Ask anyone familiar with the veg-friendly eatery scene in DC for restaurant recommendations and they’ll invariably mention two restaurants: Sticky Fingers Bakery (which I reviewed about a month ago) and Woodland’s Vegan Bistro. These two establishments have long reigned over DC’s veg restaurant kingdom, and any DC-area vegan, vegetarian, veg-curious folk, or person who enjoys eating fabulous food should prioritize patronizing both of them—perhaps three times each, if they and I share any commonalities.
As I’ve already introduced you, dear readers, to the delights of Sticky Fingers Bakery, I’ve reserved this post to discuss the delightfully unexpected fusion of comfort and health food known as Woodland’s Vegan Bistro. Formerly named Everlasting Life Café, Woodland’s specializes in 100% plant-based versions of traditional soul food dishes including barbeque seitan ribs, fried “fish” sandwiches, mashed maple sweet potatoes, smoky collard greens, and “the best mac & cheese I’ve ever eaten,” according to Katie, my fellow intern at Compassion Over Killing. While I’d definitely consider some of Woodland’s more novelty items (veggie country fried steak made of fried yuba skins, anyone?) as occasional treats rather than everyday fare, the restaurant also features a wide array of veggie-heavy prepared salads, green juices, wheatgrass shots, and fruit smoothies that more closely parallel my daily eating habits. Needless to say, Woodland’s eclectic blend of vegan noms will astound even the most skeptical of parents who insist upon their adult child’s veganism as a “phase,” as well as health-conscious folk who scoff at the term “too much kale.”
Though I’ve become a die-hard fan of Woodland’s thanks in part to its deeply satisfying fare, the primary reason I ardently support the eatery comes with its success in rendering nourishing, compassionate food accessible to a community most often barred from making such choices. Located in an area of DC populated largely by people of color and low-socioeconomic status, Woodland’s offers a welcome alternative to the fast food joints and liquor stores littering this almost-food desert, providing healthful vegan options at affordable prices. Seeing that about 2.3 million Americans live more than one mile away from a grocery store and do not own a car, that wealthy districts boast three times as many supermarkets as do poor ones, that white neighborhoods contain an average of four times as many supermarkets as do primarily black ones, and that the grocery stores in black communities usually lack an adequate selection of fresh produce, taking action against such atrocities to food access has become absolutely imperative, and Woodland’s has nobly done so. (Stop by the Food Empowerment Project’s website for more information on food justice issues.)
First introduced to Woodland’s by their booth at DC’s annual Capital Pride festival, I immediately fell head-over-heels in love with the restaurant’s sweet kale salad and sticky BBQ soy chick’n drumsticks. This preliminary sampling of Woodland’s cuisine ensured that I would venture to their brick-and-mortar establishment with my parents (now vegans of eight months) during the weekend they visited me in DC. Fast-forward a couple weeks, and my parents and I passed through the warmly hued, welcoming atmosphere of Woodland’s spacious dining room on our way to the eatery’s cafeteria-style food service area. Boasting a hot foods bar, a cold case of prepared salads, a sandwich-ordering station, a dessert display, a juice and smoothie bar, and a soft-serve ice cream machine, Woodland’s ready-to-order selection certainly does not skimp on variety or volume.
My father, the true southern boy he is, positively swooned over the restaurant’s cornbread muffins and tender collard greens, while I struggled to refrain myself from breaking the glass of the cold case and stuffing my face into the dish of sweet kale salad. (You guys. I’m not kidding around. This kale salad=pure magic.) Meanwhile my mother, understandably overwhelmed by Woodland’s tantalizing array, heeded my recommendation of their famous baked mac & cheese.
While undoubtedly scrumptious, the food at Woodland’s comes in hefty portions—one plate can easily provide two meals for a single person, thereby rendering Woodland’s fare even more cost-effective than do their already quite fair prices. So impressed with his meal of comforting favorites that harkened back to his childhood in Arkansas, my father eagerly purchased a pack of three homemade peanut butter cookies to maintain his energy during our full day of trekking around DC—please enjoy the comical picture of him and his beloved cookies below.
I would encourage anyone in the DC area to sample the impressive fare at Woodland’s Vegan Bistro, and to support their endeavors to improve food access in their community. Woodland’s latest project, the Woodland’s Vegan Bistro To-Go food truck, launches TODAY! (Saturday, August 3) at the 2013 Mustock Festival in Lignum, VA, and plans from then on to serve the streets of DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Follow them on Twitter or like them on Facebook.
Until next time, Ali.