Good Food. And Good for You.

Pam George

A growing number of businesses cater to diners who adhere to the proliferating number of special diets


A
t the turn of the 21st century, there were few restaurants in downtown Newark with health-conscious options for diners like Sasha Aber, who was a vegetarian at the time. Fresh out of the University of Delaware, she and then husband Eric decided to fill the niche. In March 2000, they opened the 28-seat Home Grown Cafe. The restaurant took off. Home Grown added a deck, a bar and bumped into neighboring space. Today, it has 130 seats.

Home Grown’s expansion over 19 years coincides with the increase in diners following special diets. And oh, have those diets multiplied since Dr. Robert Atkins’ day.

In addition to vegetarians, who don’t eat meat, and vegans, who abstain from all animal products, there are now people who adhere to the paleo diet, which is restricted to foods that hunters and gatherers in the Paleolithic era (roughly 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago) ate.

Those embracing the ketogenic—or keto—diet cut back on carbs to make the body switch its fuel supply to fat. Then there are the low-carb lovers, the gluten-free or dairy-free diners, and the pescatarians, who don’t consume meat but will eat fish.

Home Grown’s updated menu, available as of April 2, features dishes that appeal to diners’ diverse tastes. A berry salad with ricotta dressed with berry balsamic, for instance, has no added sugar. “Many salad dressings have sweetener added,” Aber notes. “This is very low-carb.”

The red curry salmon dish—which recently won the Tastiest Dish honor at the Nutritious Newark Cook-Off, sponsored by STAR Health on the University of Delaware campus—is also available with tofu.

Home Grown isn’t the only business catering to special diets in Delaware, and like that fashionable Main Street restaurant, many debunk a crunchy granola stereotype.

A Healthy Outlook

Some people don’t eat animals for ethical reasons. Or, they prefer to consume locally and humanely raised livestock. Grass-fed beef is part of the paleo diet.

Others have adjusted their diets to address a health issue. Kristin Bowen is one of them. While her husband, Milton, has an ironclad constitution, she struggled with chronic stomach issues. In 2008, she moved to a mostly plant-based diet. “The healthier I ate—fresh, natural—the better I felt,” she says. “I had more energy. My stomach didn’t hurt.”

Initially, she had a lot of mashed potatoes and broccoli. “I had no idea what to eat,” she acknowledges. Her quest for tasty foods led to the creation of the couple’s business, The Nude Food Truck, which specializes in vegan dishes.

As the food truck’s popularity grew, many loyal customers asked for vegetarian and vegan options on demand. They didn’t want to wait for the truck to come around. Spotting a need, the couple in March opened V-Trap Kitchen & Lounge in Wilmington’s Little Italy.

V-Trap’s menu will echo that of the food truck. Tacos, for instance, are made with a meat substitute, guacamole, kale, a cheese substitute, and chipotle.

Catering to the “Veg-Curious”

V-Trap isn’t the city’s only restaurant primarily dedicated to vegans and vegetarians. Abundance Child, who has been a vegan since 1993, in 2012 began adding vegan items to her parents’ Riverfront shop, Molly’s Ice Cream Café. She named her end of the business Drop Squad Kitchen.

When Child’s sales eclipsed Molly’s—and her parents wanted out of the everyday grind—Drop Squad Kitchen took over the space.

Many customers aren’t vegan, says Child’s daughter, A’nanatawa El. “They just love our food.” The shop gets its share of people interested in incorporating more plant-based items into their diets but still craving a burger or cheesesteak. For them, Drop Squad has meat substitutes, which it makes on site.

Lunch? Falafel, made chickpeas (garbanzo), at Home Grown Cafe—and a beer. Photo by Justin Heyes

Likewise, The Nude Food Truck offers the “impossible cheeseburger.” “We call it a ‘bridge’ food,” Bowen says. “People can’t believe it’s not a real burger.” One customer paid for her food, got in her car and started eating. Within minutes she came back to the truck window to ask, “Are you sure that’s not meat?”

Many of the diners who order the vegan cheesesteak at Goat Kitchen & Bar in North Wilmington aren’t vegan, says Peter Weir, the manager of the restaurant, which recently tweaked the menu to feature more vegan selections such as General Tsao’s cauliflower.

“We sell a lot of cauliflower,” Weir says. A hit with gluten-free and keto diners, the versatile veggie is used as a substitute for everything from chicken to rice to a wheat pizza crust.

Three Chefs—Two Vegan

To cater to the many diners on special diets, Karen Igou, owner of HoneyBee Seasonal Kitchen & Market in Trolley Square, has three chefs, two of whom are vegan. In the on-site kitchen, they prepare meals for the grab-and-go cases. Eggplant parmesan and other breaded dishes are gluten-free, and soups include a vegan selection.

“Our meat chef is really savvy about dishes for people on the Whole 30, paleo and keto,” she says. “The dishes have good fat.” The chef uses grass-fed beef and pasture-raised poultry, a paleo plus.

The sale of healthy prepared foods, including smoothies made with frozen fruit and vegetables instead of ice, now eclipses that of the produce, which is also available, says Igou, who plans to offer a fresh salad bar in the near future.

Igou says she is an “everything-in-moderation” girl, and Bowen tells people she is 98 percent vegan. “I don’t want to limit myself.”

Realizing that more diners are like Igou and Bowen, many restaurants have upped their offering of gluten-free and vegetarian offerings.

Here are a few to consider.

Centreville Café
This quaint restaurant, which has a catering division, features gluten-free bread for sandwiches and breakfast items. There are also vegan and vegetarian selections.
5800 Kennett Pike, Centreville, 777-4911, centrevillecafe.com

Clean Juice
The chain has a site just over the Delaware state line. The menu includes acacia bowls, juices, smoothies and almond or avocado toast.
573 Wilmington-West Chester Pike, Pa.,
484-846-4997, cleanjuice.com

Drop Squad Kitchen
Vegan Abundance Child started this restaurant to share her healthy lifestyle. Meat substitutes—including chickun, vegan bacon and V-dogs—are made on site.
928 Justison St., Wilmington, 984-2773,
dropsquadkitchen.com

Full Circle Kitchen
Friends and chefs Robbie Jester and Tim Bolt formed this food-delivery service to offer healthy but delicious foods. The menu each week includes vegetarian dishes as well as those appropriate for people following the Whole 30 diet, which emphasizes whole foods, no grains, dairy, legumes, sugar or alcohol.
fcfoodgroup.com

Goat Kitchen and Bar
When David Weir opened Goat in 2015, he decided to feature something for every diner, including vegetarians. Weir, who previously operated Buckley’s Tavern, died in 2018, but the restaurant’s dedication to his vision hasn’t wavered. The menu includes a slightly spicy General Tsao dish with cauliflower instead of chicken, a vegan cheesesteak with seitan, and a black bean burger.
1845 Marsh Rd., Wilmington, 746-7847,
goatkitchenandbar.com

Harvest Market Natural Foods
This Hockessin mainstay has an on-site kitchen preparing vegan, vegetarian, raw, gluten-free and grain-free paleo items for its grab-and-go case.
7417 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin,  234-6779,
harvestmarketnaturalfoods.com/departments/our-kitchen/

Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar
Most of the menu selections are under 500 calories and have non-GMO ingredients. Vegan, gluten-free and vegan items are plentiful. Plus, there are more than 50 wines by the glass.
549 Wilmington Pike, Glen Mills, Pa.,
610-358-1005, harvestseasonalgrill.com

Home Grown Café in Newark
When it comes to blending mainstream dishes with those for special diets, Home Grown paved the way in New Castle County. New menu items debuted this month.
126 E. Main St., Newark, 19711,
homegrowncafe.com

HoneyBee Seasonal Kitchen & Market
On-site chefs make prepared foods, including vegan, vegetarian and paleo-friendly options. Seasonal produce is also available.
11A Trolley Square, Wilmington, 407-5579, honeybeekitchenandmarket.com

Honeygrow
Founded in Philadelphia in 2012, Honeygrow is now a multi-state chain featuring plant-based menu stir-fry and salad options. You can add proteins, including tofu, cage-free eggs and naturally raised beef.
3200 Fashion Center Blvd., Christiana, Newark, 327-8124
58 E. Main St., Newark, 318-6964
5609 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 407-3331
honeygrow.com

Café 67 in Newark Natural Foods
Ingredients come from the natural food store and include a salad bar, hot food bar, soups, sushi, juices and sandwiches. There’s a grab-and-go case.
230 E. Main St., Newark Shopping Center, Newark, 525-4583, newarknaturalfoods.net

V-Trap Kitchen & Lounge
Located in the old Bistro Jacques space— and Mona Lisa before that—V-Trap is an offshoot of The Nude Food truck. Although the restaurant and food truck have different names, they both specialize in healthy and vegetarian foods.
607 N. Lincoln St., Wilmington,  364-0474, vtrapkitchen.com

8th & Union Kitchen
Part of the Ashby Hospitality Group, which also owns the Deer Park Tavern, this Little Italy spot welcomes the gluten-free crowd. Most menu items can be gluten-free, and many also have a vegan and vegetarian option.
801 N. Union St., 654-9780, 8thandunion.com

So, what do you think? Please comment below.