It may have taken us some time, but New York has finally caught up with the whole "health" thing. We've got at least two SoulCycle studios in every neighborhood, gluten-free substitutes on every menu, and, slowly, but surely, we've started trading in our black coffees for matcha.
But while the Sunday morning yoga pants brunch crowd in neighborhoods like Nolita and Williamsburg make the city practically indistinguishable from *shiver* L.A., we've not completely lost our grit. A late night traipse around the East Village could confirm that much: weirdos still hang out on St. Marks, people are still smoking (real cigarettes!) outside of dive bars, and dollar pizza slices are a dime - well, $12 - a dozen.
So one could imagine my surprise when I learned that the hood which has so steadfastly held on to the last remnants of its punk rock roots was actually home to the most L.A. (read: vegan) street in New York. Not that I'm complaining. I mean, I did kind of stumble upon this discovery accidentally on purpose.
It all started with pizza. Though I am by no means a vegan myself, I've always opted for the healthier take on things (almond milk, whole wheat, all-natural), so after a long day which began with a particularly grueling workout, I wanted some dinner that was equal parts indulgent and good-for-me. I suggested to a friend that we finally try Double Zero, the plant-based pizza restaurant and sustainable wine bar that I've been drooling over since I saw it on the Instagram stories of one @nydoorman (with whom I had previously argued about the concept of "plant-based fries" - aren't potatoes already plants?! - but I digress). We looked up the address and started walking.
When we got to the corner of East 4th and 2nd Avenue, we thought we had reached our destination. "Plant Food + Wine," read the restaurant's window. "This must be it?" But there was no mention of Double Zero or pizza. "Waiiiit, it's next door," my friend said, standing a few steps away in front of a similarly branded eatery featuring a nearly identical al fresco seating area. "Huh! Weird." We shrugged and started heading inside. What are the chances of two plant-based, fancy-ish spots landing right next to each other? Then, just as we reached the door, we glanced to our left. "Plant-based Mexican cuisine," boasted the next restaurant over. We vaguely felt like we were in the Twilight Zone. Was this a conspiracy?! "It must be the same owner," we agreed, rationally.
After a talk with our server and a quick Google search, it turns out we were right. The whole block, 2nd Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets, is pretty much owned by vegan celebrity chef and restaurateur Matthew Kenney, who's been a leader of the plant-based food movement for decades. By next year, he's slated to operate a whopping 25 vegan spots around the world. A few doors down from the trio we saw, separated by a bar and a Dim Sum place, he owned a cafe. Every one of his establishments was jam-packed on a weeknight. So, of course, this called for a round up.