Late this winter, Maine native and celebrity chef Matthew Kenney opened the all-vegan, wood-fired pizzeria OO + Co in New York City’s East Village. Those unfamiliar with the delicious taste of cheese-free pies may be surprised to learn the response has been positive.

Even the “carnivores and dairy lovers” on the blog describe the OO + Co menu as “pretty damn good.” The mozzarella “cheese” is made from cashews, “ricotta” from smoked almonds and “Parmesan” from sunflower seeds. Kenney’s pies come with a variety of gourmet toppings such as romesco, cured olives and pickled chilies or oyster mushrooms, green harissa and lemon-and-walnut cream.

Here in Portland, we’re without an all-vegan pizza joint, but vegan pies can be found on a number of menus. Our local vegan pizza landscape is dominated by classic veggie pies – traditional vegetables with red sauce and maybe vegan cheese.

Leonardo’s, for instance, has offered the Vegan Salvation – made with plum tomatoes, black olives, spinach, mushrooms and vegan cheese – for more than a half-dozen years. At Flatbread, the Vegan – topped with red sauce, caramelized onions, mushrooms and Kalamata olives – has been a menu standard since in 1999. (I always order mine with added spinach and black beans.)

Portland Pie Company doesn’t have a vegan pizza on its menu (it does offer six vegetarian pizzas) but vegan cheese is available in the Build-Your-Own section, making a DIY vegan pizza possible. Swapping in vegan cheese is a menu option for the Caponata Shoe at Slab. Technically an open-faced sandwich, this pizza-like dish is topped with the classic eggplant, tomato, onion, olive and caper ragu.

At Silly’s, the Peppakalaspinavegandocious (Peppakala for short) features tomatoes, Greek olives, roasted red peppers and basil.


Silly’s owner Coleen Kelly likes to change up her menu, and this summer intends to replace the Peppakala with the Bean Me Up Scotty. The other vegan pizza on Silly’s menu is the Sweet Potato of Mine, which has been a permanent fixture since February 2015, when the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named it one the nation’s Best Vegan Pizzas. It’s a white pizza, layered with spinach, roasted garlic, caramelized onions and sweet potatoes; sprinkled with rosemary and toasted almonds; and drizzled with balsamic glaze. That glaze amplifies the sweetness of the bite-sized pieces of sweet potato. I love sweet potato, and this pizza is a personal favorite. I’m not surprised it’s one of two top sellers at Silly’s. (The other, Kelly said, is the vegetarian The Love Goat.)

Since late fall, the vegan pizza at David’s has also been a white pizza called the Shepard’s Pizza Pie. It features braising greens, French lentils, julienned vegetables, cashew ricotta and smashed purple potatoes. “What we’re finding is that people don’t order it because it’s vegan,” chef and owner David Turin said, “but because it’s delicious.”

While Turin’s words may sound self-serving, I’d say after trying this and past vegan pizzas at David’s that he’s only stating the facts. Shepard’s Pizza Pie is hearty and very savory, bumped up by the excellent housemade cashew ricotta and the well-spiced lentils. It’s the kind of vegan dish that’s easy for non-vegans to love.

The pizza reflects Turin’s commitment to expanding the restaurant’s plant-based options, a change prompted by market forces (though Turin eats vegetarian at home).

“It’s a about one-third of our menu at this point,” he said. “It’s not that David’s is known as a haven for vegetarians or vegans, but when people are asking for vegan stuff all the time, you’d be crazy to ignore it.”

Olive Cafe also serves an unusual vegan pizza, likewise added in response to customer demand, chef and owner Rayan Elkhatib said.


After frequent requests for cheese-free pizzas, Elkhatib, who is originally from Beirut, Lebanon, created a white pizza he calls “50 percent Lebanese and 50 percent vegan.”

The Ya Baba starts with a pizza-sized, very thin pita dough cooked until crispy. Elkhatib covers the base with housemade baba ganoush, then piles on the restaurant’s popular fried cauliflower, as well as pickled banana peppers, tomatoes, fresh parsley and tahini and hot sauces. It can be ordered with a salad on top.

I recently discovered this pizza and was instantly smitten with its intense, tangy flavor, which is nicely mellowed by the tahini sauce. The fried cauliflower pairs well with both the crispy pita and the smooth, smoky baba ganoush, while the tomatoes and parsley add a bright note.

“It’s not a traditional dish that you’ll see anywhere,” he said. “My mom is a master chef, and I tell her about this pizza, and it cracks her up.”

The pizza won’t be dropped from the menu anytime soon. “People really love the Ya Baba,” Elkhatib said. “I’ll be in trouble if I mess around with it.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer in Portland. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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