Chicago vegan restaurant launches “Convert a Carnivore” Sunday
Fancy Plants Kitchen, a vegan restaurant in Lincoln Park near DePaul University, has been through the pandemic since opening in August. While it was a rough start with staffing and licensing, owner and chef Kevin Schuder feels right at home and tries out two new gadgets: a ‘convert a carnivore’ night with a special menu and a vegan happy hour.
Cocktail hour drink specials have only been legal in Illinois since 2015 after Springfield repealed an archaic law. It took a long time for restaurants and bars in Chicago to develop this culture of enjoying food and drink at discounted prices, navigating restrictions such as obeying laws that limit discounts for a specific length of time each day. .
These discounts meant a big deal for the hospitality industry and many places started having fun with their offerings with creative chefs and bartenders. But then the pandemic began in March 2020. Downtown workers, some of the happy hour specials’ most loyal supporters, stayed away from Loop office buildings. Bars closed for on-site service for months and the happy hour momentum built over the previous five years had evaporated.
Over the summer, bars and restaurants began marketing more happy hour specials as alfresco dining and the vaccine boosted consumer confidence. And promotions appear in unexpected places. Case in point: Fancy Plants recently launched a happy hour with appetizers like arancini with cashew mozzarella and dates wrapped in eggplant-based faux bacon.
“People think vegans are responsible and healthy,” says Schuder. “Maybe it’s time to enjoy being a little mischievous, and what could be better than spilling a few cocktails?”
The vegan happy hour is the brainchild of restaurant manager Kylie Cabrera, a restaurant veteran who has worked with Michelin-starred restaurants like Elizabeth and Band of Bohemia. She also developed the wine program for Mango Pickle, the Indian-inspired restaurant in Edgewater. Pairing wine with Indian cuisine has proven to be a unique challenge for Cabrera, and she says she uses what she learned at Mango Pickle with Fancy Plants. Natural wines are a priority at Fancy Plants and all are vegan (some natural wines are filtered through bladders of fish, Fancy Plants will not be transporting vineyards that carry these selections).
Few vegan restaurants in Chicago offer a full bar. There is Althea the Loop and Bloom Plant Based Kitchen in Wicker Park. Chicago Diner also has a liquor license in Northalsted, as does Spirit Elephant in the suburbs. Meanwhile, upscale restaurants like Ever have vegan options, but strict vegans may be uncomfortable eating somewhere that also serves meat. But Fancy Plants is trying something different.
“I think vegan diners should be able to enjoy a wonderful meal without sacrificing quality, especially service,” Cabrera said.
Happy hour is one of a few promotions for Schuder, who last year developed a meatless burger to compete with other vegan entrees like Beyond and Impossible. Part of that is hosting ‘Convert a Carnivore’ Sundays where he hopes to attract non-vegans with a special menu and a pledge of $ 10 gift certificates. The gift certificates give the fun night a “game show quality,” says Schuder, and it has been such a success that he plans to host special dinners every week: “It was a creative victory,” says Schuder. he.
Last weekend was a particularly snowy and cold Sunday for the first edition of the event. So Schuder, who has a gastronomic background, made a French onion soup made with mushrooms and kombu. The main course was the bourguignon with mushrooms. Cabrera, who is not vegan, says the Bourguignon is crowd pleaser.
“I think it’s helpful for a non-vegan person to work in a restaurant,” Cabrera says. “I think non-vegans kinda appreciate a tour guide.”
The Lincoln Park restaurant is a big brother of a Lakeview cafe. Schuder is feeling good about where his operation is going, drawing local diners to the restaurant to accompany hungry vegans who will travel great distances for a quality restaurant without meat or dairy. He is convinced that he can convert more carnivores, or at least whet their appetites.
Fantasy Plants Kitchen, 1443 W. Fullerton Avenue, convert a carnivore on Sunday reservations via Tock; happy hour from 5 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. and from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Sunday. The opening hours will be extended.