PHILADELPHIA, PA, March 10, 2015 —The challenge is on to name the 2015 Best Vegan Cheesesteak in Philadelphia.
Brainchild of “V for Vegan” blogger Vance Lehmkuhl, the second annual contest, sponsored by the Daily News, culminates Friday, March 20, at Weavers Way Chestnut Hill, with a blind tasting by celebrity judges of the three most popular qualifying sandwiches.
Any restaurant’s meatless sandwich may be nominated but only those that are 100 percent vegan qualify for the finals. (Hint: “Just a little bit of cheese” doesn’t count.)
In addition to naming the overall 2015 winner, organizers will award “Best Newcomer” to the top venue competing for the first time this year, while the top vote-getter across all categories will win “People’s Choice.”
Vote through noon March 18. One voter chosen at random will win dinner for 2 at Flora, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Jenkintown (www.facebook.com/FloraJenkintown). Or visitVance’s blog for more details about the contest.
The judges for the big finale are:
- Frank Olivieri Jr., proprietor of Pat's King of Steaks and grandson of cheesesteak co-originator Harry Olivieri.
- Cindy Bass, City Councilwoman for Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill, who strives to live vegan and is eating totally plant-based for Lent.
- Ana M. Negron, M.D., member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and author of the upcoming "Nourishing the Body and Recovering Health."
- Ed Coffin, co-founder of Peace Advocacy Network and ofNatural and Organic Marketing.
The judging tops off a Weavers Way Chestnut Hill celebration of the Great American Meatout, with sampling and info from vendors of vegetarian and vegan products, an all-vegan hot bar and our own vegan cheesesteaks for sale at the sandwich station.
With Zagat raters ranking Vedge No. 1 restaurant in Philadelphia in their 2014 rankings, and with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey going vegan and Beyonce launching a vegan meal-delivery service, interest in this cuisine is clearly on the rise. And in a city where the wit-witout divide shows no sign of ever narrowing, is adding no-meat, no-cheese to the cheesesteak options really all that farfetched?
From a couple venues a decade ago to a couple dozen in 2014, the vegan cheeseteak is showing up in crunchy vegan cafes and mainstream bars and pizzerias alike. Improvements in vegan meat and cheese alternatives – fillings range from soy to seitan to mushrooms, with store-bought or homemade vegan soft cheese – make these tasty sandwiches appealing to vegans and nonvegans alike.
In 2014 the Daily News sought not only to recognize quality but to determine how many restaurants offered a vegan cheesesteak. In the inaugural contest, 23 venues were nominated; in the final tasting, a unanimous judges panel hailedBlackbird Pizzeria (www.blackbirdpizzeria.com) as best.
Blackbird is back this year, but who knows what tofu-king topplers are ready to be crowned?
About Weavers Way: Founded in 1973 as a neighborhood food buying club, Weavers Way has grown to encompass four stores in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill and two urban farms. Cooperatively owned by 5,400 member families, “the Co-op” emphasizes products that are healthy, sustainable and local, and supports fair prices, fair trade and fair treatment of workers. At Weavers Way, anyone can join and everyone can shop. For more information, visit www.weaversway.coop.