By Allison Levine, Foodable Contributor
When The Gadarene Swine opened last year, with the word ‘swine’ in the name, it was a natural assumption to think it was a meat restaurant. But the term, which comes from the New Testament, is based on the fallacy that because the mainstream is doing something it is the right thing to do. And, if one does not follow the mainstream, they are seen as lost. The Gadarene Swine is about breaking with tradition and following its own path….a vegetable-driven path.
Who doesn’t love vegetables? A vital food group, vegetables are colorful, flavorful and diverse. At The Gadarene Swine, Chef Phillip Lee has created an innovative and simple yet playful cuisine that focuses exclusively on vegetables. Offering 7, 9 and 12 course tasting menus (a la carte is possible), dishes such as hummus with seaweed snacks, potato and tomato, sourdough bread with crushed tomato oil, strawberry Champagne gazpacho, blackened cauliflower, roasted mushrooms and hand torn pasta are some of the creative, seasonal dishes that might be presented. As each course is put in front of you, each dish is full of flavor and filling and you will forget that there is not a drop of meat in sight.
Why not call it vegan?
When Chef Phillip Lee opened The Gadarene Swine, the intention was not to be vegan. And, technically the restaurant was not vegan at first because of one little dish – the honey fried stuffed olives. However, they have since become vegan certified, replacing the honey with an apple lime syrup. With this vegan certification, The Gadarene Swine is present at Vegan Food Festivals but still do not define themselves a vegan restaurant. There is no denying it, but it is not on the logo or on the website and for that matter, nowhere on the website do they say that they are “meat-free” either.
As per the restaurant name, the restaurant was not created to fit into a niche. First and foremost, the intention was to open an amazing, artistic restaurant with a culinary play on vegetables. The Gadarene Swine is not making any moral statements about what people should eat. Chef Lee proves that vegetables can be prepared a variety of creative ways, resulting in a flavorful, healthy and filling meal. And, the restaurant just happens to also be vegan.
How does it differ from other vegan restaurants?
The Gadarene Swine menu proves that you don’t need animal products for food to taste good. But, the restaurant is not trying to replace meat with double-processed wheat and soy products that are made to look and taste like something else. There is no fake cheese as well. It is all about vegetables and only about vegetables prepared in different ways.
Additionally, restaurants touted as “vegan restaurants” attract fellow-minded vegans. Meat-eaters tend to eat at vegan restaurants when they are with their vegan friends. But, at The Gadarene Swine, meat eaters can be satisfied with a meal entirely made up of vegetables and no soy-based replacements. If you were to enter The Gadarene Swine unaware that they are vegan certified, you would be none the wiser. Chef Lee's cooking is the same as it is at his meat-based restaurant Scratch Bar. Chef Lee has not created a dish and then removed or substituted the meat. Each dish is centered on the vegetable, playing with texture and flavor. Everything is house-made – pickled vegetables, dehydrated vegetables, syrups and juices – but all ingredients are familiar items that any consumer can purchase.
The Gadarene Swine has a full wine list and sake-based cocktails made with fresh-pressed juices daily. There are some vegan-certified wines on the wine list but the wine list is meant to cater to the food first and foremost. To pair with the vegetable driven menu, the wine list focuses on interesting white wines and lighter red wines. As General Manager and Wine Director Jason Mosley explained, “a good wine list is not the same everywhere. It is important to know the cuisine and pair it accordingly.”
The Gadarene Swine is not about making a moral statement, fitting a niche or appealing to a particular audience. It is about elevating vegetables and placing vegetables in the center spotlight.