A new corner deli and grill has opened in Dumbo with the hopes of bringing classic deli sandwiches to the city’s vegan and vegetarian diners. The new corner market, called Vodega, opened last month at 140 Plymouth Street, at Anchorage Street.
“We have anything that you’d find at a New York bodega, turned vegan,” says owner Jeremy Dean, a Salvadoran-Mexican chef who most recently worked at the Clover Club in Cobble Hill. Only, unlike the more expansive menu at a traditional corner deli, Vodega serves five sandwiches in total, each of which riff on a classic deli order.
Take the restaurant’s version of a Philly cheesesteak, a heaping pile of caramelized onions and mushrooms that achieves a certain meatiness through thinly-sliced seitan. A heftier version of the sandwich, called the Mac Stack, stuffs all of the aforementioned ingredients — along with smoky vegan mac and cheese — into a craggy hero roll.
Several of the restaurant’s sandwiches are made using popular stand-ins for meat, like its chopped cheese, which borrows its heft from Impossible Meat. Others are the result of years of Dean’s “messing around” in the kitchen, trying to adapt bodega greats to a vegan diet. Its Cuban, for example, achieves the flavor of its namesake sandwich through braised jackfruit.
A corner store is only as good as its display window of sides and Vodega has plenty of accompaniments on deck. Spicy heirloom tomato salad, jackfruit ceviche, vegan mac and cheese, and vegetable chili are available as sides for sandwiches, while the deli itself also offers a selection of local produce and snacks.
Vodega’s sandwiches might not pass muster with New York City’s deli purists, but they’re close enough to satisfy many vegans’ cravings for the originals, which is what matters most for Dean, a longtime chef who adopted a vegan diet two years ago. He left behind meat and dairy, he says, at first as a way to lose weight but then realized that there was high demand for vegan versions of popular comfort meaty foods.
The project started as a restaurant that popped-up at food festivals across New York City and Connecticut, with somewhat mixed success. “We weren’t very successful at food events in general, but when we started popping-up at vegan festivals, we found our niche,” Dean says. “Everywhere we go now we have lines all day.”
Amid that soaring popularity, the concept for the restaurant has also received some criticism for its play on the word “bodega”. Reinventions of the bodega rarely end in anything but disaster, and Dean says that several food festival-goers have accused him of culturally appropriating the concept of the corner deli store, which in New York City are mostly owned by people of color and immigrants. Even so, he’s decided to stick with the name Vodega.
“Maybe ‘bodega’ is just the name I’m using for a corner store,” he says. “If you go to my website, you’ll see the reasons for why I’m doing this. It screams bodega.” Dean, who grew up in Texas and is Mexican and Salvadoran, believes his heritage and the time he’s spent with those communities have helped him figure out how to open a corner store respectfully.
Vodega is now open for takeout and delivery daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.