When vegetable-centric restaurant Vedge began garnering national acclaim, owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby noticed that nearly every non-local article began by noting how Philly was a cheesesteak town. Funny thing was, Jacoby noted, although Vedge is a fine-dining establishment, she had in fact perfected a plant-based take on the city’s signature sandwich back when the couple ran Horizons Cafe just off South Street.
“Well,” Landau remembered thinking, “if they want cheesesteaks, let’s give them fucking cheesesteaks.”
He meant a vegan version, of course. The idea took root and began to grow, especially when the duo realized they wanted in on the fast casual boom. “We didn’t want to do a salad bar,” Jacoby explained. “We’re both born and raised in Philly — let’s do something with really great sandwiches.”
The concept that resulted, Wiz Kid, will finally open this weekend at 124 S. 19th St. in Rittenhouse.
If the name sounds familiar, yes, there is a mini Wiz Kid stand already operating inside the Callowhill Whole Foods. But per Landau, it’s not fully representative of the brand. The market uses different vendors, he explained, plus the menu there is limited.
Not that the menu at the standalone outpost is huge, by any stretch. But it does have several more items — ones good enough that they threaten to overshadow the WK Philly, the seitan cheesesteak with rutabaga “wiz” that’s been the spot’s best-seller so far. Wiz Kid’s menu (see below for details) is still more concise, for example, than the one at HipCityVeg, the vegan fast-food joint that’s probably its closest sibling (and on which Landau was an initial consultant).
“We wanted it to be simple,” Jacoby said. “A small, chef-driven menu that just offers the best, most delicious lunch ever.”
Also tasty are the prices — nothing on the list tops $10, and you can get in and out with a full meal, including side and a drink, for around $15. Order at the counter and sit at one of 17 seats or take your eco-friendly-packaged food to go.
Bonus: There’s booze to go along. Wiz Kid is located right next door to V Street, the pair’s vegan snack bar, so by punching through the dividing wall, they were able to extend the liquor license to also cover the new place. Beer and wine are on tap, along with a selection of cocktails. And where nonalcoholic drinks are poured in branded plastic cups, all liquor will be served in actual glassware.
If you do dine in, there’s a fun vibe to go along with your glass of brew and KFT (Korean Fried Tempeh).
The white-washed interior sports a giant mural designed by street artist Ntel. He asked the couple to describe their various inspirations for Wiz Kid, and then translated them into in a colorful streetscape montage painted directly on the bricks. Take note of the boxer at center — it’s an image of Philly fighter John Ketchell, Jacoby’s grandfather.
You also can’t miss the bright red stripe Ntel painted across nearly every surface in the joint, from the walls to the ceiling and back again.
“I asked him to do something that would lead people back [to the order counter],” Jacoby said. “I thought it would just be a simple arrow, but this is great.”
Official launch date is Monday, Aug. 7, kicking off regular hours of 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, but the doors will be open this Friday and Saturday for those who want an early taste. Here’s some of what to look forward to when you go.
What’s the city’s other famous hot sandwich? This take on the roast pork swaps out sauteed trumpet mushrooms for the meat. Tangled with bitter, crunchy broccoli rabe and long hots over charred onion mayo, they make a combo just as satisfying as something from DiNic’s ($9).
The WK Philly is where it all started. Grilled mushrooms and frizzled seitan are draped with a rutabaga fondue that stands in for Cheez Whiz (it’s not really any less “fake” of a cheese…). Fried onions are included by default (unless you’re a wiz witout kind of person), and chopped pickled peppers add bite on top ($9).
You can get regular hand cut fries ($4), fries topped with “wiz” ($5) or you can do yourself a favor and score these. Called okononmiyaki fries, they’re named after the savory Japanese pancake, and come topped with Korean BBQ sauce, Kewpie mayo, crushed nori (seeweed) and chopped scallions. It’s a great mix of tangy, sweet, spicy and crispy ($5). Bottles of spicy ketchup are also scattered around the shop.
The KFT — for Korean fried tempeh — is Landau’s take on the KFC (referring not to the Colonel’s chain, but to spicy battered Korean fried chicken). The tempeh is good, but the Sriracha thousand island dressing below it and the house radish kimchi on top are the sandwich’s true stars ($9).
Don’t worry: Even though there are two salads on the menu, a “King Cobb” and this chopped salad, each is just as filling and satisfying as the sandwiches. And no, that’s not cheese sprinkled over the lettuce, edamame and purple carrots tossed with fantastic green goddess dressing — it’s crumbled cauliflower ($8).
Housemade julep tea comes booze-free for $3, or you can add a shot of gin or whiskey for $5 more. A variety of cocktails are also served in mini mason jars, which stand pre-filled with shots of clear or brown liquor on a window sill behind the bar. Two rotating taps pour beer (right now Neshaminy Creek Trauger Pils and Country Line IPA) and two wines are also available on draft.
When you order to dine in, you’ll get a custom veg-character card to carry to your seat so the server can find you when the food is ready.