By Anastasia Bez and Sharon Adarlo
Newark is a tough place when you’re vegan. Historically, Brick City has not had the same level of options or diversity of flavors for eating plant based compared to Manhattan, Jersey City or Brooklyn. But, that’s slowly changing as longtime locals and recent transplants have embraced veganism for ethical and/or health reasons. Here are reviews of two local options for vegetarian, vegan and healthy eating:
Anastasia Goes West
If you walk down Central Avenue in the West Ward, you may come across a triptych of vegan offerings. Blueberry Café and Grille, The Zucchini Bar Herbal Teas & Treats, and Aqua Phit Water Bar and Luxury Gym are all projects from Organic Lyfe Wellness LLC, a business project “geared towards the urban communities that have few to no healthy organic fast food options.” The distinctions between the three establishments (which have separate storefronts, but all share the same address) are as follows:
· Blueberry Café and Grille was the first of the three to open and focuses on alkaline vegan food- with a smoothie bar.
· The Zucchini Bar is focused on tea and offers baked goods, has breakfast foods such as a chickpea hash, zucchini pancakes and some salads, snacks, and sandwiches.
· Aqua Phit offers all raw vegan food, cold pressed juices, and plant based sushi. Aqua Phit also functions as a space for local artisan vendors, an events space with music and talks on subjects such as ‘Crypto and Crystals’ and as a space for personal training and fitness.
If you don’t have the time to stop by the restaurants in person, different online food delivery platforms accept orders for the three establishments.
My first experience at Blueberry Café and Grille was during a spring day adventure before work. The shop is an ordinary storefront with a fun vibrant exterior. A subheading on the sign proclaims “your organs will love you,” hand-painted blueberries on the windows, and a word map on the door. Inside, there was art in vivid hues and a counter through which I could see a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
When I told the staff it was my first time there, they gave me a sample of the soup of the day, spicy green kale, which was delicious and light. In conversation the staff told me that the Strawberry Crush smoothie is the one of the most popular smoothies on the menu, so I ordered it. It tasted predominantly of strawberry with slight hints of coconut, the banana, goji berries, and hemp were subtler additions.
The smoothie was light and fruit focused- none of the smoothies feature animal milk or yogurt. Soup, juices, and smoothies are a staple of Blueberry Café, but heartier (and less liquid) vegan options are available later in the day such as pasta, tacos, mushroom nuggets, and wild rice platters. I recommend getting a smoothie and going on a walk like I did, refreshing beverage in hand, the sun shining, a welcome beginning to the day.
Recently, I stopped by Zucchini Bar Herbal Teas & Treats on a Sunday morning. I asked the staff member what type of teas they had and was asked in return if there was something in particular I was seeking. Since I didn’t have any holistic healing goals, I just asked for for an herbal blend and a sea moss bean pie. The staff member said the bean pie contained a lot of minerals, and at the time it was the only baked good available. One thing that was somewhat confusing about both Blueberry Grille and Zucchini Bar was that there didn’t appear to be a menu readily available. As someone new to the establishment I did not always have a clear idea of what options there were. Judging from the menus online, the baked goods have an extensive variety of all vegan options. My herbal tea was calming and pleasant, more vegetal and root tastes than I normally go for. The sea moss bean pie was also tasty, I couldn’t discern the flavor or texture that the sea moss was adding, but the it was well spiced with autumnal flavors and had a good texture. I also liked that the pie was smaller in size than a standard pie. I could see this pie being great to take to a potluck.
Sharon Samples Downtown’s Latest
Urban Vegan is located in a new mixed-use building that also houses its sister restaurant, Cornbread. Both are owned by Newark native Adenah Bayoh, who also owns a couple local IHOP locations. Situated in a brightly lit space with white tiles, white ceiling panels, concrete floor, and marble ordering countertop, Urban Vegan is a fast casual joint where you can eat in one of the gray booths or order something to go. The menu is made up of vegan comfort food: biscuit sandwiches, burgers, bowls, salads, several sides, fruit smoothies, and juices.
I have had their pulled BBQ biscuit, which consists of a main protein called pulled oats (new to me) in Carolina-style BBQ sauce and dressed with coleslaw, creamy ranch and housemade pickle. Everything is served inside a split toasted country biscuit. It’s delicious and sloppy. After I have received a take-out order, I have been known to inhale the whole thing in a few bites.
Less sloppy but just as delicious is their chicken biscuit sandwich: a vegan chicken patty (Boca burger brand?) with lettuce, tomato and vegan ranch sauce on a toasted country biscuit. Yummy. Their other biscuit offerings are a butter and jam combo and a biscuit burger with a Beyond meat patty, usual fixings and vegan cheese. I have enjoyed their biscuit burger but they have been served with oversize red onion slices, making for some ungainly chomping.
Their regular burgers are served in a vegan brioche bun and all have a Beyond vegan beef patty except for the housemade black eye pea burger. I recommend the California burger which comes with avocado, fresh salsa and cilantro lime sauce. It’s a lip smacking and satisfying meal.
Also on the menu is a vegan cheese steak consisting of pulled oats as stand ins for the steak with cheese, onions, mayo and ketchup – all stuffed inside a Philly sub roll. It’s a delicious sandwich but really really messy to eat. Be sure to have plenty of napkins. And I also suspect it would taste better without the ketchup which made mouthfuls cloyingly sweet to eat.
Their bowls and salads section are made up of the chickpea bowl, black-eyed peas bowl, country salad with biscuit croutons, and a small cucumber and avocado salad. The salads are pretty serviceable as salads go, but they lost me a bit on their bowls. They are just not fun to eat. For example, the black-eyed peas bowl didn’t really have a good proportion: too many dry peas versus the quinoa I had ordered and not enough of the avocado cucumber toppings. It felt like homework eating the whole thing. No sauce either so the whole bowl tasted dry on my tongue.
Besides the main courses, I have had their sides such as the sweet potato fries and the plantains, which I recommend. They have a pretty good menu of smoothies and juices such as strawberry banana, mango berry lime, mint tea, hibiscus and pina colada. Among these offerings, the pina colada drink is my favorite. It’s a refreshing drink of blended pineapple, coconut milk, banana, agave syrup and fresh lime juice. I have ordered it multiple times and it has never disappointed me.
All in all, Urban Vegan is a welcome addition to the nascent vegan dining scene in Newark. Aside from a few false notes and their rather high prices (cheese steak is $15), Urban Vegan is a great place if you want to eat tasty plant-based food.
Blueberry Café, Juicebar & Vegan Grille, The Zucchini Bar Herbal Teas & Treats and Aqua Phit Gym Waterbar
547 Central Avenue, Newark NJ
Monday to Friday: 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM, Saturday: 9:00 AM – 7:00 PM, Sunday: 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM
915 Broad Street, Newark, NJ
Monday to Sunday, 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM
Note: Organic Lyfe Wellness is also expanding into the South Ward with a vegan comedy club, slated to open soon.
Featured photo by Anastasia Bez