Two weekends ago, Philadelphia unveiled its latest vegan and vegetarian paradise, drawing a crowd of ecstatic vegheads more than ready to chow down on a few slices of vegan, yes vegan, pizza.
On September 30th, Blackbird Pizzeria opened its doors, offering an all-vegan menu of various pizza and sandwich combinations. Located on 507 South Sixth Street, the new pizzeria has taken over Gianna’s old space, keeping in line with the place’s original relaxed, low-priced pizza-style vibe.
Mark Mebus, previously a chef at Philly’s renowned vegan restaurant, Horizons, in addition to working at several other vegan joints in New York, launched the new Philly pizzeria along with partner Ryan Moylan.
“I really liked messing around with dough and enjoyed making pizza a lot, so I figured I should open a pizzeria,” said Mebus. “I wanted to own my own business, and I knew if I was doing my own business I wanted to do something a little more casual and a little more of a pedestrian-friendly situation.”
Pedestrian-friendly is just what Blackbird Pizzeria is. With blank, off-white walls, ten or so scattered two and four-person tables, and nothing but the voices of a bunch of young adults and maybe a family or two filling the narrow dining room space, the causal atmosphere reflects that of a typical pizza joint.
The menu is unpretentious as well, offering all the basics you’d expect from a pizzeria, minus the fact that vegan ingredients replace standard meat options. Typical mozzarella is replaced with Daiya “cheese,” which unlike most vegan cheeses, isn’t sourced from soy. Instead, Daiya is created from a mix of tapioca, casaba, and arrowroot flour, along with a few other ingredients, that are thrown together and given time to culture.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t personally care for soy cheese at all,” said Mebus, a vegan of 12 years. “At every other place that I worked, we really tried to shy away from using soy cheese all together because it really doesn’t taste all that good. I like that [Daiya is] not soy based. I know a lot of people have problems with soy, and this is much more allergy–friendly.”
The Daiya “cheese” is creamier than traditional melted mozzarella, almost resembling an alfredo sauce. Unlike many vegan cheeses, Daiya has no repulsive soy aftertaste, but instead a adds a delightful element of creamy richness.
Even more impressive than the cheese-less “cheese” topping Blackbird’s pizzas is the crust, exceptionally light and airy with the perfect amount of crisp. Atop the dough, Mebus adds a flavorful, slightly salty tomato sauce, sourced from all organic tomatoes.
Pizza toppings include the traditional green peppers, onions, mushrooms and jalapenos along with some more creative ingredients like seitan sausage or pepperoni, fennel, avocado, and artichokes.
Mebus’s favorite slice is the Yukon, topped with Yukon Gold potatoes, rosemary, sea salt, and a touch of olive oil.
Also on the menu are a handful of sandwich options, including the BBQ Portabella and Seitan Cheesesteak. The BBQ Portobello has some resemblance of a buffalo chicken hoagie, containing chewy deep-fried portobello infused with spicy ground black pepper and tossed with a light layer of BBQ sauce, atop a layer of cole slaw resting on a slightly chew roll.
Blackbird’s version of the cheesesteak is dead on, providing a haven for any newly-turned vegan or vegetarian craving the favorite greasy Philly classic. Exceptionally thinly sliced seitan is smothered with creamy “cheese,” and paired with fried onions, sautéed mushrooms and green bell peppers that spill out of the roll.
Pair your sandwich with a basket of hand cut fries, or save room for a slice of one of the various vegan cakes. Choose from a selection of Virgil’s sodas to clench your thirst, with flavors that include vanilla, black cherry, lemon grass, and lavender.
Whether vegan or not, Blackbird offers a sturdy menu that will leave your tastebuds satisfied and stomach full. Prices are relatively cheap as well, with three bucks per slice of pizza or $15 for a whole pie. Sandwiches are reasonably priced between $7 to $8. Make sure to come with cash though, as credit cards are not yet accepted
Pop into Blackbird Pizzeria anytime from 3 to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, and watch Mebus spin some dough as you choose from the tasty selections on the blackboard lining the kitchen’s back wall.