Food Chat: Vgë Café

By Hannah Lee

Vegetarians, vegans, and diners on a budget can cheer for the opening of Vgë (pronounced vee-gee) Café in Bryn Mawr in late April.  People like me who like stories of second-chances can hope for the best for owner Fernando Peralta, a Brazilian who’d spent 17 years in finance when he decided to switch directions.  He went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh and, although he has been a vegetarian for seven years, he studied, prepared, and tasted the meat according to the curriculum.  Later, he did an externship in Akron, OH, at a Mediterranean-Italian vegetarian restaurant owned by Chrissie Hynde from the band The Pretenders.

Why did he choose this location?  Peralta said the college-aged population and health-conscious residents in the area seemed like a great fit for his concept.  He said he’d traveled through most of the Northeast to do research and find a suitable spot for his restaurant.  “This area seemed like a phenomenal location,” Peralta said. “In the beginning, I was envisioning more sophisticated fine dining, but in this economy people can’t afford it.”

Peralta said that he and his friends have been frustrated by the shortage of affordable, fresh, and healthy choices for a casual meal.  Being vegetarians didn’t make it any easier.  “While some chains are making a true effort to bring healthier choices to their menus, the vast majority of quick-service options are based on empty carbohydrates (refined grains), bad fats, canned vegetables, and frozen or fried, highly processed foods,” said Peralta.  “Not to mention the excess sodium and high-fructose corn syrup, found in virtually every processed food in this industry.”

So, the new café offers whole grains instead of refined ones; baked foods instead of deep fried; natural sweeteners like applesauce or agave instead of refined sugars; dark leafy greens (richer in anti-oxidants than pale lettuces such as iceberg), and no canned vegetables.  The menu is animal-free and dairy-free, so the food has zero cholesterol.  They also eschew the use of saturated and hydrogenated fats.  Every item on the menu has less than 500 calories.

Peralta is developing a relationship with the local farmers to reduce his carbon footprint.  Items which are not available locally year-round, sometimes he buys frozen.  He said, “there are many studies indicating that quick-freezing vegetables will retain more nutrients and vitamins than transporting them at room temperature, when vitamins are more susceptible to oxidizing.”  Peralta cooks the food on location, from scratch, from fresh ingredients, so he can control what goes into every item he sells.

Peralta has chosen for his café energy-efficient lighting and appliances, recyclable and compostable cups, packaging, bags and utensils. He is in the process getting the “green” certification from the Green Restaurant Association.

Vgë Café, located at 845 Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, is open Mondays- Thursdays from 11:30 am to 8:30 pm and Fridays-Saturdays from 11:30 am to 9:30 pm.  Catering available.

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