Chef Joseph Solar is heading into the city with a second location of Greyhound Cafe, his two-year-old vegan restaurant on Lancaster Avenue in Malvern. The new Greyhound is going into what was the short-lived Gin & Pop, and before that Flying Carpet, at 1839 Poplar Street, with what Solar calls a plant-based comfort food menu riffing off Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Italian favorites, plus buffalo wings “people go crazy for.”
“I’m opening this place for meat eaters. I want to show the possibilities of plant-based cooking, because I feel like there are so many misconceptions,” says Solar, who went vegan three years ago after his stepdaughter challenged him to give it a try. “The menu is familiar; it’s just simple comfort food.”
The original Greyhound, set in the Great Valley Shopping Center, got off to a slow start when it opened in February 2017, Solar says, but lately business has been good. He estimates that about 60 percent of his customers are meat eaters — like he used to be.
“I’m from Texas, and I loved eating anything and everything. Going vegan started out as kind of a joke,” Solar says. “But after a month, I felt so good. Six months in, my energy levels were up, my cholesterol dropped. I lost 45 pounds. But I wasn’t prepared to get into eating strictly vegetables, so I started to explore the different options.”
Solar says his vegan lifestyle is now also about saving the planet, and Greyhound is a way to show others it’s not a sacrifice. “Meat eaters aren’t going to miss anything if you have good food,” he says. “It’s not about trying to exactly replicate something else — it’s just about making food that tastes good.”
He considered several spots in the city before picking the space in Francisville, a small neighborhood north of Fairmount Avenue and south of Girard, not far from the Art Museum area.
The menu will be similar to the one at the first location, with “Texican” fare, pizza, pasta, and a weekend brunch, plus a list of non-alcoholic cocktails (the restaurant is BYOB).
To start a meal, there are nachos piled with beans, queso, guac, and jalapeños, and buffalo wings made of flash-fried seitan and served with a vegan take on blue cheese. The sandwiches, burritos, tacos, and quesadillas make use of seitan, Impossible burgers, and Beyond burgers and sausages.
Pizzas and calzones range from a spicy fra diavolo with sausage to a veggie lovers pie with broccoli and portobello. The pasta dishes cover the classics, like fettuccine alfredo and ricotta-stuffed shells.
Solar says he loves Vedge, Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby’s ground-breaking, upscale vegan restaurant that uses vegetables in innovative ways, but he’s not trying to emulate that style: “Greyhound is where you go when you just want a hug on a plate.”
If all goes according to plan, and he can find the right pizza oven soon, it should be up and running by mid-July.