I've been a vegetarian for over 20 years now, and while my family and friends have become expert menu scanners to make sure there's always something for me to eat, it's extremely rare for them to want to go to an all vegetarian or vegan restaurant. Most people are cool with tofu, but you say the word seitan and they get skittish. Which is why I was over the moon when my hostess in Jersey City (and her husband!) were down to eat at a completely vegetarian dinner spot.
We walked from their apartment to Pet Shop in downtown Jersey City. From the outside, the space doesn't look like much.
By the front door is a chalkboard where you can buy a friend a round of drinks. How fun would it be to walk by and discover someone had already paid for your next cocktail?
Inside, the decor is minimal. The furniture and the floors are dark, illuminated by a few overhead fixtures, a canopy of twinkle lights and a glow from the neon yellow bird cage at the back.
We were seated right away in a very spacious booth. There were three of us, but we could have easily fit six people. I had creeped on the menu online, but was looking forward to making some selections.
We decided to order two appetizers to share - the buffalo cauliflower "wings" and the nachos with "ground beef." The cauliflower was the first to arrive. Before I tell you anything about it, it's important to know that I think the best vegetarian buffalo dish is the buffalo tofu at Christopher's in Porter Square in Cambridge, MA. That is the dish by which all other veggie buffalo dishes are measured. I have to say, Pet Shop's cauliflower rivals that tofu dish.
Not only was this a generous portion, great for sharing, but the heat from the buffalo sauce was fantastic. It came with a side of dill ranch for dunking and I couldn't get enough. I wanted to slather that dressing on every single piece.
Next up were the nachos, topped with crumbled tofu, refried beans, roasted poblanos, red bell pepper cheese, fresh pico and a giant dollop of sour cream.
All three of us agreed these were absolutely to die for. The tofu was seasoned with that classic taco flavoring (like the Old El Paso packet from my childhood). The tortilla chips were coated in two addicting layers - hot, gooey cheese (almost the consistency of queso dip) and smooth, refried beans. We were so in love with these nachos we weren't even sure we needed our entrees.
For the main event, my friend went with the gyro, which was a pita stuffed with seitan, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, goat cheese and tzatziki.
After a few bites she shared, "At first, if I didn't know this was a vegetarian dish, I never would have guessed it. It has all the exact same flavors as a chicken gyro." She continued, "The pita is soft and chewy, the veggies are super fresh, the seitan has a nice spice to it and the goat cheese was a great surprise (in place of the usual feta)."
Her husband and I each decided to be brave and try the Impossible Burger. If you haven't heard of it, it's a 100 percent plant-based creation, designed to look and taste exactly like meat (you can read more about it here).
He selected the jalapeño cheese burger, which was an Impossible Burger patty, jalapeño buffalo cheese, shredded lettuce, tomato and pickles, all on a potato bun.
After he inhaled the burger, I asked for his opinion. He replied, "I was surprised how meaty the texture of the patty was. I didn't notice that it was (or wasn't) real beef because the kick from the jalapeño was so strong."
I ordered the caramelized onion burger which had the Impossible Burger patty, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and caramelized onions sandwiched between the potato bun. I swear to you, all of those ingredients are hiding under that lettuce skirt.
I was completely freaked out by the Impossible Burger. The texture was so meat-like that after four bites I had to stop. While I love a Morning Star Farms "chicken" nugget as much as the next gal, this was way too close to real meat.
Though I couldn't bring myself to keep eating the burger, the French fries were phenomenal. Thinly cut, crispy and lightly salted.
As our plates were being cleared, we debriefed about the Pet Shop experience. We all loved the appetizers and agreed that is the strongest section of the menu. It was raining on the night we went, but they do have a lovely outdoor patio in the back, which I'd love to sit on next time. They also have a tower of board games you can play for free while hanging out at your table. The only downside to the atmosphere was the super loud, head banging music.
After dinner we meandered over to Bucket and Bay, a small batch gelato shop known for their booze-infused flavors. Though I passed on one of the 21+ options, I did really enjoy my scoop of sea salt caramel.
For those who have been to Jersey City, what other food spots should I add to my list?