Dinner With … Mike Jackson
BY JUSTIN PAHL
Mike Jackson is the head chef at Blue Sage, a vegetarian gem in lower Bucks County. On February 2nd, he’s scheduled to make his Philadelphia debut with another vegetarian restaurant, Thoreau, and sticks to his same philosophy that vegetarian food doesn’t have to be all about fake meats. We caught up with Mike to learn a little more about why there’s no tofu on his menu, his secret garden, and even a few of his favorite dishes.
On Philly’s vegetarian scene: “There aren’t many strictly vegetarian places, but so many other restaurants have wonderful dishes. The tofu dim sum at Chifa. The grilled cheese and tomato soup at Jones. The blue cornbread at El Vez. Even though Philly doesn’t have a glut of purely vegetarian restaurants, it’s an amazing scene.”
On how the restaurant came together: “It was kind of accidental. Our neighbor [in Southampton, where Blue Sage is], Tom Fetterman, owns this space in Philly, and he wanted to open a restaurant there, one that would use the beautiful garden. When my wife and I met him, things just fell into place.”
On his aversion to tofu: “It’s only an aversion on the menu. I eat tofu, and I like it quite a bit. I wanted to stand the idea of vegetarian food on its head. There are so many possibilities for dishes without tofu! There are so many raw products to play with.”
On the name Thoreau: “I’ve loved the name Thoreau for quite a while, and always thought it would be a great name for a restaurant, but I don’t want people to read too much into it. My philosophy on owning a restaurant has always been ‘Don’t make the night about your food, or your atmosphere, just allow people to let their lives happen’ — whether that be two people falling in love, or a grandfather seeing his grandkids for the first time in a while. We simply give them a meeting place.”
On the dining room: “It’s cozy but not claustrophobic. We have 38 seats indoors, and when the weather warms up, we’ll have about 30 to 40 more outdoors in the garden. It’s an 1870s building, and we want to keep the original spirit of the architecture intact.”
On the menu: “Initially we’re going to have about 15 favorites from Blue Sage, plus three or four new dishes. Obviously, as we get more settled, we’ll add more new dishes. I tend to be very impulsive with my dishes; I worry about taste first, and whether the dish is intriguing second. I don’t want people to have to ponder whether they enjoyed a dish because it was groundbreaking and trendy, I want them to know that they like it because it’s delicious.”
On his favorite dish in Philly: “I have two, actually. The milk chocolate tart at Buddakan, and the bread they give you to eat at Chifa. It’s made from Yucca flower, which is a Mexican influence, and served with Chinese hot mustard. They aren’t glamorous, but these are the dishes I dream of.”
Photographs by Paul M. Kaczmarczik.