Why Doesn’t Brooklyn Have Better Vegetarian Restaurants?

vegan restaurant and bakery Champs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Only one Brooklyn spot made the list of the city’s 12 best vegetarian restaurants Gothamist published yesterday; 10 of them are in Manhattan, and the last is in Queens. The winner on our side of the river is perhaps obvious, if well-deserved: Champs, which makes every other vegetarian restaurant I’ve ever been to look like a jerk. “Do not wear tight pants to Champs,” Gothamist warns, and it’s true: you’ll want to eat literally everything on the menu.  

You could accuse Gothamist of a bit of Manhattancentrism, as they ignore some obvious outerborough contenders (the most glaring of which is Maimonide of Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue, whose veggie burger makes my tastebuds go kaboom). But they’re probably not far off in the idea that most of the best vegetarian-specific restaurants are in Manhattan. Still, that doesn’t mean Brooklyn doesn’t have the better vegetarian food.

The dining scene on this side of the East River bridges has developed rapidly in the last decade or two. Yes, there were reputable places to eat, say, on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge or Seventh Avenue in Park Slope before that, but the borough’s status as a must-visit dining destination has grown along with its reputation in all other areas—as it became not only a must-visit but a must-live world city.

Young people whose parents left the city in the latter half of the 20th century started to return, and they brought with them restrictive diets: it’d be rare for any modern urban dweller to host a dinner party without having to worry about how to accommodate a guest who’s foregone meat, dairy, eggs and/or gluten. Everybody knows at least one. And so the restaurants that started popping up to attract them took it into consideration: instead of a vegetarian restaurant where the meatless could go to eat alone or with a strung-along companion, restaurants on the city’s hipper fringes designed menus that could welcome large groups with varying needs: a vegetarian dish that’s not just a cheese plate or a lousy eggplant-and-portobello sandwich; standard options that can survive without the meat or the cream or the wheat.

Sure, there are several vegetarian-only restaurants in Brooklyn, but they’re not all thriving: Foodswings, the vegetarian comfort food spot in Williamsburg, recently closed, while one of the partners behind the V-Spot in Park Slope recently told me, “Business has been steady, but in a sense it can be described as declining.”

Also, people are increasingly “looking to eat less meat but not cut it from their diets entirely,” I wrote two weeks ago. Restaurants need to accommodate those who have gone veg, or who go veg sometimes, without necessarily having to cater to them alone. Exceptional restaurants will thrive: Champs, MOB, maybe even the new Bunna Cafe in Bushwick will attract the meatless and the omnivorous alike. But the future of dining in the city will look a lot more like spots like Cubana Social and Sweet Chick, which offer a little something for everyone: fried chicken and fried “chicken.” This is where Brooklyn’s thriving—and Manhattan is falling way behind.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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