Those in search of a health-conscious spot for red sauce-soaked meatballs, decadent pastas, elegant cheese boards, and zero-proof cocktails are in luck this new year. DC Vegan, which opened in 2021 as a second-floor deli on the corner of 17th and P Streets NW, just transformed its subterranean cocktail lair into a full-service dining room.
DC Vegan founders and couple Leah Curran Moon and Michael Jantz Moon started out in 2015 with a vegan catering business out of Union Kitchen. And now, drawing from their Italian-influenced upbringings in the Midwest, their meatless dinner menu for Dupont diners reads like a modern red-sauce joint.
“When we stopped eating animals, we didn’t want to give up our culture and the traditional foods we grew up with,” says Curran Moon. “We updated my Italian grandmother’s recipes, maintaining the flavors and textures, while making them vegan.”
When quaffers at the bar below began asking for bigger dishes with their drinks, Curran Moon jumped at the opportunity to expand from deli delights to dinner.
‘We thought it would be a casual bar, but we ended up making the place look really pretty, and customers wanted a more elevated, sit-down experience with the cocktails,” says Curran Moon.
The duo developed a menu full of entrees like a chianti-braised jackfruit over polenta cakes that they crafted for Christmas dinner during the pandemic.
“It evokes a homey, country dish,” says Curran Moon.
Jantz Moon is a fan of the piccata, which is typically chicken. It’s served with creamy, buttery whipped potatoes.
Pastas include a cashew-based cacio e pepe, classic lasagna, and a pecan-dusted tofu cutlet marsala. Starters like cauliflower wings, king trumpet mushroom calamari, and bacon bit-topped potato skins round out the menu.
“There are other fast-casual vegan spaces, as well as fine-dining vegan. But there are very few full-service elevated-casual places. It’s relaxed, a middle ground,” says Curran Moon.
Colorful cocktails and mocktails continue to loop in earthy ingredients like smoked paprika and pressed chlorophyll or aloe vera water. Homemade limoncello gets topped with basil oil droplets, while sour-style drinks swap out traditional egg white foam in favor of aquafaba (chickpea liquid).
What also makes the restaurant unique: a daily cheese board from the new upstairs cheese shop. Since launching last fall, “customers are already coming in and buying fistfuls. The UPS guys ask us, what’s with all the cheese?” Curran Moon says.
The cheese selection—more than two dozen options and growing—are “cave-aged, made by artisanal makers from around the country in small batches,” she says. Curran Moon spent months researching dairy-free delicacies from coast to coast.
“I investigated other vegan cheese shops in New York and Portland [to] see where they source and how they curate, tasted 100 cheeses through summer to see flavor profiles of cheeses and edited,” she says. “A world away from old-school Daiya.”
Two favorites on board: Barn Cat, a blue-like cheese with black ash, and the brie-like Maverick. Both are made by Philadelphia-based producer Bandit. The rotating daily cheese plate, served with charcuterie and other accoutrements, is a “fun way to engage and explore the cheeses,” says Curran Moon.
Expansion-minded DC Vegan is now an all-day venture, with future components coming soon. The upstairs deli will soon include a host of additional sundries, baked goods, merchandise, gift baskets, and kitchenware products. Later in 2023, look for the addition of breakfast, lunch, and D.C.’s ever-popular brunch service.
“It’s a mini vegan Eataly,” jokes Curran Moon.