Going Vegetarian in North Brooklyn

As a foodie who is also a devoted animal lover, I found I was constantly at odds with myself. I had an intense love for charcuterie but also a deep admiration and respect for pigs. I started my journey by giving up pork products. After just a couple of weeks, I thought, gosh, cows are lovely too–if I’m so fond of cows, how can I justify eating them? I was well aware of the horrors of big agriculture in our country, so my postponement of this decision felt lazy and just plain wrong. Once I came to this realization, the rest fell into place effortlessly. At last, in my early 30s, my conscience won over my belly and I decided to give up meat for good. Thankfully, I live in Brooklyn and there is no place on earth where it is easier to go vegetarian. Let me start by saying that I’m not at all into meat substitutes. I find seitan disgusting and I’m firmly opposed to faux-sausages. Why fake it when there are so many delicious vegetable-forward dishes out there?

My first go-to is, naturally, Indian food, a cuisine that packs big, bold flavors into every dish so that meat is never missed. My favorite local spot is Tikka Indian Grill (185 Grand St.), who amaze me with their delicious spiced flavors each and every time they ring my doorbell. Their quality is consistently excellent and they have plenty of veggie options, including my favorite, Methi Mattar Paneer.

Jungle Café's Veggie Burger
Jungle Café’s Veggie Burger

When I’m craving something filling, there is nothing quite as pleasing as a flavor-packed veggie burger. Just about every restaurant on Seamless has some variation of the veggie burger because, well, we live in Brooklyn. For dining out, Park Luncheonette’s (332 Driggs Ave.) Beet, Quinoa and Barley Burger simply can’t be beat (pun intended), except perhaps by nearby Enid’s (560 Manhattan Ave.). For delivery, my go-to is Quinoa Kitchen’s (287 Bedford Ave.) Veggie Quinoa Black Bean Burger, which always arrives quickly and comes with a scrumptious curry ketchup. I finally got around to trying vegan favorite Jungle Café’s (996 Manhattan Ave.) veggie burger but was sadly disappointed. The bun was dry and not toasted (a must!) while the patty was exceedingly bland. This epitomized my hesitations about becoming a vegetarian, but luckily I’ve found that most restaurants do a far better job balancing flavors, providing acidity, and remembering to use salt.

It may not photograph well, but Samesa's Sandwich Odyssey:2025 is an incredible creation.
It may not photograph well, but Samesa’s Sandwich Odyssey:2025 is an incredible creation.

Middle Eastern-inspired Samesa (495 Lorimer St.), for example, offers one of my absolute favorite vegetarian dishes in Brooklyn, with an equally epic name: “A Sandwich Odyssey: 2025.” This is a wrap filled with beet-pickled eggs, pickled vegetables, the chef’s choice of sauces, and possibly magic. I adore this meal and find myself craving its spicy goodness on a regular basis. Bonus: if you feel like tipping your meal over from healthy to indulgent, the fries with garlic sauce are excellent.

Mediterranean is another wonderful, if obvious, choice for vegetarians and we have an abundance of options for both dining out and ordering in. My personal favorite for both is Dar 525 (168 Driggs Ave.). The staff is incredibly nice, the atmosphere is warm and inviting, and the food is top notch.  As an indecisive person who loves to sample, I usually order the Assorted Plate, which provides me with a variety of delectable tapas and dips served with pita. I recommend the baba ganoush, foul (fava beans), mousaka, muhammara, and labne, but you really can’t go wrong with any order at Dar.

The assorted platter at Dar 525 and a side of falafel.
The assorted platter at Dar 525 and a side of falafel is a healthy and delicious option and you will be sure to have leftovers to enjoy tomorrow.

Just about anywhere you choose to dine out in Brooklyn will have a vegetarian option, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy the transition has been. Whether you’re sitting on your couch in pajamas watching Gilmore Girls reruns, looking for a hangover cure on a Saturday morning, or getting dolled up for a night out, I promise you’ll be okay! Our country, and our cities in particular, are becoming more health and environmentally conscious, and restauranteurs are catching on. Most restaurants already have at least one solid vegetarian option on their menu and in the rare case that they don’t, I’ve found that chefs are happy to accommodate requests.

For an extra special evening out, Lilia (567 Union Ave.) is my favorite option. The atmosphere is lovely, the menu has several amazing vegetarian options, and the service is exceptional. The Sheep’s Milk Agnolotti with saffron, dried tomato, and honey must be one of the most sublime culinary creations on the face of this earth. Good luck getting reservations at this hot spot though, so plan on booking one month out. But if you want to save some money on Italian food and not have to wait weeks for a reservation, then Adelina’s  (159 Greenpoint Ave.) is a solid pick with a sweet vibe. There’s just a few items on the menu that aren’t veg. For the pizzas, The Truffler is divine and you really can’t go wrong with any of the pastas. If you’re looking for a romantic spot with a charming patio, Traif (229 S 4th St.) is another fine dining establishment with plenty of choices for both the vegetarian and the meat-eater. The service is excellent and the food is inventive and inspired.

Last, but not least, you can always cook at home! Small, awkward New York kitchens aside, this is the best way to know what is going into your food and where it comes from. Head to the McCarren Park Greenmarket on Saturdays or the Sunday McGolrick farmers market (it returns on May 14th) and let the ideas flow. If you have lentils or rice at home, you can easily go to the market and choose whatever veggies are in season, grab some fresh herbs, and throw together quick and easy meal. While you’re at the Williamsburg market, be sure to grab a vegetarian tamale from the cart to snack on while you cook–they’re amazing!

A veggie tamale from the Williamsburg farmer's market is the perfect snack!
A veggie tamale from the Williamsburg farmer’s market is the perfect snack.

I repeat, going vegetarian in Brooklyn is easy. There hasn’t been one day where I looked back or felt like I was missing out. Even the foodie will find that some of the most inventive and delicious meals being served in our area feature vegetables. And hey, there’s always pizza! So, if you’ve been feeling guilty looking at Instagram accounts of pet pigs while eating your morning bacon, go ahead and try putting down the meat. It’s much easier than you think and I promise you’ll be happy you did.

About Sidra Monreal

Sidra Monreal is a Greenpoint resident, originally from snowy Syracuse, NY. She works for Condé Nast and is a former flight attendant. She is an avid traveler, photographer, animal lover, and classical pianist. Sidra enjoys fantasy novels, volleyball, cheese, craft beer, old movies, and anything charming, whimsical, or cozy.www.sidraphotography.com

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