Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week is returning for its second nearly month-long stint in March. More than 40 participating vegan and omnivorous restaurants will be offering special plant-based drinks, desserts and main courses.
The promotion kicks off Friday, March 4, and runs through March 27.
It began in 2017 as a joint effort between Hampden’s Golden West Café—which has a number of vegetarian and vegan options on its menu—and The Land of Kush, a vegan soul food bistro serving Baltimore for 11 years.
This event is the 10th semiannual restaurant week (running winter and summer) from the Maryland Vegan Eats initiative but only the second time it’s been extended to nearly a month.
“A week would go by and then people would say they didn’t get to reach a lot of restaurants, so we would extend it another week,” says Naijha Wright-Brown, executive director of Black Veg Society—fiscal sponsor of the event—and co-owner of The Land of Kush.
Because it’s not like a traditional restaurant week with prix fixe menus, more people are driven to try as many restaurants as they can, she says.
“We’ve heard folks talk about clearing out their credit cards because they want to use that card for the month of dining,” Wright-Brown adds.
The popularity of the event stems in part from a demand for more vegan and vegetarian options—a trend that goes beyond Maryland.
“You got KFC adding Beyond Chicken to their menu,” Wright-Brown says.
People who do not identify as vegan are incorporating vegan foods to their diets. It’s not just about animal rights anymore, she says. They might do it for environmental reasons, health reasons, allergies or religion.
A few summers ago, a Facebook advertising poll showed 27% of people in Baltimore were looking for vegan and vegetarian foods, she notes.
Restaurant week was devised to bring more of these options and support local restaurants. Menus offer plant-based items, meaning no animal products, or vegan substitutes for meat or dairy are used.
It’s a great challenge for chefs to do something creative and gourmet, Wright-Brown says, noting they actually have more options than they would with meat.
“You have so many grains. You have vegetables, you have fruits, you have nuts, seeds,” she says.
And whether you are vegan, want to try vegan food or want to eat with your friends, there are restaurants in the promotion that have a little bit of everything.
“Because all my friends aren’t vegan,” Wright-Brown says. She adds, “There are families where there might be one or two vegans in the family,” and instead of them having to order a side salad or feel awkward asking for substitutes, they will have some choices.
The goal is to have restaurateurs who might think there’s no market for vegan food or that it’s too difficult to provide find an item people really enjoy and consider keeping it on their menus.
Miss Shirleys has been doing vegan restaurant week since its beginning and has a whole separate vegan menu now, Wright-Brown says.
A map on mdveganeats.com shows where participating restaurants are located.
Wright-Brown shared a few of her favorites, including Fire and Rice, a Lauraville restaurant with really good vegan sushi; the breakfast menu at Friends and Family in Fells Point and Dodah’s Kitchen, located in Baltimore and Mt. Rainier for its General Tso’s cauliflower dish.
“When we started this up, we were the only one in the country,” Wright-Brown says. On an initial search for events, they found only Veganuary in the U.K.
Now there are similar events in locations including Philadelphia, Colorado Springs and South Florida.
Restaurant week guests can vote on their favorite beverage, dish and dessert and take a survey to be entered into a raffle of gift cards from a few participating restaurants. The restaurants with the winning items will receive a small cash prize.
Last year’s survey showed 81% of guests said eating vegan was not as difficult as they thought it would be and they would consider adding more plant-based or vegan options into their diets.
For a full list of participating restaurants this March, visit the Maryland Vegan Eats website.