This Vegan Dinner Club Is Philadelphia’s Sweet Little Secret

Tucked away on a narrow street in South Philadelphia sits a converted warehouse. It’s not filled with dusty boxes or storage shelves, but with hanging plant pots dripping with blooming succulents. A rolling glass garage door rolls up to reveal a cozy interior of pale pink walls, mismatched hanging picture frames and fewer than a dozen small tables punctuated with flickering candles and glass Mason jars filled with fresh flowers.

Miss Rachel’s Pantry

But you won’t find menus to pore over or takeout customers taking takeout orders: The restaurant, open only a few nights a week, offers five-course, set-menu, farm-style meals that customers reserve weeks in advance. . It’s Miss Rachel’s Pantry, and as well as living up to its tagline as a ‘sweet little vegan restaurant’, it’s also easily one of the best in the country.

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How it all began ?

Chef Rachel Klein – Miss Rachel herself and the mastermind behind the meticulously curated weekly menus – began her culinary journey as a vegetarian growing up in a decidedly non-vegetarian home. Between taking occasional cooking classes and rotating through front-of-house positions at various restaurants, Klein’s passion for the culinary world blossomed. But it wasn’t until she began working as a private chef and wedding caterer, selling vegan food at Philadelphia punk shows on the side, that the dream of opening her own brick-and-mortar store came to fruition.

In 2012, after running her catering business through communal kitchens and her own small apartment, Miss Rachel’s Pantry (a name inspired by her grandparents’ 1950s lunch, The Pantry) opened her first small restaurant in the West Passyunk neighborhood of Philadelphia. Just three years later, the Pantry expanded and moved five minutes away to a much more spacious location from its current neighborhood home.

Rachel Klein

Rachel Klein

Everything about this space is charming, from the retro refrigerator tucked in the corner to the warm glow of the hanging globe lights. But once you’re seated at the white café-style tables, that’s where the comfort really begins. An elegant place card is placed in front of each guest, informing them of the five courses of the evening. To ensure that no flavor overpowers another, Klein takes special care to balance salty, spicy or tangy flavors in his creations. Heat seekers and raw onion lovers may be momentarily disappointed, but this is sure to dissipate as the harmony of the meal begins to dawn on them.

The restaurant is BYOB, meaning diners can bring a bottle (or two) of wine, beer or cider to enjoy alongside the pre-fixe menu. Waiters circle the room in perfect synchronization to ensure everyone’s drinks are placed before dinner begins, setting down small plates of flaky biscuits with herb butter to whet the appetite before the meal begins. really kicks into high gear.

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Home cooking meets gastronomy

While no dinner is ever the same, a consistent meal from start to finish is guaranteed, and at Miss Rachel’s Pantry, that means the first course is always soup. Fresh corn bisque with Palm heart crab meat (made from hearts of palm) topped with chive-infused oil and garlic-sautéed corn or local heirloom tomato bisque with golden, ricotta-stuffed fried squash blossoms, dabbed with cream lemon, habanada pepper (a habanero-flavored pepper, minus the spices), and agave-basil honey will dispel any mistaken belief that the soup can’t be a remarkable dish. Especially if you luck out with a bowl with meaty additions like apple cider seitan and chestnut sausage served over a smooth celery-rutabaga bisque finished with golden chutney-glazed croutons.

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The second course emphasizes salads, but don’t expect watery icebergs or bland dressings. Instead, the restaurant’s house-made cheeses are often the star of creations such as a cold-smoked fig and watermelon salad with fresh cashew milk mozzarella, tossed in a rich maple vinaigrette and with black garlic and topped with a crunchy cornmeal topping. In another iteration, cashew butter burrata sits like a crown jewel on a bed of baby lettuce, thin slices of fennel and juicy, pinkish grapefruit segments before being dressed with a vinaigrette flavored with basil and sprinkled with warm, toasted hazelnuts. . And sometimes the salad course is swapped out for a bite of vegan frittata served with smoke-infused pink radishes on delicate lettuce leaves, with tangy caper vinaigrette and caramelized onion and tangy mustard jam.

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And while the restaurant focuses heavily on home-cooked meals, there’s a strong lean toward Italian fine dining, with a ubiquitous homemade pasta dish. Miss Rachel’s Pantry pasta expert Chef Rodger Holst masterfully transforms semolina flour into an assortment of elegant pasta dishes. Think cappellacci stuffed with spring peas and lemon ricotta with a light, bright lemon butter and parsley caviar sauce. Or casoncelli stuffed with fresh goat cheese, caramelized onions and kabocha squash in a velvety sage cream with apple sausage. The inventiveness doesn’t stop there. Rachel’s has even mastered a vegan version of crab-stuffed squid ink cappellacci, served in a traditional wine and butter sauce with plant-based microscales. scallop shells (a Mediterranean scallop).

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By the fourth course, the plates are cleared to make way for what would traditionally be a “meat dish”, but of course, at Miss Rachel’s Pantry, it’s an opportunity to show off the incredible transformation of vegetables in the kitchen. Grated hearts of palm are transformed into crispy fried palmito piccata and served with seared maitake mushrooms on a bed of whipped rutabaga and instantly seared rapini. Whole roasted maitake mushrooms are transformed into a refined, hearty meatloaf featuring a Maillard-induced crispy crust – left over from a sweet, black garlic ketchup glaze – retaining moisture, while a drizzle of mushroom and red wine sauce adds even more moisture. a smoother richness.

In another mouthwatering starter, a juicy watermelon fillet is coated in a generous crust of crushed pistachios and sesame seeds before being seared and placed on a bed of creamy, whipped eggplant with an invigorating lemon and lemon tzatziki. horseradish and a side of garlicky green beans. Each meat-based main course has a plant-based focus, with everything lovingly prepared in-house, without a single meat substitute in sight. Even the most vegetarian eater would have a hard time leaving a lick of perfectly balanced sauces, whisks or glazes on their plates.

Don’t skip dessert

As stuffed diners lean contentedly in their chairs, forks clatter onto plates, and muffled conversation rises in the dimly lit space, tables are cleared to make way for a truly delicious dessert. spectacular. Miss Rachel’s Pantry allows pastry chef Carley Leibowitz to deliver a sweet and indulgent finale without being too cloying or heavy.

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The dish could be chocolaty, like a spongy cocoa and hazelnut cake topped with sweet hazelnut crunchies and a scoop of incredibly light vanilla bean ice cream with a generous drizzle of salted caramel sauce. It could be Mexican inspired. Think wet three milks cake topped with melt-in-your-mouth, brown sugar ice cream, spiced pears and candied slivered almonds. Or maybe fruity: the moist lemon cake with thick vanilla buttercream frosting topped with local blueberry compote and purple basil and lime leaf ice cream will tempt even the most devoted fan chocolate addicts.

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Each dessert is designed to leave satisfied diners with a sweet note at the end of each meticulously crafted meal. Guests delight in miniature cups of espresso or steaming cups of tea while chatting with Klein herself, who walks around to thank each person for being present while a gentle hum of conversation gently fills the bright restaurant . The small converted warehouse feels like a true community gathering for this golden moment, and everyone lingers to enjoy it.

As the guests rise from their tables and begin to slowly file out of the cozy dining room and back into Philadelphia’s bustling Saturday night, they are left with the lingering tastes of an unforgettable meal and the warmth that comes from Miss Rachel and her sweet little vegan. restaurant.

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