A Brand New Horizons:
Downtown Philadelphia's Signature Vegan Dining Experience
With perfect timing, Horizons Cafe made the move last year to downtown Philadelphia. After spending thirteen years hidden in a suburban mall, this unique eatery was ready for the big city.
And Philadelphia is ready for Horizons. (The city recently lost Sunwishes, the vegan restaurant profiled in our Spring 2005 issue.)
Horizons has changed since its recent re-opening. Co-owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby dropped the more casual "Cafe" part of the name, and they stopped naming dishes after common menu items, so instead of "Seitan Wings," the restaurant straightforwardly announces "Jamaican BBQ Seitan" -- a popular starter consisting of bite-sized pieces of wheat gluten slathered in a dark, sweet sauce, and served with cool cucumber dip.
But before we sit down to eat, let's take a tour of Horizons.
The new location offers two floors, but manages to keep an intimate feel. The ground floor is the lounge, where friends meet for drinks around a fireplace and can enjoy the full menu. Upstairs, the dining area has a studio feel, with polished wood and a vibrant collection of art. Wooden ceiling fans spin in the summer, drawing attention to the spacious, barn-like roof. The lighting is subtle, and a candle glows on each of the ten tables.
Reservations are a necessity, especially for weekends when long-time vegans and people looking to try something new fill the restaurant to capacity. For word has spread fast about this restaurant. Says Kate Jacoby: "Since our move to Center City Philadelphia, we have seen a huge surge of New York City and District of Columbia customers -- lots of folks from all over the country, really."
Have a seat, and warm foccacia arrives at the table, along with menus pasted on thin pieces of wood. Over time, guests notice an ever-changing array of starters. Innovative and original, they showcase the hosts' talent for bringing unusual ingredients together in artistic presentations. The Stuffed Piquillo Pepper combines a salad of hearts of palm, papaya, avocado and yellow tomatoes. Then there's the Chilled Cucumber and Avocado Soup, topped with toasted pumpkin seeds and served in a large wine glass.
Jacoby and Landau have searched South America and Europe for authentic tastes so that Philadelphia diners can enjoy main courses with French, Caribbean, Central American, and Asian highlights. The Pacific Rim Tofu is glazed with kochujang, a Korean hot pepper paste, and served with broccolini florets with a Japanese sauce, and fluffy edamame mashed potatoes. The sweetly curried Caribbean Tempeh is joined by a calabaza jambalaya made with West Indian squash. Also highly recommended is the Grilled Seitan, served with creamy horseradish potatoes and a generous portion of grilled spinach.
Horizons shines most brilliantly at dessert. A serious pastry chef, Kate Jacoby works wonders with tofu, coconut milk, berries and rum. Try the Guyaba Cheesecake, topped with pineapple and coffee-roasted macadamia nuts, and accompanied by a coconut soda float fizzing in a shot glass. The Mojito Perfecto combines coconut rum Tres Leches ("three milks" -- but this one's plant-based), a delightful lime sorbet, and a minty version of traditional Mexican cajeta, or caramel. The Saffron Crème Brûlée is making culinary history. Subtly sweet, it's made with coconut milk and agave nectar (a sweetener derived from the Century plant), and topped with a glistening shell of carmelized sugar that one must crack with a spoon before eating.
Indeed, Jacoby and Landau seemed to have cracked the surface of a brand new market. Before Horizons, Philadelphians had nowhere to go for gourmet vegan food. They need wait no longer; and -- judging from the full dining room at Horizons -- they don't.
611 S. 7 th Street ,
Philadelphia , Pennsylvania 19147
Hours: 6 p.m. - 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 6 p.m. - 11 p.m. Friday through Saturday
Popular and often filled to capacity until late; reservations needed for a party of any size.