Watch out, Whole Foods: You’re not the only place where we can get our habañero-garlic salsa and gluten-free soy sauce. New specialty groceries are popping up in neighborhoods all over NYC, which is great news for local purveyors looking to break it big in the food industry (more shelves stocked equals more widespread exposure). But while most of these grocers have the look and feel (and the wheatgrassy smell) of health markets, the new Orchard Grocer on the Lower East Side has that quintessential New Yawkah edge while acting as a hub for urban vegan foodies. Yes, you can be vegan and a foodie.
Cute signs with illustrated animals—I giggled when I spotted the one that read, “Think gluten is the pits? Our GF menu always fits”—adorn the top of the refrigerators lining the white-brick walls. Instead of Cholula and Heinz in formation on the shelves, you’re met with all-natural specialty products, from green chile ranch dressing made out of cashews to a Brooklyn-made Mediterranean za’atar spread I’ll be dousing everything in for the rest of my life (or until I run out). For those looking to pig out without feeling bad about it, there’s plenty of options to choose from, too. Have you heard of whipped cream made out of rice milk? I didn’t either—until I visited.
Behind the counter are products with a shorter shelf life. Picnic faves with a twist—“tuna” made out of chickpeas, vegan hot dogs enthusiastically named Yeah Dawg!!!, gluten-free pasta salad, and carrot lox that tastes like smoked fish—take up residence within the display case, while pastries from Brooklyn’s Modern Love teased me from underneath glass pastry domes; there is no way can I justify a tart–filled lunch, but a girl can dream.
You’ll never separate me from my weekly bacon-egg-cheese, but I will happily make room in my schedule for Orchard Grocer’s coulda-fooled-me-that-they’re-not-made-of-meat sandwiches. You can take your chances on deli gems like the Marlowe (an updated version of the sinful Reuben loaded with beet-brined seitan and house-made Thousand Island dressing) or the Rocko (a classic BLT with smoky tempeh taking the place of the B). Or you can follow my lead and order yourself its newest sandwich masterpiece. Inspired by the Cubano, the Francis’s perfectly pressed panini bread is generously stuffed with hearty seitan “pastrami,” melted slices of tofu cheese, and sour pickles, and slathered in Dijon mustard and house-made vegan mayo. Trust me, you won’t miss the slow-roasted pork one bit.