By Poornima Apte
If you were to pick the top foodie faves, what would they be? It might be safe to say that vegan anything and food halls might be close to the top of that list.
The good news: Plant City in Providence, Rhode Island, goes all out and incorporates them both into an all-vegan food hall and marketplace concept that’s winning rave reviews—and loyal customers.
Home to Johnson and Wales Culinary School, Providence already has a reputation as a superb food town. And vegan-friendly restaurants are not new on the scene, either: The popular Grange set up shop in the Federal Hill neighborhood and offers excellent vegan choices.
But vegan-only food halls are a different animal altogether. That’s where Plant City delivers, with an Italian and Mexican restaurant on the second floor and more casual options on the first. There’s also a marketplace on the first floor—think a small-scale Eataly.
Rhode Island resident Kimberley Anderson wanted to bring a vegan concept to Providence and decided to lean on acclaimed vegan chef and New England native Matthew Kenney for inspiration. Every recipe in Plant City—from the black bean brownies to the T-BLAT sandwich with tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado and chipotle sandwich—is his.
Plant City can get mobbed on weekend nights so make reservations, especially if you decide you’re in the mood for Latin American (Bar Verde) or Italian (Double Zero) upstairs. You can’t go wrong with either.
Latin and Italian Done Right
I am partial to Bar Verde especially because the dishes feature smoky, nutty and spicy flavors that are true to the spirit of the cuisine.
The generous portion of nachos (butternut queso, black beans, pico de gallo, cashew crema, guacamole, jalapeño and radish) is enough for at least two hearty appetites and is completely satisfying. I had a difficult time choosing among the taco options and finally settled on the jackfruit pibil (guac, lettuce, salsa verde, cashew crema) and cauliflower al pastor (smoked pineapple, salsa roja, scallion, salsa verde). Excellent choices, both.
Bar Verde shares floor space with Double Zero, which is knockout Italian. I wondered how typical cheese-heavy pizzas could be recreated in vegan fashion, but the dishes here allayed my concerns. My favorite: the walnut mushroom ragout, with a nutty and intense flavor to die for.
Both restaurants serve up an appetizing cocktail and mocktail selection. I went with a blood orange margarita, which was outstanding. The Gilded Sage with gin, blackberries, rose water and sage…not so much.
If you’re in the mood for lighter lunch fare or breakfast options, saunter on over to Make Out on the ground floor. The layout is a tad confusing; take a quick tour before you decide what to order—and from where. For breakfast, I love the yogurt (made with coconut milk) bowl with toppings that I can customize: the fresh raspberries, cocoa nibs and granola are my go-tos. Avocado toast, a common must-have, is equally delicious at Plant City.
Pick up a sweet treat or cappuccino from the cafe around the corner from Make Out or drop by for a burger or casual lunch or dinner option at New Burger. I hadn’t liked the Impossible Burger and so was wary of trying the burgers at Plant City—but they’re sumptuous dining experiences in their own right.
Vegan as a Lifestyle
Plant City is about more than vegan food being served to woke Millennials.
Not surprisingly, folks of all ages love the vegan choices here. The food hall hosts a variety of events as well. The most popular of these, Kickstart Your Health, has been a runaway success: Focused on promoting a vegan lifestyle, this multi-week course shares food and recipe inspiration along with ideas to make vegan work for hectic schedules.
Plant City is in the middle of a delivery rollout—a custom app is in the cards—from a more limited menu and customers can opt for “rapid pickup.” Since parking can be a challenge, the marketplace will save a couple of reserved spots in the already cramped parking lot for pickup customers.
Arguably Plant City’s most delicious aspect is that it’s not consciously out to woo the carnivore.
So many vegan establishments are still decidedly meat-centric, designing food that tastes “just like meat.” Plant City is refreshingly different. You’ve come here to eat a plant-based diet and you’ll appreciate the incredible variety and flavors for their own sake.
At Plant City, you’ll know you are eating right and doing right by the planet. It’s a lip-smacking two-fer.
Wild Mushroom Sandwich with Caramelized Onions and Truffle Aioli
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp tamari
1 qt wild mushrooms (maitake, chanterelle, shimeji)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
1. Mix the sherry vinegar and tamari in a small bowl.
2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms to the dry pan and sauté until they begin to brown and release their water.
3. Add oil and sauté 1 minute or until cooked through. Add salt.
4. Deglaze pan with sherry/tamari mix.
1 ½–2 lbs onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 tbsp olive oil plus more as needed
1. Place sliced onions in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring infrequently, until they are dry and almost sticking to the pan.
2. Add oil plus a large pinch of salt and stir. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding oil if needed to keep onions from sticking.
3. When finished, they should be sweet and brown. Add salt and pepper to taste.
1 cup soaked cashews
2⁄3 cup water
1 clove black garlic
¼ cup truffle oil
1 tsp truffle salt
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp agave syrup
Place all ingredients in a food processor or high-speed blender and process/blend until smooth.
Serve with baby arugula on grilled sourdough bread (avocado is also a nice addition for added texture). A small salad with preserved lemon vinaigrette pairs well with this as a side that adds a touch of fresh acidity.
Makes 4–6 sandwiches, depending on size of bread used
Reprinted with permission of Plant City
Photo credit for all pictures: Cassidy Bissitt