the other platters, while fresh juices and dairy-free smoothies are on hand to complement the robust flavors. Food is cooked to order, so plan ahead. Entrees range from $ 8 to $ 12, entrees are $ 20, wraps are $ 12, and patties are $ 3. More info: 516-599-0891. tomatisvegan.com

The organic corner (37 Broadway, Massapequa): By day, this juice and coffee bar is a cheerful place to unwind with a carrot smoothie or a bowl of acai. In the evening, at least from Thursday to Sunday evening, Chef Viktoria Hermann prepares a fully vegetated menu consisting of dishes such as cauliflower wings (with a blue cheese sauce), sushi rolls, penne à la Vika (with cauliflower bolognese) 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 chips and cheesecake, as well as organic beer and wine. More info: 516-798-5670, biocornerny.com

Ben’s Kasher Deli Restaurant & Caterers (59 Old Country Rd. In Carle Place, 7971 Jericho Tpke. In 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 took a look at a plant-based menu. While vegetarian chili and vegetable soup weren’t quite revolutionary, now there is a plant-based vegan corned beef Reuben made from beets, chickpeas and tomatoes by Unreal Deli, from 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 chef John Fraser moved into this revered North Fork restaurant last year, the menu immediately took on a vegetal undertone – literally, as Fraser is dedicated to setting value seasonal vegetables in all their natural glory. This spring, that means spring onion fritters, barbecued smoked vegetables (like maitake mushrooms 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 deli 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 specialty is a crispy buttermilk “chicken” sandwich, made with breaded and fried tempeh, vegan cheddar and pickles, wedged katsu-like between slices of bread. Tofu-chorizo ​​and jackfruit tacos, macaroni and “cheese” with jackfruit and barbecue zucchini have all made recent appearances. (Be careful, some dishes may sell out before the end of the day). The busy bakery at the back offers cupcakes, pies, pies, cookies, and other sweets, and there’s soft serve ice cream as well, as well as a few tables to eat. Most dishes are between $ 7 and $ 13. From Friday to Sunday only, with menus published on social networks. More info: 631-664-1270 veggingoutatclementines.com