Friday, September 26, 2008

Viva vs. Vinnie's: The Teese Cheese Question

Yes poppets, it's time for the faceoff of the century, the pizza-by-the-slice question we've all been asking ourselves for months now: where to go for a slice with that new vegan sensation, Teese? will it be Viva Herbal, longstanding vegetarian proprietor in the East Village? Or that edgy newcomer, Vinnie's pizza, a meat loving but vegan friendly hip spot in hipper than hip Williamsburg? Let's meet our contestants!

OK, really, I just can't keep the boxing match thing up.

The facts are as such: the man and I have had slices several times at both of these establishments, and each is now offering the soon-to-be-famous Teese cheese. We love both of these places, partly because both feel like typical New York pizza joints. But each parlor has a very different approach to pizza in general, and unsurprisingly each has quite a different take on how to use this new vegan wonder.

Let us first take Viva Herbal, located on Second Avenue between 11th and 12th streets. Viva is an all vegetarian restaurant, which is something I truly value. While they do have dairy items, you never have to worry about accidentally ending up with real sausage in your calzone, and that peace of mind makes for a more pleasant dining experience. I also quite like their food. It tends more toward hippie/healthy type ingredients like whole wheat, cornmeal, and spelt crusts topped with miso herbed tofu and hempseed and mushrooms. The Zen, the Magic Mushroom, and the Picante are probably my favorite pies there. Before Teese came along, we never really bothered with cheese on these; they don't need them, and I don't think the soy cheese they had was vegan - more on that later.

On somewhat the other end of the spectrum (and on the other side of the river) we find Vinnie's Pizzaria, a little place on Bedford that I've rambled about before. Not at all a vegetarian restaurant, it's really easy to walk past this place without realizing it has anything to offer to vegan patrons. But, lo and behold - each evening they have several "special" vegan pie varieties in addition to their normal stock of vegan options. Go figure, right? But that's Williamsburg for you. They also have this awesome little two-seater booth nestled in the front window, which is where I was sitting when I took this picture.

And so. As we all know, in the past months Teese has taken the vegan world by storm. Why? Because, well, cheese may be the single biggest "issue" in vegan cuisine. One of the most common responses to a declaration of veganism is, "oh, I could never give up cheese." Aggravatingly, most "dairy-free" cheeses on the market aren't vegan; they still contain caesin, that magical protein that makes cheese act like cheese. They're marked to the lactose intolerant crowd, not to us. And of the actual vegan cheeses on the market, most of them just suck. We have Follow Your Heart, and that stuff is awesome (both the cheeses and the vegenaise). But the cheese is difficult to shred, has to be taken up to near-volcanic temperatures to melt, and for reasons that I don't completely understand none of the pizza places were really using it.

Enter Teese and Chicago Soydairy's aggressive advertising campaign, and suddenly vegan pizza everywhere is popping up with cheese on it. We'd only just heard of Teese when we saw a sign declaring its orderability in Viva. Deciding to waste no time getting up on that, we ordered a piece of the vegan Picante with Teese, Please. The results:

Ta da! Big round dots-o-cheese. Not exactly melted in any way, despite the time in the oven. But tasty nonetheless.

As you can see, at Viva a "slice" is actually like a quarter of a pizza; our usual tactic for dinner there is to order to slices and have each cut in half, as we've done here. (On the right is the Zen, Teese-less.) Very economical.

After our first Teese experience, we were curious to find out what else was being done with the stuff. We'd heard through our Brooklyn grapevine that they were already using it over at Vinnie's, so we wasted little time in heading south.

Now, as I've expounded upon before, I'm ambivalent about patronizing meat-selling businesses. On the one hand, I don't want to support them in any way, which is why I'm vegan in the first place. On the other hand, when they do things like sell vegan pizza, I feel that I should encourage that. It's complicated, and often comes down to a business-by-business decision rather than a blanket one. Yes, they sell meat, but getting a slice there is not exactly the same as getting a veggie burger at McDonalds, know what I mean?

Anyway. For being a primarily meat-eating establishment, the variety of vegan stuffs at Vinnie's on any given evening can be positively stunning. The last time we were there we had chicken bacon cheddar bbq - at that point they were actually using follow your heart, though not very much of it. This visit we made two selections: Hawaiian (!) and some kinda crazy thing with macaroni on it - I don't remember what they called it. But I believe this is one of those cases where a picture is worth a thousand words. Naturally, both had Teese. At any rate, here's the result:

Once again, not very much cheese. Tasty pizzas though.

* * *

So, what's the verdict in the Teese Pizza Faceoff of 2008? I think this one's gonna be a mixed judgment.

1) In the serving size category, the winner is Viva all the way. Both in size of slice and quantity of cheese, they absolutely blow Vinnie's out of the water.

2) In the areas of creativity and ingredient use, we're gonna have to go with Vinnie's. Macaroni on pizza? Vegan Hawaiian? Come on. Where else are you gonna find that stuff? Nowhere!

3) As far as presentation of Teese goes, I'm gonna have to call both places losers! I believe this to be a fine product, but if its sellers don't take the time to melt it proper(in the case of Viva), or won't give you enough of it to even really know it's there (Vinnie's), then they are not doing it justice. Step up guys! You're charging extra for it anyway.

Overall, both Teese experiences were good. But could have been so much better if the proprietors had tried a little harder. This is one cheese lovin' vegan girl who hopes they'll both work a little bit harder and get it right. The vegan community of NYC deserves a good slice once in a while, and sometimes we want it with cheese.


Candy at VeganBride dot com said...

L-O-V-E this article!! Thank you for dropping the vegan science!! Can't WAIT to run straight to the store tomorrow to try this jazzy number. Know anything about Daiya?? I tried it on one pizza from a place in La that just started using it. Verdict. O.K. Anyone??
:) Candy

Candy at said...

Btw, your blogs absolutely rock!! :)

melissa bastian. said...

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoy them so much. Have you realized yet that I have an entire blog devoted to having a vegan wedding? Seems pretty much up your alley.