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Calling Bullshit on Ambiguous “Vegan” Fare in New York City

...I'm calling bullshit, ya heard?

…I’m calling bullshit, ya heard?

Vague menu descriptions, Ill-informed wait-staff, greedy establishments who would rather take your money than inform you that the vegetarian food they’re shucking falls far from the vegan tree, are the scourge of the vegan restaurant-goer. Restaurants guilty of the above create a fallacious illusion that what you’re eating is vegan: when it’s not.

So, SuperVegan readers, here’s your chance to call bullshit on those culpable few who knowingly (or unknowingly) serve out the mendacity (after-all, some of us NYC vegans may be in the dark) Leave your tips, grievances, complaints and stink-eyed daggers in the comments section.

I’ll start it out:

  • Kate’s Joint does not go out of its way to tell you that their “non-dairy” cheese is not vegan. It has casein in it. Bullshit!
  • While Crif Dogs should get points for offering a vegan hot dog, they deserve a big fuck you for serving it on a non-vegan bun. Bullshit!
  • It’s quite nice that Red Bamboo has teamed up with Bamn Automat, but, other than the fries: nothing is vegan. Bullshit!
    Update I got an email from Bamn Automat; although they do offer vegetarian items, only the salad is vegan.

32 Comments

  1. Comment by

    SeitanSaidDance

    on #

    It says the soy cheese contains casein in pretty big letters across the bottom of the left page of Kate’s menu.

    The soul chicken sandwich isn’t vegan? The menu on Red Bamboo’s site doesn’t note that (which is SERIOUS bullshit).

  2. Comment by

    BrownbirdRudyRelic

    on #

    Thanks for the heads up Re: Kates. Has it always said this? I don’t seem to remember it saying it anywhere – is this a new addition?

    And. The “filet” (if you will) is vegan, (according to the staff) the bun and sauce that are not. So. Red Bamboo is vegan. The Bamn version is not.

  3. Comment by

    SeitanSaidDance

    on #

    I don’t know if it was always like that. I was there last week and only remember it was on the menu because I didn’t notice it until someone pointed it out. Then I felt stupid for not seeing it, but I guess lots of people are missing it.

    Thanks for clarifying about the sandwich.

  4. Comment by

    ariela

    on #

    thats so dumb that the sandwich at Bamn isn’t vegan when they get it directly from Red Bamboo! that makes no sense!

    and as for Kates..ive been with people who didn’t notice the writing about casein..and also a lot of newbie vegans not even know what casein is..the whole non dairy cheese but having casein in it still makes no sense to me..it shouldnt be called non dairy! >:P and i remember once the waitress at kates said to someone “there’s only a teeny bit of dairy in it” as though it was no big deal.

  5. Comment by

    ariela

    on #

    i wish there was an edit bottom..supposed to say a lot of newbie vegans *might* not know what casein is

  6. Comment by

    alan

    on #

    i think these restaurants and their staff are ignorant, not greedy. vegan food is available in EVERY restaurant. it is up to you to educate the wait staff in a pleasant way, and be nicely persistent.

  7. Comment by

    gemgyrl

    on #

    hmm… i don’t know. there were a few articles/postings here and there about staff misleading vegans about what’s in their establishment’s food. In my own paranoid vegan mind, I often wonder if things are really vegan—-at counter—all those creamy sauces or especially at non-vegan places or meat-establishments—I wish someone would write a story on this… did you read time out where they asked restaurants—is it really vegetarian–40% answered no.

  8. Comment by

    danny

    on #

    i have a problem with Nana on 5th ave in bklyn. they have fish sauce in an eggplant dish which is clearly in the vegetarian section. i had a feeling to ask and just dont understand how little they cared as i pointed it out. they didnt see a problem.

  9. Comment by

    aa

    on #

    I’m going to agree with Alan. It is about lack of knowledge and making this list seems silly and just hating unless folks are planning on backing it up with (polite, respectful) communication with places encouraging them to have vegan options and showing that there is a customer for vegan options. Playing out the stereotype of the vegan that can’t eat anything and complains about it is boring.

  10. Comment by

    Laura Leslie

    on #

    Complaining works. Look at Vegetarian’s Paradise 2 and Zen Palate. Their menus used to obscure what was and wasn’t vegan (and servers would give a different answer every time). When enough people complained, they both changed their menus to clearly state what is and is not vegan.

    So, please, keep complaining. This is an issue of deep ethical importance, and the restaurants we pay our money to owe us honesty.

  11. Comment by

    Laura Leslie

    on #

    And, yeah, what the hell is up with Kate’s? It’s not like it’s hard to find good, melty vegan cheese these days! If a zillion other restaurants can do it, they can and should.

  12. Comment by

    BrownbirdRudyRelic

    on #

    I agree with Laura. If you make your voice heard; results will happen. Shortly after I posted this, Bamn emailed me; we had a (yes, polite) discussion about what it would take to veganize their Red Bamboo sandwich. The manager was courteous, agreeable and he assured me he would look into it.

    I’m all for having a polite discussion with restaurants about vegan options (It often works!), but, I mainly wrote this post so that we could share information…

  13. Comment by

    gemgyrl

    on #

    Rudy, thanks for your post. I absolutely don’t see it as complaining or whining about not having anything to eat. Its not about the vegan revolution (that later!) and though I joked about vegan paranoia, I think we have the right to know what we are putting in our bodies. Its no different and no less serious than having a food allergy or being kosher—and think of the implications of misleading consumers in either of those situations. The TONY restaurant insider issue had a quote from a chef who admitted that they used chicken stock in the vegetarian food–and at least 40% of the chefs polled admitted they lied or mislead customers about food being vegetarian. Their motivation is irrelevant. Its one thing for the consumer to clarify and check to make sure that their food is vegan; its another for a restaurant staff person or menu to claim something is vegan when its not. Strict vegans can and will get sick if they eat some meat or milk infested food—I can tell RIGHT away if I eat something that has butter on it—-trust me, its not a nice experience.

    Having a list of places and meals to avoid would be great!!!

    (If you read message boards about restaurants in Portland—you will find some of the same type of research—guess misleading vegans isn’t limited to NYC.)

  14. Comment by

    missbuddha

    on #

    Gobo in the West Village serves vegetarian food but does not clearly mark what is vegan. I actually took a job as a waitress there and quick quickly after realizing how horrified I was that most of the staff and management had no idea what was actually vegan. The cheese wontons are not vegan. The cheese used on the salads is not vegan. I was so extremely upset about their practices. In fact, the kitchen staff used eggs in the staff meals. I have no idea why this would happen in a restaurant that does not even serve eggs. Also, so much of the meat substitute protein is deep fried- which is not even mentioned on the menu. I was very upset by the practices there and the lack of communication and information between kitchen staff and servers.

  15. Comment by

    exvgnwaitress

    on #

    I have always wanted a message board compiling all of the vegan/non-vegan items at various NY restaurants.

    Here’s my 2 cents…
    Gobo somewhat tries inform staff what is vegan, but it is like a ridiculous game of operator. When I worked there I revised the “allergen matrix” and found that EVERY listing had an error concerning ingredients. The non-vegan items are: the cheese, which are in the wontons and on the spinach salad, and the wasabi sauce that contains honey. Unfortunately, many of the mock meats only have the ingredients listed in Chinese and the ham that is listed as vegan in Gobo is listed as containing dairy at Zen Palate. Besides that the owners think that some vegans believe yeast is not vegan and that is one of the reasons they avoid using the term “vegan.” (And yes, EVERYTHING is deep fried and the cooks use eggs and butter for staff meals.)
    Beyond that they are an extremely unethical company: I was instructed to not make calls to any resumes whose name sounded “Black” and they openly deducted hours from time cards. They also pay Hispanic workers half the rate that they do others in the same position.

    Back to ingredients…Around the Clock uses butter in their steamed brown rice and their spinach lentil soup is really chicken broth and the soup veggies are cooked in butter (I worked there for a year before I knew this). (They also often deep-fry the portabellos and other grilled veggies).

    Vynl waiters have been very good in checking on food…The veggie burgers are vegan, but you need to order it on wheat bread. The new veggie stir-fry has fish sauce.

    That’s more like 10 cents worth…Does anyone know which Indian places use ghee or any “safe” Mexican places?

  16. Comment by

    slowtree

    on #

    I am appalled at Gobo. I have never eaten their cheese wontons, but was assured by the waiter the last time I was there that they were indeed vegan. I didn’t believe it and didn’t order them. I think that they are asking for a lawsuit!!!!

    I am also appalled that “vegan” Candle Cafe uses soy cheese that isn’t vegan. They say on the menu that it isn’t vegan, but that’s so pathetic. I mean, can’t they find a vegan soy cheese????

    Years ago, a friend of mine (who was vegetarian and not vegan) took takeout from a vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown (no longer there) called House of Vegetarian. She found a chicken bone in her mock chicken dish….

    After that, I have been quite untrusting of many restaurants–especially if the owner is not vegan (like Kate’s Joint)….

    I will now boycott Gobo until they clarify what is on their menu.

  17. Comment by

    PlomeekSoup

    on #

    slowtree: House of Vegetarian is still on Mott Street, owned by the same folks who run Vegetarian Dim Sum House (around the corner on Pell Street). That’s the first I’ve heard of chicken bones, though.

    exvgnwaitress: I believe Papacitos in Brooklyn is a safe vegan Mexican option. The new Neighburrito on Rivington might be as well, but I haven’t tried them yet (their online menu mentions an all-vegan burrito called Red Menace).

  18. Comment by

    ariela

    on #

    Candle Cafe uses teese now..so their soy cheese is finally vegan. it took them long enough though!!

  19. Comment by

    IsaChandra

    on #

    Bullshit on House Of Vegetarian having chicken bones in their food. Their mock chicken is made out of yams. I’ve been going there for 20 years, that is a ludicrous accusation.

  20. Comment by

    slowtree

    on #

    I hate to argue with IsaChandra as I own all her cookbooks and respect her so much, but it is true. There were chicken bones (or a chicken bone). My friend is a physician (and thus, can easily identify a bone) and indeed found a chicken bone in her faux chicken dish. I would be happy to get you in touch with her. This happened in the early 1990′s, by the way, and I haven’t eaten there since (and thought it had closed–I rarely ever go to Chinatown).

  21. Comment by

    JonG

    on #

    Let’s add Sparky’s in Williamsburg to the vegan-unfriendly places. If you ask if the veggie dog is vegan, they say, “Yes.” Then I asked, “Is the bun vegan?” and I got a “No,” without the server needing to check. I think it’s shady to omit that fact if someone asks about the dog.

  22. Comment by

    NotBuyingIt!

    on #

    Wow! I love to eat out, especially at vegan and vegan friendly places. I tend to know who’s on top of their game and who’s still a little shaky. And for the sake of being responsible for my own eating habits (though I can be a bit forgetful at times) I press for information if there is a possibility that a cheese might contain casien or a dessert gelatine, conch or honey. We live in a world where family and coworkers would not know every detail of the vegan diet, so how can we expect restaurant staff to? They all deal with daily nonvegan lifestyles and nonvegan customers on a much larger scale than they deal with vegan anything. If I were not vegan I probably would think nondairy cheese is nondairy so it’s automatically vegan. Yet,my experience at some places have been that the waitress knows (and remembers) that the soy cheese has a nonvegan ingredient; some new vegans don’t even know that. Unless the place professes to be entirely vegan, I don’t think it’s fair to expect them to be as educated as us. Therfore putting the ball back in our park. I don’t want anyone else being responsible for what I eat-that annoys me just as much as the government banning transfat a.k.a. calling me an infant.

  23. Comment by

    Kathy

    on #

    Can I booooo all the big wig restaurants that do not have vegan options or even a vegetarian option among their entrees.

    It’s absurd. Can’t Gordan Ramsey and Jean George do a vegan entree?? Would it be so dilluting of their meat heavy brand? Hey, The Waverly Inn had a specifically vegan entree.

    Also….anything called a veggie PLATTER should be ran from…run fast!

    http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com

  24. Comment by

    Jamie

    on #

    For Indian food, I always go to Madras Cafe on 2nd ave and 5th st…almost everything on the menu is vegan, and they clearly mark what isn’t. They even have a vegan thali, a vegan mango lassi, and a vegan rice pudding!

  25. Comment by

    aaron langley

    on #

    I think this is all bit harsh. Boycotting a restaurant in this economy is just asking it to close. Talk to a manager & write an email, but be pleasant. Vegetarian restaurants are not the enemy and most don’t deceive on purpose. If something is called “non-dairy cheese” it doesn’t surprise me that the staff may be confused as to it’s vegan status. We should help them out and inform them. If you still want to go all ALF, burn down a McD’s and leave Kate’s alone.

  26. Comment by

    jjames

    on #

    In response to Aaron. I don´t think anybody is going all “ALF” here. Its important to know what is and what is not vegan. Yeah, I don’t necessarily aggree with the piece per se, but i don’t thinks its extreme.

  27. Comment by

    Aaron Langley

    on #

    Hey Jjames – You’re right…in re-reading the article and comments people are more being reasonable than I had originally imagined! I think the “bullshit” part still seems overly aggressive still, but agree…knowing is half the battle!

  28. Comment by

    gemgyrl

    on #

    Perhaps I interpreted the post incorrectly, but to me it seemed more about vegans sharing information about what’s vegan and what’s not. it’s not about lynching “lying” restaurants. I for one want to know if I am eating something that’s not really vegan. the employees at the restaurant might not be able to tell me—that’s why we are sharing information here, to educate ourselves. The next steps are a whole other topic. :-)

  29. Comment by

    brivarib5

    on #

    What about the lack of reliably vegan breads? I frequently see pre-made “vegan” sandwiches in supposedly health oriented stores and the labels just list sliced bread as an ingredient without listing what went into the bread! More than once I’ve gotten someone to show me the bread they use and it is NOT vegan.

    And what about the national chain stores? For instance, Taco Bell likes to brag about their beans being veg friendly but they use animal based crap in all their breads except for the hard taco shells?

  30. Comment by

    brivarib5

    on #

    Since the headline is about “vegan” cuisine is it too far off-topic to point out that Whole Foods has an annoying sign in the produce dept. stating that the veggies haven’t been treated with animal products… just beeswax and/or shellac. Ironic isn’t it.

  31. Comment by

    dragonfist76

    on #

    bottom line about eating out anywhere in the city or otherwise; you just don’t know . so i say eat in more often {whaaaa!!} learn to depend on yourself for food. brown bag lunch for work/school/road-trip.eat many light meals not two or three heavy ones always plan out your meals ahead of time that is if your truly serious about eating healthy and wholesome not to mention cruelty free time is a constraint for most of us cause we “need” instant gratification-food is life. so make time and take time not to mention saving money and spending it @ truly worthy establishments they do exist sometimes in a pinch i walk into any generic Chinese restaurant and order brown rice,snow-peas, and steamed bean curd(tofu) a little soy and ‘duck’ sauces respectively and you got a quick cheap convenient vegan meal- oh and steer clear of all diners in the city they pretty much offer up nothing for vegans but “veggie burgers” which always have eggs in them and even if they don’t by some miracle, they still fry them on the same skillet that they fry all their burgers and BULLSHIT good luck my fellow vegan-demonz

  32. Comment by

    Will boycott Gobo

    on #

    I had an unpleasant introduction to Gobo in NYC West Village. I was left with the impression of an opportunistic, unethical, greedy business establishment.

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