When I moved to the Hudson Valley in the mid-1980s, the concept of “vegan” wasn’t in the air yet. It was trouble enough being a vegetarian, especially when eating out. The options were mainly of the brown food variety, with mounds of alfalfa sprouts on top.
Now, as a longtime vegan, I’m amazed at how much things have changed everywhere I travel. And until I hit the road to do this round-up, I wasn’t even aware of how many fantastic vegan restaurants have sprouted up in New York’s Hudson Valley region, which is where I call home.
Vegan dining has gone from a niche specialty to a global trend, especially in the last few years. With the number of people identifying as vegan growing exponentially, it may not be surprising that the Hudson Valley is riding this wave for lots of good reasons.
Plant-based diets go hand in hand with farm-to-table dining; whole foods fuel the active outdoorsy folks who live in or visit the region, and purveying house-made delicacies with locally sourced ingredients adds vibrancy to communities.
Each of the eateries in this survey has a unique story, but they also have a lot in common. Diners can be sure that dietary restrictions, including gluten-free, will be thoughtfully addressed. The majority of them source their fresh, primarily organic produce from local farms that are committed to fair labor practices.
What I heard most of all when chatting with the owners and chefs was their compassion for animals and belief that plant-based diets are better for the environment. And finally, all agree that “vegan food” is simply food as nature intended — wholesome, fresh, and above all, delicious!
Shown at top: Veggie Lasagna at the Garden Café in Woodstock — layers of seasonal vegetables; no noodles!
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Commissary! – New Paltz
Lagusta Yearwood, chef and owner, and Jacob Feinberg-Pyne, co-owner
11 Church Street, New Paltz, NY | 845-28VEGAN
Lagusta’s Luscious Commissary on Facebook
New Paltz residents are lucky to have Lagusta times two in the heart of the village. Lagusta’s Luscious, opened in 2011 at 25 North Front Street, is where her artful fair trade vegan chocolates are made. Commissary! (exclamation point is part of the name, as it should be), just a couple of streets away, is its newer, eat-in sister café.
With a youthful vibe, Commissary! has a casual air of fun and inclusiveness. There’s Socialist Sliding Scale Soup and a Mitzvah Wall, where customers pay treats forward. The words “resistance is fertile,” writ large along the main counter, are symbolic not only of Lagusta’s commitment to social justice, but of the change everyone can make with conscientious food choices.
Commissary! serves a sampling of the gorgeous bonbons and truffles made in Lagusta’s sweets shop, along with an extensive menu of hot and cold specialty coffees, teas, and chocolate drinks. Rich homemade nut milks and nondairy whipped cream turn these standard beverages into something special.
Vegans who thought they’d never eat a croissant again will be over the moon with two varieties of the flaky pastry made without dairy butter.
Since it opened, more savory items have gradually been added to the menu, such as the cheese + pickle plate featuring house-made pickles, local jam, and Treeline vegan cheese from Kingston, served with Brooklyn-made crackers. Hearty soups are always on the menu, as are daily specials like seitan stroganoff.
“People in the Hudson Valley are passionate about food and ethics,” says Lagusta, “and we’ve found a great customer base here.” See our post on Lagusta’s flagship store, Lagusta’s Luscious.
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Consciousfork – Warwick
Kimberly Gabelmann, owner, founder; Kelly Hance, Partner, chef
14 Railroad St., Warwick, NY | 845-988-KALE
The name of this café invokes the idea of making a conscious decision at the proverbial fork in the road. That’s just what owner Kim Gabelmann had to do some years ago when she opted out of a successful yet stressful corporate career that was taking a toll on her health. A juice retreat changed her life, restored her well-being, and set her on a new path at her own fork in the road.
The café’s tagline — “Nourishing the mind, body, and soil” — speaks to this eatery’s connection to the nearby Black Dirt Region. Famed for its fertile farmland, it’s where Kim actually grows much of the produce used in the café in the heart of Warwick. It’s a warm and inviting space trimmed with lots of bright green, with artwork by local artists on display on the walls.
That same DIY ethos permeates the Consciousfork kitchen, where chef Kelly Hance prepares fresh and lively fare. Coconut, almond, and hemp milks for smoothies are house made, as are sauerkraut, kombucha, and other fermented foods. All breads are baked on premises, and gluten-free sweets are part of the daily fare.
“We love to grow our base of non-believers who become steady customers,” notes Kim. Non-vegan men, especially, are skeptical at first, then surprised by the heartiness of the food. Kim calls the top-selling Tex-Mex Bowl a “gateway” to vegan dining. “The guys love it!”
Other popular menu items include seasonal soups, generous sandwiches, avocado toast, and fresh juices. And yes, vegans are allowed to drink! Consciousfork serves beer, wine, cocktails muddled with fresh herbs, and juices spiked with spirits. Learn more about Consciousfork here on The Vegan Atlas.
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Garden Cafe at Woodstock
Lea Haas, owner, Christine Moss, chef
6 Old Forge Rd., Woodstock, NY | 845-679- 3600
When Lea Haas bought Garden Café on the Green in Woodstock in May of 2015, she carried on its vegan tradition. By the fall of that year, the elegantly rustic eatery more than doubled its space, and rebranded as Garden Café at Woodstock.
“Working with a plant-based menu is clean, kind, and creative,” says Lea. “It’s a win-win — good for you, the planet, and the animals. Our food is prepared with the best local and organic ingredients with the talent of Chef Christine Moss and our fantastic team.”
Chef Christine adds, “I like the challenge and creativity of cooking vegan. There are so many beautiful and distinct flavors in each vegetable, fruit, and grain.” That creative spirit is reflected in a wide-ranging menu inspired by what’s available from local farms and farm markets.
Signature dishes include no-noodle Veggie Lasagna, featuring seasonal vegetables layered with flavorful house-made marinara sauce and cashew ricotta. Another standout is the portobello panini, with marinated mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and roasted garlic aioli. It’s well worth leaving room for the silky-smooth chocolate mousse as a sweet finale.
The café serves beer, organic wine, fresh juices, and tonics like Immune Boost Tea, an infusion of fresh ginger, turmeric, lemon, cayenne, and black pepper.
Garden Café is a destination dining experience, as well, especially during the warmer months when meals can be enjoyed in the outdoor seating area. Lea credits the success of the café to the strong community following. It makes her feel good to hear diners say, “If I could eat here every day, I could be vegan.”
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Good Choice Kitchen Vegan Café and Culinary Center – Ossining
Laurie Gershgorn, owner, chef, food educator, nutritional consultant
147 Main Street, Ossining, NY | 914-930-1591
When Good Choice Kitchen opened in early 2017, it was a the culmination of years of planning. Owner-chef Laurie Gershgorn’s envisioned not just a dine-in café, but a multi-use culinary center offering catering, weekly meal plans customized to customers’ dietary needs, cooking classes, lectures, workshops, and art and music events. She has fulfilled that vision admirably in a bright space accented with colors reminiscent of orange veggies.
Laurie has introduced the northern Westchester community of Ossining to “a wide variety of delicious, sustainable alternatives that they can enjoy, and turn them on to a feeling of well-being.”
Some customer favorites are Avocado Toast, taken to a whole new level with hummus and micro-greens; Spiced Tempeh & Seasonal Vegetables with Almond Sauce — just one of many seasonal bowls; Lentil Tikki Masala, and Kale Salad.
Good Choice also serves hearty breakfasts, wraps and sandwiches, soups, fresh juices and smoothies, and desserts. The farm-to-table seasonal menu is augmented with daily and weekly specials..
Laurie observes more people becoming open to a plant-based diet as the route to better health. “Our cooking classes, lectures and discussions in the café motivate, empower, and pique interest in this lifestyle.”
Good Choice Kitchen has a following of eaters of all persuasions. In a place that’s seriously committed to clean, organic, seasonal, and locally bio-farmed food, you can also have your vegan cake (and brownies, and cookies …) and eat it, too!
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Karma Road – New Paltz
Seth and Jenn Branitz, co-owners
11 Main Street., New Paltz, NY | 845-255-1099
Jenn and Seth Branitz arrived in New Paltz with their two baby sons in the dead of winter of 2007. Knowing no one, the couple, both from Long Island and with experience in the food business, took a leap of faith. Karma Road opened its doors in the bleak month of February.
Their mission was and remains “to ease suffering for animals, humans, and the planet. with delicious, hearty plant-based foods that everyone likes,” according to Seth.
Customers of the colorful, cozy café discover that putting compassion on the plates is easy, and even more enjoyable than unconscious eating. Karma Road pitches itself as an organic rather than a vegan café as a way to broaden the message.
Karma’s centerpiece is the deli case, brimming with curried stews, fresh slaws and salads, roasted vegetables, greens, the “burger of the moment,” and more, from which customers can build two popular specials — the Afforda-Bowl and the Flexa-Bowl.
The ever-changing soups are another staple. “We sell gallons even on the hottest summer days,” says Seth. The signature sweet potato biscuits pair perfectly with any soup of the day. Juices, smoothies, and wheatgrass shots are part of Karma Road’s vibe. Outsized muffins and other baked goods loaded with good-for-you ingredients are great for grab-and-go.
Seth has seen interest in plant-based fare grow as people come to realize that they’re making no sacrifice in choosing vegan foods. Karma Road’s wholesome comfort food proves that “Loving the experience has accelerated the movement.” Learn more about Karma Road right here on The Vegan Atlas.
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Pure City (Pine Bush)
Ben & Lisa Chen
100 Main Street, Pine Bush, NY | 845-744-2153
It might be surprising that the compact business district of Pine Bush is home to a vegan Asian restaurant, but award-winning Pure City has thrived in this location for fifteen years. The menu features dishes using mock meats — mostly soy protein and seitan — and traditional vegetarian Chinese tofu, vegetables, and noodle specialties.
As dedicated Buddhists, owners Ben and Lisa Chen practice the compassion and nonviolence at the heart of the teachings of their dharma master. Those beliefs are reflected in the menu.
With Asian art and objects and soft lighting, the serene eatery has long been a destination for vegetarians and vegans seeking a festive place to celebrate birthdays and other special occasions. Non-vegan friends and family members enjoy the food, too, and from there, word of mouth has done its magic in creating a loyal following, according to Lisa Chen.
Some customers become especially devoted to a particular dish, including a gentleman who has been ordering Green Jade, a delectable combo of veggie “ham,” broccoli, and enoki mushrooms, for fifteen years. Meat-eaters are particularly smitten with Veggie Nuggets Orange Flavor and Teriyaki Veggie Steak.
Many of Pure City’s entrées are the unique creations of chef Ben. Almost too pretty to eat, Mixed Diced Vegetables in Taro, for instance, is served in a crisp edible bowl and surrounded by thin ribbons of raw beet. Pure City’s entrees go easy on oil, leaving you feeling sated but not stuffed. That way, you’ll have room for vegan ice cream or homemade vegan cheesecake — a sweet ending for a memorable meal.
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Kamel Jamal, owner
Elizabeth Teachout, chef
504 Main Street, Beacon, NY | 845-838-1943
Kamel Jamal is a man who can’t stay still, and that’s been a good thing for the Beacon business district. Kamel is behind the River Valley restaurant group that owns Tito Santana Taqueria, Beacon Bread Company, Ziatoun, and their latest entry, Végétalien (“vegan” in French). This enterprise also owns Angelina’s in Cold Spring, and will be launching a food truck this summer.
It was his customer’s requests for more vegan options at Tito’s that inspired Kamel to open a 100% plant-based eatery. “Vegan” seemed to be in the air, and Kamel, who has also served as chef in his establishments, likes to keep his diners happy. And as a savvy entrepreneur, he sees the trend as still having huge potential.
Kamel credits his staff with “doing something they’re truly passionate about, putting their hearts into creating incredible vegan cuisine.” Among them are chef Elizabeth Teachout, and Ashley Arrigo, who was working the counter and making juices the day we visited.
Compact and casual, with just a few tables, Végétalien is always bustling. Some of their most popular offerings include classic vegan BLT, with “bacon” cleverly made of rice wrappers; sizzling cheesy pizza, and an array of fresh juices and smoothies.
Also on the menu: Buddha bowls, BBQ fackfruit tacos, vegan paninis, and the ever-popular seasonal soups and avocado toast. Beacon is home to the unique DIA: Beacon museum, you’d do well to fuel it with a meal at Végétalien.
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WildFlower Cafe – Red Hook
Owners: Bobbi Jo Forte, Martin Pucino
Open since: March 2018
35 West Market St., Red Hook, NY | 845-250-2272
Billed as “Red Hook’s first burger bar,” WildFlower Café serves up traditional burger bar fare, minus the meat and dairy. The recently reopened space serving fresh plant-based fast food was previously occupied by the same owners’ “Morgan’s Cat Café,” a combination eatery and cat shelter.
Now, the café is separate from the adoption enclosure, which has moved to an expanded area on a floor above. Customers are invited to bring their lunch upstairs and observe the shelter from behind glass, after which they can visit the friendly cats — and maybe even adopt one!
Co-owner Bobbi Jo Forte believes that bringing accessible plant-based versions of familiar foods into the mainstream will ease people into a healthier lifestyle.
The café’s Cheezburger and WildFlower Burger are made with the Beyond Burger — “an exciting meat alternative that is literally leaving customers speechless,” says Bobbi Jo. “Our burgers have more protein than a beef burger.”
Loaded vegan jumbo franks and fish-less fillet specialties are also on the menu. Do you want fries with that? A nice bonus is that they’re baked, not deep fried, as are the onion rings. Wash everything down with luscious dairy-free milkshakes.
For the veg-curious who aren’t quite ready to give up meaty flavors and textures, WildFlower Café can be a good place to start. While you’re there, visit the adjacent retail store that offers vegan handbags and other fair-trade accessories and home goods.
This article first appeared in the summer 2018 issue of The Valley Table. Reprinted by permission.
All photos: Evan Atlas
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