Consumers are eating more vegetables than a year ago, as all types of diners—not just vegetarians and vegans—turn to plant-based foods for more healthful meals. Some multiconcept operators are betting it’s a trend with staying power, as restaurateurs such as LA chef Josef Centeno and Chicago’s Heisler Hospitality launch new concepts that spotlight veggies. Here are some of the veg-centric players in this new area of competition.
Media anticipation was high for Bad Hunter as it geared up to open in October in Chicago’s meat-heavy West Loop neighborhood, next door to modern diner Au Cheval—known for its signature burger—and across from Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat. Bad Hunter has since garnered praise from diners and critics for its menu that pairs vegetables with techniques and ingredients found in meat dishes. Small plates include beet tartare and tempura-fried lemons, and a wood-fired grill produces such dishes as grilled apples and fennel with pistachio-green chile pesto. Still, meat can be found in dishes such as the lemongrass breakfast sausage and bacon-topped veggie burger.
The concept comes from MCO Heisler Hospitality, operator of concepts such as Pub Royale and all-day coffee and cocktail spot Estereo. The group’s adult beverage focus extends to Bad Hunter: The bar serves a dozen specialty cocktails spotlighting fruits and veggies in some form.
New York City
Veggie concepts aren’t all fast causal. New York restaurateur Ravi DeRossi converted The Bourgeois Pig in July to Ladybird, an upscale full-service vegan tapas bar with indulgent small plates from truffle fries to onion-mushroom fondue. He plans to go meat-free at as many of his concepts as possible to be more eco-friendly.
The Edible Beats restaurant group launched fast casual Vital Root last summer to target consumers seeking craveable vegetable fare. The menu ranges from breakfast dosas to banh mi tacos to vegan banana-hemp “ice cream”; and while it’s 99% vegan, chef Justin Cucci told the Denver Post that Vital Root’s purpose isn’t to preach veganism, but to highlight sustainability and the low costs of serving vegetables compared to meat.
Chef Josef Centeno, a longtime fan of fresh produce, launched P.Y.T. in September in a converted half of another of his concepts to showcase simple preparations of vegetables. The menu includes roasted fish and a boneless pork rib, but is dominated by veggie dishes such as salt-baked turnip wrapped in hoja santa leaves, which Los Angeles Magazine named its 2016 dish of the year.