Essene Market and Café
LOCATION: 719 South Fourth Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
CUISINE: An abundant vegetarian buffet.
MENU: The sight of Essene’s prodigious vegetarian buffet is enough to make any Vegadelphian do backflips. Looking over an entire line of soups, salads, entrees and sides with the opportunity to sample every single thing is extremely exciting for those of us that had written off the gluttonous pleasures of the buffet line when we became vegetarian.
The first thing I dug into was the Kashmiri rice salad which started my overly indulgent meal off with a bang. Each delicate mouthful was packed with a diverse variety of flavors include golden rose brown rice, peanuts, raisins and a sophisticated blend of spices. I also had a hearty bowl of kidney bean soup which was on the other end of the flavor spectrum from the rice salad. The heavy, steamy, salty sweet flavor took over my taste buds with force with every thick, brothy taste. The buffet is also packed with all types of little surprises like sautéed mushrooms that explode with flavor and sweet little yam bites that are crispy and soft at the same time.
I was lucky enough to get to Essene just as they put out a heaping tray of bean burritos. Needless to say I loaded up. The tortilla was slighted crisped and the inside oozed with a warm bean and veggie combo that was dense enough to make the burritos a meal in themselves. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper trip to Essene without trying some spicy tofu. These little triangles of well prepared tofu deliver a blast of spiciness that light your mouth on fire in the best way imaginable. I finished my meal off with a couple of “meaty” seitan kabobs. Although they tend to get slightly dried out on the line they are still thoroughly satisfying. I found that a little dab of hot sauce really drove the flavor home. The only real downside of eating at Essene is that it is nearly impossible to leave room for dessert.
VIBE: Essene is a health food store without the yuppie/ chronically-hip factor of Whole Foods. They are a grocery store, deli, bakery and cafe all in one stop which is great because you can get a quality meal and do a grocery run at the same time. The dining area is spacious, clean and comfortable and the staff is super friendly and helpful. Essene is a great place that really strives to provide quality food and service. I definitely recommend checking them out.
PRICE: $8.99 per pound, It can get pricey.