The sign on this handsome newcomer to the New Hope restaurant scene says “Pure Vegetarian.” That’s a bit of misdirection, albeit a forgivable one, because Sprig & Vine’s chef/owner, Ross Olchvary, dishes up 100 percent vegan fare, soup to nuts. This talented 30-year-old is a seven-year veteran of Philadelphia’s esteemed vegan restaurant, Horizons, where he served as sous chef and chef de cuisine.
Olchvary lives in Hamilton. “I was happy to give up the long commute,” he told me in a phone conversation after my anonymous lunch visit, explaining what motivated him to establish his own place. “Plus, almost all chefs dream of having their own restaurant. Demographics show there is a demand in this area for good food for vegans like myself and for vegetarians. And, I’m not a big-city person.” He looked into Princeton but found the rents and real estate too pricey. “I like that New Hope is a walking town, and I enjoy the feeling of community it shares with Lambertville.”
I will be returning soon and often to this 50-seat B.Y.O. for Olchvary’s exciting, stylish fare, and will not hesitate to bring along my most vegetable-averse friends. There is not one dish on Sprig & Vine’s lunch and dinner menus that doesn’t peak my interest or make me admire his moxie. Case in point: serving a Reuben, that beloved, uber-carnivorous deli classic. His vegan version gets all the flavors and textures right, with caraway-crusted tempeh, excellent crunchy pickles, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing on terrific grilled pumpernickel. I virtually wolfed down an oyster mushroom po’ boy — a clever pun of a dish that works surprisingly well. Even its baguette is noteworthy. Olchvary later told me that he gets his breads from Rise, a small Old World-style bakery in Clinton.
‘We’ve had nothing but positive feedback since opening on March 23,” he says. Among the dishes that have proven most popular are an appetizer of fried baby artichokes with smoked paprika aioli and a salad of chickpeas and preserved lemon; an entree featuring seared coconut risotto cakes surrounded by asparagus, oyster mushrooms, snow and snap peas, and red lentils; grilled tofu with Moroccan flavors and carrot-top pesto; and, among the desserts, chocolate mousse pie. Every dish, mind you, absent of meat, fish, eggs, butter, and dairy.
Olchvary grew up in East Brunswick. “I was always interested in the arts. I played drums and loved anything creative,” he says. While at Fairleigh Dickinson University studying graphic design, he started on the path to a vegetarian, and now vegan, diet. “I had no choice but to learn to cook for myself, and that’s when I realized that cooking could be a creative process, that so much creativity can go into cooking vegetables,” says this self-taught chef who worked his way up the ladder at Horizons.
At least half of Sprig & Vine’s customers are not vegetarian, Olchvary says, and estimates that less than 10 percent are vegan. Those who are often live an hour or more from the restaurant. After dining at his place, he says, they tell him that up until now they’ve had to go to Philadelphia or New York to get a meal of this caliber. Other customers are simply looking for a healthy meal out or are foodies who, he says, “like to bring a bottle of wine and try a new restaurant every week. Once here, they see we are a serious restaurant.” Period.
Sprig & Vine, 450 Union Square Drive (in the same center as Triumph Brewing Company), New Hope, PA. 215-693-1427. www.sprigandvine.com.