Anthony Bourdain, former chef and current television personality, famously wrote in Kitchen Confidential, the book that catapulted him to celebrity status back in 2000, “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.” This sentiment echoes resoundingly in the Seattle dining scene. Even during high summer, when local vegetables are abundant, restaurants such as Crush, Zoe and Spur are loathe to place a single vegetable-centered entree on their menus.
On Capitol Hill, however, new eateries that cater exclusively to vegans have sprouted. We asked Anikha Lehde, a Seattle vegan who runs Vegan Score (a resource for Seattle vegans), to comment on the vegan dining scene in Capitol Hill:
Although the U-District is lucky enough to have “little vegan” (a vegan pizza joint, grocery store, and home cookin-style café on the same block), Capitol Hill still takes the cake in both quantity of vegan places (five) and novelty. Newish Plum serves Puerto Rico influenced sweet and spicy cuisine and Highline will serve you a fried fish sandwich or habanero tequila – You can’t get that type of vegan fare anywhere else in the city. Probably not anywhere else, anywhere.
As Lehde mentions, Plum Bistro debuted at 1429 12th Avenue last July. With frequent mentions of celebrity sightings (including Tobey Maguire, Casey Affleck and Summer Phoenix) and having the advantage of an owner and chef well-regarded in the local vegan community in the form of Makini Howell, Plum gained a quick and loyal following. Standout dishes at Plum have included the Spicy Mac ‘n’ Yease ($7), the Mama Africa Salad ($9), and the Yam Fries ($5). Plum has been so successful here in Seattle, that Howell recently announced that she will establish an offshoot in Los Angeles.
Howell’s first outpost in Capitol Hill was The Cafe by Hillside Quickie’s at 324 15th Avenue East, which opened in 2005. After undergoing a few name changes and some remodeling, this location is now known as Sage Cafe. In contrast to the quick success enjoyed by Plum, Howell revealed to the Seattle Times that Sage (then Hillside Quickie’s) was more challenging to grow as a business. In fact, Howell considered closing this first Capitol Hill location at the end of 2006. Currently, Sage benefits from a large take-out business (made all the more acute by the removal of some seating inside the already tiny space). Note that it no longer sells beer. Popular deli items include the Fremont Philly, El Besito Caliente, and the Mama Africa Burger (all hover around $12).
Like Plum, Highline brings a new type of vegan establishment to the Hill. Howard Clark and Jarrod Ducat had enjoyed success operating Squid and Ink in Georgetown since early 2008. Along with Dylan Desmond, they relocated the vegan bar to 210 Broadway and opened in May 2010 billing it as the Highline. Ducat described Highline’s concept as a Linda’s for vegans. We asked Desmond to name his favorite items on the Highline menu, and he responded, “My personal favorites are the Meltdown and the Chicken Mushroom ala king. Both are rich, creamy and very filling. I also find that I nearly eat my weight in potato salad every week. We make a lot of our own faux cheese/meats, so everything has it’s own interesting personality.” Asked to explain how Capitol Hill differs from Georgetown, Desmond replied:
As far as the Highline vs. Squid and Ink was concerned, my first reaction was that Capitol Hill had a way less small town feel than Georgetown …but as time goes on and I’m starting to recognize faces and make lots of new friends. I see now that this is not true at all, rather a similar feel with four times the population. And on Capitol Hill there’s no planes scraping our roof to land.
Most food items at the Highline are priced $12 and under. When we dropped by for lunch, we enjoyed the Fish & Chips ($8) paired with a draft Duchesse de Bourgogne Flemish Red Ale ($5).
Though older than Plum and Highline, In the Bowl is also a newer vegetarian/vegan addition to the Hill, having established itself at 1554 East Olive in February 2007. When you peer into this tiny space, it is nearly always packed. Customers attribute its success to low prices, a convenient location and satisfying, delicious fare. Dishes cited with the most approval online included Melting Culture ($8), Fresh Veggies and Herbs Rolls ($7) and the Lemongrass Delight Stirfry ($9). All main dishes are served with a complimentary sticky rice dessert.
Like In the Bowl, Teapot Vegetarian House at 345 15th Avenue East serves Pan Asian vegetarian/vegan fare. Teapot, however, is a grande dame of vegetarian/vegan dining for Hill dwellers, having been on 15th Avenue for 14 years. CHS commenters commend the spring rolls, Fried Lotus Root, and the Vegetable Vermicelli. In addition to the eateries named above, more casual vegan fare is offered up at CHS advertiser Healeo (the tahini bowl with quinoa is memorable and cheap at $4) and Cyber-Dogs (all vegetarian and some vegan hot dogs).
Does the increase in eateries on Capitol Hill focusing on vegetarian/vegan have any import? As Karen Gaudette noted in a Seattle Times article entitled “Seattle’s garden of vegetarian options continues to grow” in 2008, environmental reasons are increasingly cited as a reason people move from omnivore diets to vegan/vegetarian ones. Bourdain himself has moderated his anti-vegetarian invective/schtick. In a recent article he penned for The Guardian, he acknowledged “I’m beginning to think, in light of recent accounts, that we should, on balance, eat a little less meat.” He goes on to add, though, ”But what I’ve seen of the world since my first book was published has, if anything, made me angrier at anyone not a Hindu who turns up their nose at a friendly offer of meat.” Well, here on the Hill, who would turn down a friendly offer to dine at any of the places listed here?