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Meatless Eats: Five Vegan Cafes to Try in Charleston

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 35 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Cashew coconut cream-infused vegan tomato soup from the Gathering Place comes with house-made croutons.

No eggs, no cheese, no butter, no seafood, no meat—no problem? Then you’re probably a vegan. Across the country, the lean toward a plant-based diet is a growing trend. Whether chosen as a matter of health, conscience or both, it’s a lifestyle that requires a modicum of research and inquiry to ensure a truly vegan experience when patronizing South Carolina’s restaurants. After all, you’re in the land of barbecue, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and biscuits, which can pose more than a few dining challenges.

But there’s another reason people sit down to a meal devoid of meat, dairy and such: taste. If you are vegan, you get it. If you aren’t, treat yourself to the amazing variety and fresh flavors embodied in plant-based eating. Many vegan restaurant owners not only use locally sourced ingredients, but report a diverse clientele, with herbivores and omnivores finding common ground over chicken-less chicken sandwiches and kale salads washed down with cold-pressed juices.

The menus at South Carolina’s vegan operations shine with fresh flavors. While you’ll be wowed by the creativity that goes into these dishes, the most surprising revelation of all is that you likely won’t feel meat deprived. Vegan chefs are notoriously skilled in cooking up dishes that capture the texture, flavor and look of favorite carnivorous eats as well as crafting plant-based dishes so flavorful and colorful you’ll forget your meat and dairy cravings altogether. You also won’t be shortchanged nutritionally, as a vegan diet can deliver all the protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals you need for prime health.

If you think Charleston is a mere hotbed of shrimp and grits, think again. Restaurants here reflect a kaleidoscope of eating styles and tastes executed with the same dedication you’d expect from our most notable establishments. While known for its historical appeal and traditions, Charleston is a progressive city that caters to modern tastes. Here are five restaurants where the vegan offerings are designed to wow.

Annie O Love’s Sweet Abundance 
What started as a farmers market cookie operation has evolved into a full-blown cafe. Its claim to fame is a menu that is totally vegan and gluten-free. Much attention goes into sourcing ingredients for the delicious foods served at this cafe of sweet abundance. Sandwiches made with fresh, grainy breads and tasty fillings are a crowd favorite as are inventive granolas, savory spreads, waffles and desserts, which include, of course, cookie creations. If a cookie gelato sandwich has your sweet tooth throbbing, this is your place.
Vegan raves: Spicy Avocado Chik’n Sammich, Chik’n and Waffles, Peanut Butter Apocalypse Cheesecake and Jars of Abundance filled with indulgent combos of cake, fruit, nuts, chocolate and more

The Gathering Place 
Healthy and comforting, the food here is worth gathering around. With a menu that reflects seasonal ingredients, this cafe in West Ashley is a showcase for local flavor with a number of inspired dishes crafted with plant-based sensibility. It has a faithful following that is growing with every bite. There’s artistry on the menu, so stop in for a breakfast, lunch or dinner that suits your vegan desires.
Vegan raves: Tomato soup, chipotle tofu, beet salad, panang curry

Gnome Café 
This whimsical cafe is home to plant-based cuisine that is healthy, hearty and flavorful. Salads, sandwiches, and desserts populate the menu. Get breakfast all day, too. Think bagel sandwiches, breakfast burritos, pancakes, grits bowls and more. And don’t forget about the house specialty. Coffee, drip, espresso, cappuccino and other favorites, plus a line of plant-based milks, ensure you can start the day with your favorite concoction.
Vegan raves: Hemp sausage biscuit with pepper jelly, cinnamon pancakes, mushroom BLT, pad thai salad

Neon Tiger 
Established by John Adamson (restauranteur and activist) and chef/activist Doug McNish (Vegan Everyday), you can bet you’re going to get some of the most inspired vegan dishes around. Part cocktail bar, part restaurant, Neon Tiger has vegan- and health-conscious vibes that manage to be sophisticated and inviting for one and all. The menu reflects a focus on organic, natural, local ingredients for drinks and small plates, alike. Go for a bite to eat, cocktails with friends or both.
Vegan raves: Trumpet mushroom calamari, lentil ragout, barbecue jackfruit pizza, turmeric mule, cosmos

Sorghum and Salt 
Fresh seafood is a draw at this Charleston fave, but the vegan dishes have garnered plenty of admirers, too. The seasonal, rotating menu of small plates has a dedicated vegan component filled with dishes bursting with local goodness. Ingredients like Carolina Gold rice, local butterbeans and, aptly, sorghum, deliver Lowcountry flair and demonstrate a commitment to showcasing the best of South Carolina. For a memorable treat, gather your vegan friends to enjoy a chef’s tasting menu.
Vegan rave examples: Charred acorn squash with Carolina Gold rice, persimmon jam and pickled peppers, butterbean panzanella, coffee-roasted carrots with winter squash vinaigrette, jalapeño and granola

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 35 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.