Exploring Vegan, From Trend to Lifestyle
Three diverse restaurants will inspire foraging into the vegan world
Story and Photos by Daria Amato
I am writing this story out of my love affair with sublime food and my excitement at exploring not just one but three diverse vegan restaurants in Wilmington. It is my desire to entice you to try an array of vegan dishes, a swap in meal selection that will have you looking years younger, having tons of energy, feeling great, and enjoying many health benefits. Be ready to be seduced into a world of delicious food.
The Merriam-Websters description of “vegan” is a strict vegetarian who consumes no food such as meat, eggs or dairy products that comes from animals. My own description of vegan is much broader and more exciting than that. A vegan lifestyle provides you with rich beneficial nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds such as potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamins A, C, and E. In scientific studies by Dr. Dean Ornish (ornish.com) and Dr. Michael Greger (nutritionfacts.org), to name only a few, going vegan has been shown to shed excess weight, lower blood sugar levels and improve kidney function not to mention lower the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and blood pressure, arthritis pain and may even protect against certain cancers! And if that isn't convincing enough, I suggest you do it for the taste and color palette. Oh my, the taste of a well-prepared vegan dish is like a symphony of complexity and textures in your mouth such as creamy, crisp, crunchy, light, thick, rich, juicy, strong, sweet, and exploding with flavor. As I write this my mouth waters at the parade of plant-based dishes that dances through my mind.
Vegan-style dishes are for everyone, regardless of your culture, upbringing, where you live and even your taste preferences. You can go vegan for all your meals and snacks or just dip a few toes in every once in a while. Either way you will experience mouthwatering recipes that can be found in books and on the web that will have you preparing gourmet style foods at a fraction of the cost and time, creating vibrant health for you and your family. To get you inspired to forage into the vegan world, may I suggest you visit one of these outstanding vegan restaurants to explore an array of rainbow-colored offerings and gastronomic delights.
The Green House
1427 Military Cutoff Rd. • Wilmington
When you walk into The Green House the smells tickle the nose and excites the tongue as the eye revels in the meditative white-on-white, simple and very elegant decor. You might be greeted by either one of the owners, Anastasia Worrell and Laura Bay Tiblier. Tiblier (owner of Ceviche) and Worrell (owner of Slice of Life) are vegan restauranteurs and are passion-driven in their vision. They chose Wilmington as the destination for The Green House to fill a gap in inclusive fine dining where everyone can eat vegan, since not everyone can eat meat or dairy; and everyone can have a zero-proof cocktail, when not everyone is up for alcoholic beverages. Their plan is for the food and drink menus to have a plethora of options for both people with and without limitations. The locals of Wilmington can attest to delectable fine dining offerings and health-conscious meals. Executive Chef Chelsea Tull Moran’s favorite comfort food dish for the moment is a Root Vegetable Poutine made with assorted tubers, cauliflower mornay, savory gravy, and an aged almond cheese.
Worrell’s journey into veganism began over 10 years ago with the birth of her daughter. As a new mom she wanted to give her the best start she could and researched the healthiest ways to eat. She began by cutting out dairy and, influenced through yoga and teachings in compassion, she eventually made the decision to quit meat and seafood. To get Worrell’s husband on board with all the drastic dietary changes they watched numerous documentaries about the environmental impact of conventional farming (mostly meat and dairy industries). Today she can confidently say that the three main reasons for her being vegan are health, animal welfare and environmental concerns, and each carry equal weight.
Tiblier laughs as she begins her story, "Long ago in a faraway land, I climbed trees and ate food that grew on my family’s land…" The truth is that it began when she became acutely aware of food ingredients, nutrition, and food allergies. She discovered her oldest daughter had food allergies some 24 years ago. It made her pay attention and study animal agriculture, the final straw being what she learned about the pork industry. She explains, "This really brought it home for me since there is one of the world’s largest operations so close to Wilmington and the grave impact this industry has on the land and the animals themselves.” It was a slow progression, dropping one meat at a time, fish being the last. She feels that the purity of ingredients and how food is grown with minimal intervention and close to home is not only important but essential to sustain humanity and tread light on the planet. The culmination for both these women is the birth and full expression of The Green House's repertoire, offering healthy, beautiful food grown sustainably close to home.
Sealevel City Vegan Diner
1015 S. Kerr Ave., Unit A • Wilmington
I arrived at Sealevel City Vegan Diner and was greeted with a big smile and bigger cookie from resident baker Cherry Gibbs. I felt immediately at home with the casual vibe and friendliness of all the staff with booth, counter and pillowed floor seating options, and I knew I was in for a good time. Owners Scott Key and Kelsey Gibbs’ mission is easy. They just want to make a difference in the world for the better, offering familiar foods without using animals or their byproducts. Both passionately voice: "We want vegan options to be welcomed and accepted by more people so we can start to rethink and repair what we’ve come to consider normal and healthy for our bodies, our home, and the other species that share this planet with us.”
Gibbs ventures to guess “that only about 30% or less of our customers are vegan, the rest just enjoy good food especially our most popular menu item The Lentil Burger. She finds Wilmington holds a wide variety of people interested in plant-based meals for many reasons. From cardiac patients coming from the Dr. Dean Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Program (presently covered by Medicare) to environmental rights activists concerned about the damaging practices of factory farming and CAFOS, concentrated animal feeding operations.
The original Sealevel City Gourmet was both Key & Gibbs’ favorite restaurant where they had many vegan options, and they dined there every week for five years, including all birthdays and some holidays. The business came up for sale and they decided as a family, to make a life change. They renamed it Sealevel City Vegan Diner. Kelsey's mom Cherry moved down from Chapel Hill to help them both renovate, open, and run it. Cherry’s commitment runs deep with her recent enrollment in culinary school.
Gibbs foray into veganism began roughly 10 years ago. Interestingly it began with the declining health and the partial paralyzation of her dog. She felt in her gut it could be related to the food she was feeding him. In her pursuit to heal Bruno she found The Wellspring Holistic Veterinary Care where Dr. Kerr promptly told her that Bruno was overweight and to start making his food at home. She followed his instructions and her Dachshund lost five pounds and completely regained the use of his hind legs, and in two weeks was hopping around like a puppy! This was not a vegan diet but seeing the difference the food made in his tiny body was enough for her to overhaul her own eating habits as well. Kelsey explains, "I devoured all the food documentaries I could and, within a year, went from a proud meat lover to a staunch vegan and at the same time I began to see my disconnect between loving my dog while eating other species. My relationship with my dog is not what gives his life value. After that personal realization, I was 100% vegan for the animals.”
Both Key and Gibbs enjoy veganizing familiar childhood dishes like mac-and-cheese and ice cream. Meals that inspire people to eat more vegan meals are their favorite dishes. Simple swaps can empower others in the kitchen to make veggies the star. Both are also passionate about raw vegan meals that help individuals reverse and cure diseases from the inside out. Gibbs offers a few in-house secrets where you can make “cheese” out of carrots and potatoes and taco meat out of walnuts at home. Some of her favorite food bloggers include Vegan Richa, Minimalist Baker, and Fully Raw Kristina.
Panacea Brewing Company
4107 Oleander Dr., Suite H • Wilmington
Panacea Brewing Company is a spectacular art-filled space with plumes of daylight filtering in. Owners Artie and Robin Hill want customers to know that, first and foremost, Panacea is a brewery. Over time with a devoted cult-like following they knew their growth required a bigger taproom, and in the struggle to find the kind of real estate within their budget, they discovered a sweet little restaurant with a bar in need of a facelift, and decided to go ahead and dive into the restaurant business while expanding their taproom.
Robin divulges, “We became interested in a plant-based diet after opening the kombucha brewery. We were working long hours and on the road a lot and found it really hard to eat balanced meals. Our desire to eat more plant-based meals while juggling our busy schedules as entrepreneurs and parents was actually a big part of the reason we chose to make Panacea's menu completely vegan. We had struggled finding options while out, and our children were balking at our attempts at making vegan meals at home, so creating a completely vegan menu at Panacea was our solution to our desire to eat a plant-based diet.”
They also saw a need in the community as so many of their kombucha customers were vegan, and they had heard them asking for years for more options locally. As the Wilmington area's only kombucha brewery, they were already comfortable operating in a niche business space.
Artie's favorite food on the menu is the Riblet Hoagie. It's a nostalgic throwback to his childhood favorite, the McRib sandwich, made with Impossible “meat” slathered with sweet chipotle BBQ sauce. Robin loves the soup of the day, every day! With a never-ending supply of fresh veggie stock, the chefs can get really creative.
Wilmington has been the couple’s home for almost 20 years. They love the community here, and praise it as one that really appreciates and supports small businesses. For example, the Hills are thankful for their ability to utilize a community resource like the Small Business and Technology Development Center at UNCW. And, drumroll, due to the unwavering support of their Wilmington following they are expanding Panacea’s brewery operations in 2022. Artie proudly asserts, "We're more than doubling our brewing capacity and getting our new canning line rolling with both hard kombucha and nonalcoholic kombucha cans for both retail and wholesale. The Hill’s generously offer up the recipe for one of their heavenly drinks.
1.5 ounces Dr. Stoners Vodka
6 ounces Panacea Hemp Kombucha
.5-ounce Hibiscus Simple Syrup
Serve over ice in 8-ounce glass
Garnish with hemp leaf, viola flower, or lime wedge
Robin shares a last bit of wisdom: “Everyone can benefit from eating more plant-based meals. If you're afraid to make a huge commitment like going vegan, make a small adjustment instead, and see how easily you can incorporate a few vegan products in your diet. Once you make that adjustment, it's easier to make a more substantial commitment with your next choice.”
I am in full agreement! Grab your family or friends or both and plan to visit each of these delightful establishments to have fun and explore! You will not be disappointed.