This list was composed in the spring of 2019, and while there are some updates throughout, I’ll check back in with more accurate updates once everyone finds their post-COVID footing.
This isn’t a back-handed insult about the jersey shore. I would never! The shore has set the scene for wonderful memories since my childhood, as it does for thousands of visitors each year. Most people probably even include the food as a highlight. I just haven’t yet found a vegan among that group.
In fact, one of my “top 10” comical restaurant ordering experiences (every veteran vegan has one) happened at the shore about 15 years ago when my “pasta with marinara” was served with beef because apparently I was supposed to ask for the “meatless marinara.”
In fairness to the shore spots, the restaurant biz is hard enough. Running a seasonal restaurant has got to be even harder. Factoring in specific dietary concerns on top of that is an extra headache that – up until the past decade – might not have yielded a ROI for owners to consider.
But Ladies and Gents! The south jersey v-game has changed! Actually, it’s been creeping along steadily since those days of yore when a vegan’s week at the beach consisted of alternating between baked potatoes and fried potatoes or asparagus and corn-on-the-cob. (Or if you were feeling lucky – pasta with marinara!)
But now, it’s actually close to being a contender. Its not quite there yet, but I feel an upgrade to the status coming in the next year or two. In my never-to-be-humble caloric opinion, you don’t break into the top echelon until you’ve landed a plant-based ice cream shop or bakery in your zip code. And that doesn’t seem that far-fetched of a concept for this little piece of the coast at this point.
Aside from the fact that dietary habits are evolving in general, another possible driver for this transpiration could be the rejuvenation of Atlantic City. Not that it ever went anywhere, but it’s steadily redeveloping, the somewhat newly opened Hard Rock is bringing in good entertainment, and Stockton college recently added a campus there. It’s no wonder the vegan scene is ascending; competing for out-of-towners and college students to hang in your burg means that your dangling carrots need to come with, at the very least, a side of dairy-free ranch.
So, if you’re a vegan and unsure which stretch of sand should get your chair this summer, you won’t go wrong by thinking of Atlantic City as the bulls-eye. If you aren’t the casino type, no worries, the straddling beaches (Brigantine to the north and Ventnor & Margate to the south) offer a slightly lower-key experience, yet with quick access to their entertainment-driven big brother for dinner. And collectively aren’t too shabby for plant-based fare themselves.
Even more ammo: AC is hosting a 3-day vegan festival right on the boardwalk in July 2020!
Alrighty, now that we’ve established your general area, here are some tips on where to grab the grub:
As excited as one can get about a grocery store, I’m near the top when it comes to the transformation of the area’s Acmes. Gone are the days when you had to load a cooler of plant-based staples from home because you couldn’t count on finding anything there.
But it’s a new day! You’ll now find all the basics – and then some (I’m looking at you multiple varieties of ice cream selections) – at the Acme. Also, if you’re coming in on the Parkway or AC Expressway, I recommend hitting Bonterra Market in Egg Harbor Township. It’s small but mighty when it comes to plant-based grocery selections.
Located in the middle of Caesars, Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill seems to want to understate its vegan prowess. The menu denotes items only as “vegetarian” but some are actually vegan. Case in point, the “Impossible Burger” claims to be vegetarian (even though we all know Impossible is vegan) so I assumed the garlic aoli and/or bread had dairy, but it was all indeed vegan. There are a few instances like this on the menu so check with the server on anything in question.
VeraCruz in Harrah’s. Here you can choose from roasted vegetable tacos, paella, glammed up guacamole & chips, rice & beans, and my very favorite – sweet plantains. And you can do it all while overlooking the bay.
Also in Harrah’s is AC Burger Co. The online menu is sparse and gives no hint of vegan-friendly, but in person you’ll find a vegan black bean & quinoa burger.
While the vegan choices aren’t vast or unique (brussels sprouts app & caulifower steak entree) the food is good and the ocean view is hard to beat at the Chelsea Five GastroPub in the Tropicana. Reserve late-ish on a Saturday in the summer and your meal comes with a side of fireworks over the ocean.
The Iron Room. ***Update : this takes home the biggest head-scratcher of 2020 dining switcharoos. They’ve since moved locations and seem to be taking their menu through a transition as well. So can’t vouch for any of what I wrote below. Same chef though, so I’m optimistic it’ll be just as good. I’ll report back ASAP.***
Of all the AC haunts I’m most excited to see where this one goes. It’s an unassuming building sans the touristy vibe, but the focus is on fresh food tailored to your preferences. The chef has veganized dishes for me on the spot, and to my delight, the non-menu special happened to be fried sunchokes. Which happened to be vegan. Which happened to be damn good.
For a casual, somewhat off-the-beaten path, watch the game, grab a beer, go with a group, sit outside if you want veggie burger lunch or dinner, stop at the Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House. The burger is homemade and vegan, but unfortunately it’s served on a brioche bun with ranch slaw so I always ask for it in a wrap sans the slaw. But the real reason I make the Vagabond a habit is the kickass french fries!
Chances are you won’t feel good about yourself in the morning, but a loaded pizza from Tony Baloneys is so worth it. Not including the endless “make your own” options, the menu boasts close to 20 vegan pizzas, pastas, subs, burritos & salads. ***Update: Unfortunately the latest menu has slipped in comparison to the last. While you can still customize items, it’s a steeper challenge to find the 20 choices I noted above. Hopefully they’ll see the light again and bring back “The King” pizza!”***
If you’re staying just south of AC:
The Enlightened Cafe in Ventnor will have your back for breakfast (apple pancakes, smoothies & oatmeal ) or lunch (bowls & salads) with menu items that are vegan or with a little tweaking, can be.
Greens & Grains in Margate. I mostly frequent their Galloway location on my way home from the beach, but all their locations are 100% plant-based. It’s a good spot for casual lunch or breakfast on the go.
If you’re staying just north of AC:
Brigantine Bistro has a separate, albeit small, vegan menu including pancakes, mango fruit bowl, quesadillas, black bean burger, veggie BLT & empanadas.
I’ve surely been to Andre’s Wine Bar & Grill more than any other joint listed here. Nothing is spelled out as vegan, but there are several items you can easily make so. I’ve made plenty of dinners out of some combination of the sauteed spinach, grilled antipasto, & artichoke apps. Hint: the veggie sub is quite filling but is only offered on the lunch menu or all day on the take-out menu.
Soulberri is one of the most popular seasonal spots on the island, and they are because they’re the first to capitalize on the droves of vacationers who crave healthy & light food. About half their menu of smoothies, acai bowls, & nice cream (all to-go) are vegan.
There are growing vegan options all along the southern shores down to Cape May! The AC area just provides the largest concentration of them. If you’re staying farther south you’ll still be fine. Plus, you can always make a pit stop in AC on your way down the Parkway!
I can’t attest to the North Jersey shore towns but I’ve heard you guys have got some good stuff up there. I welcome suggestions on where to start my tour!