Good Eats: John's of 12th Street

"Do you use the internet? Facebook, Twitter? Tell your friends about us," urged Mike, a tall, roundish man in a pastel pink shirt that hinted at his jovial disposition. Not that Mike, co-owner of John's of 12th Street, had to twist my arm in order for me to talk up his restaurant.

John's of 12th Street, or simply John's as it's called by loyal customers, is the 10th oldest continuously operating restaurant in New York City. Founded in 1908, the Southern Italian menu (read: eggplant rollatini, spaghetti and meatballs, et al.) has managed to stay relevant and perhaps even progress ahead of the times by offering a complete vegan Italian menu in addition to the classic fare.

Basically, every restaurant should be as smart as this one. My carnivorous husband can order Baked Lasagna with meat sauce while I order Seitan alla Rosa? (Seitan is a meat substitute made of wheat gluten. This was smothered in artichokes, peppers and mushrooms with Marsala wine sauce. Get on that.)
Suddenly every debate on where to have dinner and what type of dinner we were going to have (healthy vs. comfort vs. veggie vs. meat) seems ridiculous. John's has the best of every world and brings it to you with a smile.

I was nearly reduced to tears by the service alone. In true old-school Italian fashion--old habits die hard--every waiter was a young, pleasant, attractive man. Zero complaints about that, although my husband asked me why I was smiling so much. Tables had linens, waitstaff used crumbers, no one was rushed and music volume was kept in check.

I'm not sure if the Pinot Noir was starting to overthrow my good judgement, but I was so enthralled at discovering this gem that I nearly passed over the dessert menu. Then I saw one word: Lulu's.

Lulu's Sweet Apothecary is just about the best vegan ice cream you'll find. It doesn't matter that it's missing cow's milk, eggs, and sugar. It swiftly kicks 'normal' ice cream to the curb. I opted for two scoops of cookies n' cream. I got three. I said we'd share it and asked for two spoons. I shared nothing.

John's of 12th Street does something that is increasingly hard to do in New York dining: it bridges classic and modern menus without sacrificing personal style. Finding a vegan meal in a restaurant that doesn't channel Woodstock and Janis Joplin is rare. Eating it in a refined, familial environment is special. Giving customers healthier options without abandoning your culinary point of view (i.e.: veggie burgers and other random vegetarian dishes) is an accomplishment.

Grazie, John's. Now go check it out!

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