The Magic of Miss Rachel’s Pantry: The Vegan Dinner I Haven’t Stopped Thinking About for Months
If I’ve seemed at all distracted for the past couple months, that’s because I have been — by mushroom bacon. Mushroom bacon bits, actually. On a Saturday night back in December, I sat down to dinner at the 12-person table at South Philly vegan eatery Miss Rachel’s Pantry, and she served up some vegan scallops — king oyster mushrooms cut about one-inch thick and cooked, magically, in a way that imitated the texture of scallops — topped with mushroom bacon bits. My friend — the kind of person who orders a side of sausage and mac and cheese at Honey’s at 10 in the morning on a Sunday, i.e. someone who wouldn’t rank vegan food as high on her priorities list — exclaimed, and I quote, “This actually tastes just like bacon. ACTUALLY.” I haven’t stopped thinking about that mushroom bacon since.
The mushroom bacon wasn’t the only thing that stuck with me about my experience at Miss Rachel’s Pantry, though. There was so much about the space and the vibe and the food that, regardless of the bazillion Instagram photos I’d seen beforehand, I never would have noticed without actually going. First off, when you step into the tiny space, you instantly feel like you’ve been transported out of a residential block of rowhomes in South Philly into, well, a Pinterest board. Everything — from the tiny milk-jug-like jars used for water to the floral-printed paper straws sitting next to them to the “Hiya, Toots” sign on the wall — makes you feel like you’re in a charming small-town restaurant where all the food, including the pub cheese and the “whitefish” salad sitting in the to-go case, just happens to be vegan. In the roughly 90 minutes I spent there, I’m pretty sure I said “Ermahgod, I love it here” at least 864 times.
When it comes to the vibes of the place, there’s also the fact that you’re dining with 11 other people, most of them probably strangers, if you’ve gone to the spot for one of their six-course, Saturday-night farmhouse table dinners. Now, of course, this could go a few ways: The people you’re sitting with could be terrible dinner companions who only want to talk about the new blinds they just bought (automatic!) and their dog’s allergies, or you could be surrounded by interesting people who you might never meet were it not for the communal table. The communal table blessed us with the latter the night we were there: One guy’s job was to design trail signage — including some of the green signs you see along the SRT! — which I found weirdly fascinating, and the couple sitting next to us were in a long-distance London-to-Philly relationship, and they were celebrating something like their 16th (!!) wedding anniversary. (Rachel, as in Miss Rachel, brought the couple a bouquet of flowers herself somewhere around dessert, because it is just that kind of place.)
When I walked away from dinner, I was left wondering: Who knew non-dysfunctional long-distance relationships and trail-signage designers were a thing? Big ups to the communal table for opening my eyes.
The service was another stand-out feature, with one server taking care of all 12 folks seamlessly, food intolerances to ingredients like soy and gluten handled so gracefully, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. There were a number of gluten-free folks and soy-free eaters at the table, and all of the slightly tweaked meals were delivered to their proper places on the table, course after course, without any awkward “And here’s the gluten-free dessert for you! And the soy-free dessert for you!”
The dinner was six courses, and I loved every single one, with the exception of the cheese course. Vegan cheese just does not do it for me — and I’ve tried plenty of it. But I will say, most people at the table did clear their plates during that course. Items of note were the biscuits when we sat down, a kabocha squash dumpling that came around course four, and the bread pudding at the very end. And of course, the mushroom bacon bits, duh. But telling you about the items that were amazing isn’t of huge service since they change the menu just about every week.
So, why am I telling you about this dinner that I had in Decemeber now — 45 days later? Well, for one, I was still thinking about those mushroom bacon bits nearly two months after I ate them, and I feel like when something stays on your mind that long, it’s only fair to tell other people about it. And because, thanks to the Valentine’s Day hearts plastered all over my next door neighbor’s windows, I realized: Miss Rachel’s Pantry offers some services that would make you seem like the most thoughtful significant other ever, come the next special occasion on your calendar. Along with the weekly BYOB dinners they host on Saturdays ($60 per person for six courses), they have a home meals program, which delivers vegan meals to your door (Best Valentine’s Day or birthday gift ever for the vegan in your life? Probably.), plus you can take private cooking lessons with the chefs, Rachel and Carley. So, you could learn how to make mushroom bacon bits from the masters themselves! (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge, boyfriend.)
If nothing else, a dinner there would make for a lovely date when trying to impress — just note that they recommend booking reservations two weeks to a month out; the 12-person table fills up fast. At this point, you probably won’t be able to snag a seat for Valentine’s Day. But hey, shouldn’t you treat your better half like it’s Valentine’s Day every day, anyway? Okay, I’ll see myself out now.
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