February 23-March 1, 2006
foodHow It All Vegan
The venerable Horizons moves to Center City.
Ever order salad at a steak house? Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby feel your pain. Landau, a vegetarian chef and owner of Willow Grove's Horizons Cafe, says most restaurants don't know the first thing about vegetarian dietslet alone veganism. They sometimes sneak chicken stock and lard into otherwise vegetarian dishes and use the same grill for veggie burgers as they do for filet mignon. (Vegans, for you extra-pepperoni types, try to maintain an animal-free diet and lifestyle, which, depending on one's level of militancy, means no eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, wool, etc.)
Photo By: Michael T. Regan
But there's a new veggery in the 'hood, and baby's got history. Landau and his wife/business partner Jacoby recently closed the doors on Willow Grove and opened a new location in Center City. Which is awesome news for vegans sick of squashing into dirty little booths at Gianna's or paying half a day's wages for dinner at Govinda's.
Located just off South Street, Horizons has pitched camp in the bright yellow building last inhabited by Goosebumps Lounge. Neglected for years, the space passed through countless hands before Landau and Jacoby seized upon it after a two-year hunt.
They've rebuilt the place rubble-up, tearing out dated strip-club mirrors, painting over offensive graffiti and bidding adieu to the previous owner's velvet fetish. They've also tried to make nice with their rightfully suspicious neighborsa tricky task considering Goosebumps' less-than-stellar reputation.
In addition to money they'd saved working overtime, the couple took out a loan from a friend, sold Jacoby's car and put their house on the market. It's a big gambleespecially when you're doing well where you arebut one Landau and Jacoby felt was long overdue. Mostly, they'd just grown tired of hearing friends talk about all the great vegan places in New York. "Philadelphia didn't have an upscale, vegetarian dining experience," says Jacoby. "It's about time."
Although Landau expects there to be more veg-heads in the city than in the 'burbs, he estimates as much as 80 percent of Horizons' clientele eats meat. "They're coming here for adventurous dining," he explains. While vegan staffers help monitor Horizons' menu and prep practices to prevent potential pratfalls, the couple says it's never been strict or preachy. "We're committed because of animal rights, but day-to-day, we're just running a restaurant business," says Jacoby. "We want to put out in people's minds that you don't have to eat animal products to feel satisfied."
Landau, who grew up in Elkins Park eating lunch meat and tuna fish sandwiches, didn't develop an ethical aversion to eating meat until he turned 16. His mom wouldn't humor his new diet, so he was left to fend for himself. He got creative and eventually turned his innovations public.
Horizons Cafe first opened in April 1994 as a one-man lunch counter in a natural foods store in Willow Grove. It catered to vegan, vegetarian and health-conscious eaters, including a high school-aged Jacoby. She says Landau's cooking made her transition easier. Nowadays, she's the brain behind Horizons' vegan desserts and cheesecakes.
In moving downtown, Landau and Jacoby decided to modernize Horizons' image. They lopped "Cafe" off the name, raised their prices and traded Willow Grove's color-saturated vacation-y vibe for refined, earthly sophistication. So refined and sophisticated, in fact, they've even added a wine bar.
After months of studied sipping, Landau and Jacoby built a veritable vegan boozefestquite the coup if you consider how many companies still use animal products in their filtering processes. Horizons' wine list offers more than 20 vegan reds and whites, including a $68 bottle of Pinot Noir imported from Australia and a Tempranillo from Argentina. Tap picks include Dogfishhead chicory stout, brewed with organic Mexican coffee and roasted chicory, and Allagash white ale, akin to Belgian wheat beer but bottled with yeast.
The couple is banking on its liquor license to give the restaurant an edge over its competition. For many diners, the ability to pair wines to vegetarian dishes lends legitimacy to the cuisine. Not that Landau plans on serving mock meatballs or fakin' nuggets.
"People assume that we're trying to duplicate steak when we do grilled seitan," he groans. "What we're really doing is grilled seitan."
With dishes like Caribbean bouillabaisse (tofu and seitan in a tomato-coconut milk broth spiked with dark rum), tamarind rum-glazed tempeh and organic edamame hummus served with rice crisps and Asian pickles, it's an epicurean's dreamvegetarian or not.
"We just love this city," says Landau. "It needs a signature vegetarian experience. If we don't do it, someone else will. And it better not be Stephen Starr."
611 S. Seventh St., 215-923-6117, www.horizons philadelphia.com
Hours: Tue.-Thu., 6-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 6-11 p.m.
Appetizers, $5-$8; entrees, $14-$19
No smoking. Visa and Mastercard accepted. Liquor license. Reservations recommended for upstairs dining.