Veggie Galaxy & Veggie Planet – Cambridge, MA
One of the most exciting events in Boston this year (at least for me) was the news of a brand new veg restaurant coming to town. Veggie Galaxy announced their arrival on the veg scene as the first diner-style, almost entirely vegan restaurant to open in Boston. Hell. Yes.
Veggie Galaxy, located in Central Square, is owned by Adam Penn who is also behind another Boston favorite, Veggie Planet (pics below), located in Harvard Square. Veggie Galaxy opened in September 2011 with raving reviews from the local veg and non-veg community. Ethan and I were fortunate to be included in the opening dinner, which was co-hosted by the Boston Vegetarian Society.
We were also honored for an opportunity to have a sit down interview with the core members of the VegGal team: Adam Penn (Owner/Founder), Brian VanEtten (Head Chef), Stefanie Lynch (former Front of House Manager), and Lesli Turock (Pastry Chef). The full transcript of the interview is at the very bottom of this post, but I’ll give you a quick rundown.
Adam started thinking about Veggie Galaxy about four to five years ago, and more seriously about three years ago when he brought up the idea to his head chef at Veggie Planet, Brian. Adam is vegetarian and made a conscious effort to create a diverse diner-style menu, where everything could be made vegan, if it wasn’t already. He also recognized a need for a vegan bakery, and bam .. there ya go!
Brian, Veggie Galaxy’s Head Chef, started working with Adam years ago at Veggie Planet. He had little experience and joked about starting by cutting onions before working his way up to Head Chef. He loved cooking so much that he has since taken formal training at Johnson and Whales, and then spent some time in England and in Hawaii to gain more experience (Awesome!!) One thing that stuck with me is when Brian noted that everything is made from scratch. Even the ketchup, mustard, and mayo. All vegan. All from scratch. Nice!
We learned all about the 100% vegan bakery, led by the brilliant Lesli Turock. Lesli is an experienced pastry chef who has adapted recipes, and created her own unique ingredients, custom for her vegan delights. She even chemically analyzed what an egg is composed of and created her own egg replacer powder. She has her own mathematical formula for nearly every ingredient. everything starts as a mathematical equation. Everything is a ratio. Lesli told us that her vegan brownie experiment took fifteen tries before it was just right. The marangue took around twelve times to master. The care and time that Lesli puts into her vegan pastries shows. Everything we’ve tried is phenomenal.
Look at this classic, rotating dessert case. Haaave mercy!!!
Photo credit: ZsaZsa Balza
We asked the crew what their favorite dishes are. So, when you stop in, here are some of the must-tries:
- mac ‘n’ cheese
- seitan loaf
- smoked tofu & chips
Veggie Galaxy – 95% vegan (bakery is 100% vegan)
450 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
Here we have the Pancakes with Taza Chocolate and Candied Spiced Walnuts, topped with whipped cream.
Stuff French Toast – with vanilla nut vegan cream cheese, topped with caramelized banana butter (this stuff is amazing), strawberry sauce (so. good.), and maple syrup. And Ethan’s Earthlings shirt. :)
Open Faced Seitan Sandwich – shaved and grilled housemade seitan, sauteed rainbow chard, caramelized onions, and balsamic and red wine gravy, served with a side of mustard baked beans. This is another favorite of mine!!
MUST TRY ALERT – below is one of the dishes that head chef, Brian said is his pride and joy. Here we’ve got the Glazed Seitan Loaf – ground housemade seitan, carrot, celery, onion, balsamic tomato glaze, served with garlic mashed potat and sauteed rainbow chard.
Boston Cream Pie!
Oh hey. What’s that going up in their window?? Veggie Galaxy was the very first restaurant (ever!) to put one of our decals in their storefront window. They will forever hold a special place in my heart for this. :)
Oh right, the heading of this post mentions Veggie Galaxy’s sister restaurant, Veggie Planet. I pulled a few pics together to show you some of the yummy food at Veggie Planet!
Veggie Planet – Vegetarian with MANY Vegan options and conversions!
Cambridge, MA 02138
Compared to Veggie Planet’s younger sister, this restaurant has fewer items on the menu but their vegan options (mostly pizza and soup) are truly delicious. I always get the SAME thing every time I dine here: Peanut Curry – coconut rice (on pizza dough), broccoli and Thai peanut curry sauce topped with fried tofu croutons and peanuts. With a side of the soup of the day.
Ethan: Veggie Planet by day and Club Passim Folk Music Venue by night, another destination that I frequent by bike that happens to be right near a movie theater. I internally struggle all the time. Do I cycle to Harvard Sq and get veg pizza and a movie or do I go to the Boston Common and get My Thai and a movie? I now am going to go donate to a charity to absolve me of my first world sins.
I recommend the Vegan Oddlot and Peanut Curry double header if you are hungry or a half pizza/soup combo if you are not too hungry. These pizzas are crunchy flat bread style and are not your typical red sauce and gooey faire. This is veggie fusion delight. Mexican/Thai/Italian/American flavors all over.
…I think I just heard my name over the muffled intercom. See ya!…
Peanut Curry Pizza!
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Excerpts from our conversation with the core team behind Veggie Galaxy:
Ethan: [ 0:09:21.8] …the bakery here is specifically vegan. Was that just to keep it easy?
Adam: [ 0:09:42.3] No. It definitely didn’t make it any easier.
Ethan: [ 0:09:45.1] I mean from a customer standpoint. You don’t have to field questions like, “Is this vegan? Is this vegetarian?”
Adam: [ 0:09:53.4] To be honest I think it was a market thing. The diner being vegetarian will attract some people that it would not attract if it were all vegan. I feel that there is a need in this area for a vegan bakery. That’s huge. That will get a lot of people.
Ethan: [ 0:10:18.7] It’s getting to the point where national franchises like Peet’s Coffee have a selection of vegan cookies. The word “vegan” is right out in the open. It’s not a secret anymore. It’s becoming more common. The selection you have here is unmatched in terms of the variety of desserts. I’ve had some. The Boston cream cake is so good.
Kristin: [ 0:10:55.1] Do … you have a favorite item on the menu? If someone were to come in and it’s the only time they came in as a one-time deal, what would you recommend that they get?
Adam: [ 0:11:10.1] That’s hard. There are a few that I would recommend. I think our vegan mac and cheese is good. The real mac and cheese is good, too. I think the seitan loaf is awesome and the smoked tofu chips are awesome.
Brian: [ 0:11:37.2] For me, the seitan loaf is my pride and joy. It’s full-flavored and savory. Comfort food is all the rage. It’s what we do. It’s trendy but it’s still awesome. It’s solid, spicy and sweet. It has great mashed potatoes, Swiss chard and a little glaze.
Stefanie: [ 0:12:09.7] I’m addicted to the egg and cheese sandwich. I know that’s really boring. It’s not boring though. It has arugula and mayo in it. It’s really good.
Kristin: [ 0:11:58.1] Is it time for lunch yet? I’m getting hungry.
Ethan: [ 0:12:00.8] The seasoning in the sweet potato mash we had the first night was awesome…
Ethan: [ 0:12:21.5] …the menu is vegan unless it explicitly says that there is a cheese or egg product in it. Other than that, the mayo, butter and other things are vegan. Do you have any cow’s milk here? It is all soy or almond?
Stefanie: [ 0:12:44.3] We have milk.
Adam: [ 0:12:48.4] That would be used for coffees and other drinks.
Stefanie: [ 0:12:53.5] We also use cream in the mac and cheese.
Brian: [ 0:12:55.6] We make everything from scratch. That is one of the best parts. The mayos are all vegan. They are all made in-house. The mustard and ketchup are made in-house. We do have cream and butter in-house. That’s there for one purpose. That’s the real cheese sauce. Everything is vegan optional. There are versions that are true vegan.
Adam: [ 0:13:22.4]Most everything is vegan. Last night I was sitting next to a couple of young women. They were looking at the burgers. They said, “I’m surprised they don’t put cheese on their burgers.” Why wouldn’t they have cheese? You can take it off if you want.” Here it doesn’t have cheese. We can put it on if you want.
Ethan: [ 0:13:40.9] That’s very nice. We’re fans.
Lesli the head Pastry Chef joins the table…
Adam: [ 0:13:48.8] Would you like to introduce yourselves?
Ethan: [ 0:13:50.1] I’m Ethan.
Kristin: [ 0:13:51.9] Hi, I’m Kristin.
Adam: [ 0:13:53.1] They’re about to embark on a countrywide tour. They’re trying to eat at every single vegan restaurant in the country.
Lesli: [ 0:14:00.9] Wow, that’s an ambitious undertaking. That’s a lot of eating.
Kristin: [ 0:14:04.4] It is.
Ethan: [ 0:14:05.3] You have to eat every day, though.
Lesli: [ 0:14:06.5] That’s true.
Kristin: [ 0:14:07.6] A year from now you will see us waddling in.
Ethan: [ 0:14:15.8] You are a vegan baker but not vegan.
Lesli: [ 0:14:18.3] Yes.
Ethan: [ 0:14:19.3] Is that a challenge?
Lesli: [ 0:14:21.4] It’s extraordinary for some things. It’s not as hard as I thought for other things. The things that I thought would be the simplest were the most complicated and vice versa. I don’t miss eggs at all. That is a surprise to me. There’s nothing that I miss except for the egg in a brownie makes a difference.
Ethan: [ 0:14:46.6] Someone just put out a cheat sheet for vegan baking replacements. I think it was PETA. They break it up into replacing eggs in different circumstances. You would use one type of replacement in one situation and another type in another situation. The recipes call for egg across the board. They break it up into when you’re making brownies or other things.
Lesli: [ 0:15:15.2] That’s really interesting. What are some of the things that they use?
Ethan: [ 0:15:20.0] There are bananas, silken tofu and applesauce as egg replacements.
Adam: [ 0:15:27.0] Lesli can talk about this more. She was not doing vegan baking. She began to try some of those traditional vegan replacements and found that we didn’t get the results that we wanted.
Lesli: [ 0:15:42.0] Yes. I’m not coming to the table as a vegan. My standard is regular pastry. I did a lot of research. I saw what people were doing with the ground flaxseed, bananas and applesauce. Then there was the energy egg replacer which was the gold standard.
I tried all of them. I came to a few conclusions. The first was that I didn’t want everything to taste like an apple or banana. I didn’t want to use flaxseed in my pastry cream. I chemically analyzed through research what an egg is composed of. It’s about ‘X’ protein, ‘Y’ water and some fat.
I came up with a formula to replace those things with different things. I use soy meal and coconut milk as my fat. I created my own egg replacement powder. It’s a combination of starches and baking powder. I have a mathematical formula.
Whenever I need “X” number of eggs I will plug this in. That’s what I use for everything. I’m a very technical baker. Everything starts as a mathematical equation. This is a recipe. This is how I think about things. Everything is a ratio.
The ratio of ingredients to one another is what gives things different textures. If you think about it, every single thing you eat is made with some sort of flour, egg or sugar. It’s just the ratio of the ingredients that change.
The only difference between a cake and a cookie is that there is more liquid in a cake than a cookie. When I look at a recipe I try to first look at what the ratio should be. Then I sub out things that would work like coconut milk for cream and soy milk for milk.
I found that I’ve gotten almost indistinguishable results with taste and texture by going that route. I use cake flour in my cakes. You can’t get that fine, tender crumb when you use something other than cake. The same techniques can be used to make a cake. I use the things as close as I possibly can to a classic cake. That’s how I learned.
Adam: [ 0:17:44.1] I see an amazing cookbook in the future.
Kristin: [ 0:17:46.3] Absolutely.
Ethan: [ 0:17:49.1] You need to document all of your experiments.
Lesli: [ 0:17:51.5] I have 350 experimental recipe files. It has notes with every single change. I think the easiest recipe was a chocolate ganache. That took one try. The recipe for brownies took 15 tries. The meringue took about 10 or 12 tries.
I have them all. I am anal about that. I like to document them for Adam. Every little thing makes a difference. If I have a different brand of confectioner’s sugar then I can’t make a black and white cookie glaze with it. I get a slightly different brand of coconut milk then I can’t whip it.
Every time a little thing changes my whole recipe needs to be recalibrated. They are very cantankerous recipes.
Kristin: [ 0:18:35.8] That’s so interesting.
Lesli: [ 0:18:39.1] I’m like a nerd. I am a little bit anal.
Kristin: [ 0:18:40.9] We love that.
Lesli: [ 0:18:42.2] I walk around with a calculator and tape measure around my neck.
Adam: [ 0:18:45.8] You’re trying to get a really good product.
Lesli: [ 0:18:47.3] Right.
Ethan: [ 0:18:48.9] All of your hard work is paying off. Keep it up.
Lesli: [ 0:18:51.0] Thank you very much. Right now the next one is donuts. That took a few tries. It’s so easy to do. I don’t know why people aren’t doing it. It’s easy to make a good yeasty dough without eggs or butter. It’s just flour, salt, yeast and a little sugar. That’s all it is.
I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it. When I made it I thought, “This was not an achievement.” The brownie was an achievement. The brownie was a four month-long achievement.
The meringue was an achievement. The donut is not an achievement. I am curious as to why more people don’t make the dough.
Kristin: [ 0:19:28.9] There must be some perceived scariness to it. Perhaps it’s the idea of not being able to get it just right.
Lesli: [ 0:19:36.9] Anyone who mixes with yeast or dough understands how it works. I think they have a dough that they make a huge batch of that’s used for different kinds of donuts that contains eggs. They don’t want to mix a second batch without it.
Ethan: [ 0:19:54.3] That’s the benefit of having a smaller operation. You don’t have to worry about shipping out to 30 Dunkin’ Donuts locations.
Lesli: [ 0:20:03.7] That’s right.
Kristin: [ 0:20:05.0] I don’t know. I hope they’ll ship to us while we’re on this trip. Maybe we can call in an order. We can say, “We’re in New Mexico today.”
Lesli: [ 0:20:13.4] You’re right. There is an economy to scale when you’re making hundreds of pounds of something a day.
Ethan: [ 0:20:18.4] There are also subsidies. When you’re a company as large as Dunkin’ Donuts you get involved with wheeling and dealing. There are dairy and egg subsidies that need to find a place for these things. It is almost forced upon them. When you look at a granola bar you think, “Why is there whey protein? Why is there an animal product in this?” It’s simply because those things had to go somewhere. They unloaded it on their friend’s business.
Lesli: [ 0:20:52.9] It’s amazing. My lead baker is a lifelong vegan. He is like my watchdog. Every time something comes in he reads the ingredient label. I’ve learned a lot. There are things that I wouldn’t think of. He says, “You can’t use that.” Every day I learn something new.
Kristin: [ 0:21:18.5] Do you have a favorite item that you make?
Lesli: [ 0:21:24.4] I have a fondness in my heart for the coconut cashew curd layer cake. I developed that recipe before I applied for the job because I didn’t’ know if I could do it. I thought, “I’m not going to put a product out there that I’m not proud of or that I don’t feel is as close to regular bakery standards as anything else.”
I thought, “If I can do this well enough and fool my omnivorous friends then I’ll apply for the job.” It was my first baby.
Ethan: [ 0:21:52.2] Have you gone to any of the other restaurants in town to try their vegan dessert options?
Lesli: [ 0:21:58.5] I have not. I’m here a lot. My life is about work right now. I’ve seen a few things at [unintelligible]. I haven’t tasted them.
Adam: [ 0:22:17.1] Are there particular places that you think have good vegan desserts?
Ethan: [ 0:22:21.7] I think the Red Lentil dessert selections are good.
Lesli: [ 0:22:25.0] What do they have?
Ethan: [ 0:22:26.8] It changes frequently. They will have a seasonal cheesecake and a chocolate cake. They have things that you would expect a restaurant to serve like a variety of cakes and ice creams.
Lesli: [ 0:22:39.6] Where are they located?
Ethan: [ 0:22:41.1] In Watertown. The brownie at True Bistro is good, too. I think everyone in town is doing a good job. It’s awesome to see the whole scene growing. As someone who is not an entrepreneur running a business and someone who likes to have options, I think you are all doing good work. I want everyone to succeed.
Lesli: [ 0:23:14.5] It’s an underserved population.
Adam: [ 0:23:20.9] What desserts have you had here so far?
Ethan: [ 0:23:24.8] I believe I’ve had the brownie sundae with butterscotch.
Lesli: [ 0:23:35.6] I love butterscotch, too.
Ethan: [ 0:23:37.2] I’ve had the Boston Creme cake. I’ve had the vanilla shake. What did we have the first night? You had a chocolate cupcake, right?
Kristin: [ 0:23:50.4] You had the brownie thing. The first night I got a cupcake. I have a picture of it.
Ethan: [ 0:23:57.3] Didn’t we get a cheesecake? Do you have a cheesecake?
Lesli: [ 0:24:02.2] We do. We have chocolate and plain cheesecake.
Ethan: [ 0:24:06.3] I think it was a plain cheesecake. That’s what I had the first time. It was really good. I’ve had a handful of them. I’ll probably try something new tonight.
Lesli: [ 0:24:16.9] I would recommend the sweet potato carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
Kristin: [ 0:24:20.5] OK.
Ethan: [ 0:24:22.5] I’ll have to remember that.
Adam: [ 0:24:27.3] The chocolate layer cake is awesome.
Ethan: [ 0:24:30.0] My friend Jon loves that. He has asked for the strawberry sauce on it.
Lesli: [ 0:24:36.2] Yes, the strawberry topping. We’re using Taza chocolate. We’re using that fantastic chocolate.
Ethan: [ 0:24:56.4] That’s a good local company. Maybe we should visit them. Thank you so much.
Lesli: [ 0:24:57.4] Thank you. It was a pleasure to meet both of you.
Kristin: [ 0:25:00.6] It was great to meet you.
Lesli: [ 0:25:02.1] Good luck on your trip.
Kristin: [ 0:25:02.9] Thank you.