Restaurant Editor Bill Addison is traveling the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
It's amazing—unsettling, even—that only a handful of places like Vedge exist across America. What's so radical about an upmarket restaurant focused on exceptional vegetable dishes? Today's kitchens may be treating vegetables with more respect, but elegantly prepared roots, brassicas, and nightshades haven't exactly supplanted America's lust for meat. No matter how much we coo over charred broccoli and shishito peppers, most food obsessives still view them as opening acts or side dishes.
We'd likely have more of an appetite for vegetarian restaurants if chefs as skilled and driven as Rich Landau ran them. Landau's evolution is fascinating, and a model for budding vegetarian cooks. He began his cooking career by opening a natural foods and juice bar pit stop called Horizons Cafe two decades ago in Willow Grove, a community in Philadelphia's northern suburbs. There he met Kate Jacoby, who would become his wife. They grew the business together, following a typical course for vegetarian/vegan restaurants. Landau strived to master the "I can't believe it's not X" genre of dishes: "scallops" made of tofu, "wings" fashioned from seitan and slathered in barbecue sauce. He served meatless versions of familiar dishes pulled from cuisines around the globe, and Jacoby tinkered with desserts that eschewed dairy or eggs. They tackled this approach with more success than most, but it wasn't cooking destined to reach a broad audience.