Promoting vegan menus for restaurants
A dinner with in-laws who loved the food at Toro Tapas and Tequila restaurant in Patchogue was the initiator that hatched Plated Plants, a series of vegan events.
Last fall, Alison Roe was already advancing to becoming a vegan. She always worked around local menus, settling for a salad here, a substitute there, but her questions resonated this time with the chef. She asked if the cheese used could be removed from a potato dish. And also if a mushroom dish was cooked in butter.
“The chef came out and was very accommodating,” Roe recalled. “He offered a vegetable paella.”
Vegans do not eat animals or animal products, including milk, butter and cheese, as well as eggs, which can be a challenge when it comes to selecting meals from Long Island menus. Their diet incorporates grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, beans and fruits, that is, plant-derived foods.
But if Toro could accommodate her request, why not other restaurants? Roe thought. There surely were others like her out there.
She texted her friend, fellow vegan Christina Garcia, and Plated Plants was hatched.
(If there ever were endorsements for vegan eating, take a look at these women. You want to be like them.)
“We’re the promoters,” Roe said of their business (they’re in the process of trademarking the concept). “We create the idea, sell the tickets and do social media to get the word out there.” The restaurants whip up the menus, guided by this dynamic duo.
“I do the desserts,” Garcia said, adding that she has her own company, CompassionEat. “I sell cakes and pastries.”
They pitched the idea to Toro’s chef. Voila! A sit-down vegan menu that evolved this summer included roasted potatoes, brussel sprouts, asparagus with passion fruit, cucumber with pear confit salad, a gazpacho shooter, a mushroom dish and, for the main course, a vegetable paella. Dessert was a vegan flan.
Café Castello in Bellport Village was the second taker.
Owner Nick Gagliardi greeted the women during the Advance interview on a sunny Sunday morning. He wanted them back. “Do you want me to make a menu?” Gagliardi asked.
“We can do it,” replied Roe.
The women are on a roll. Plated Plants range from $35 to $40 a head. South Country Tavern in East Patchogue has already hosted a brunch and the next restaurants on their list included Bella Vino in Patchogue on Oct. 17 with a vegan wine and nut-based cheese pairing, and The Bellport on Oct. 25. Artisan Kaiser is pending a slot in November; ditto for That Meetball Place in January. “Those all came to us,” Garcia said.
Café Castello will offer another go-round soon.
Roe and Garcia, who hail from East Patchogue, have other lives. Roe is an elementary school teacher in the Patchogue-Medford School District. Garcia is a bartender at the Pine Grove Inn; she also attends the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City. (It is licensed by the New York State Department of Education and is the first culinary program dedicated to healthful cooking to be accredited nationally.)
Choosing vegan was an ethical as well as a health choice for both of them.
For Garcia, she always loved animals and made a conscious decision three years ago. (It was McDonald’s and cheesesteaks before that.)
The slaughtering process is brutal, and many times, farm animals are pumped with hormones and antibiotics, she said. Farmed fish don’t have much of a better life, crowded in an underwater pen. As for ocean fish, the waters are getting depleted.
“Most farm animals aren’t treated as a living, breathing creature, “ Garcia said of the often inhumane conditions. “Even with dairy cows, when they are finishing their life, most are shipped off for slaughter.”
Roe’s views are similar. “There are so many different types of beans and nuts,” she said of varieties. “I used to just eat chicken.” These dishes aren’t bland; spices can make the recipe yummy as well as cheese alternatives, nut spreads and tofu.
What they’re hoping to start is a new trend on Long Island, because there’s a pretty devoid vegan offering, they point out.
At a recent dinner at The Bellport, Roe and Garcia were wowed with roasted Brussels sprouts and bean, tomato and onion appetizers, and an entrée of portobello mushroom over risotto dusted with porcini, accompanied by crispy kale and acorn squash, planned by chef Taylor Alonzo. Garcia made a beautiful rosemary-thyme cake with maple vegan butter crème she traveled from the city with; it had apple juice-soaked poached pears and figs brushed with a balsamic drizzle on top. Alonzo commented on the thyme cake’s delicate flavor. “I like it. It’s very good,” he nodded.
“Our goal is to get restaurants to offer more vegan options,” Roe explained. “Right now, we’re just concerned with spreading the word. And if we’re just saving animals, that’s worth it.”
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