I don't think I've ever liked food as much as I do now since becoming a vegan almost two years ago. Coinciding with my appreciation of all things palatable is the admiration of the creativity of vegan cuisine to dissuade the popular myth held by many omnivores, that vegans must eat only things like lettuce.
One of my pet peeves is actually going into a pizza shop, ordering the vegetarian pizza with no cheese, and discover a pizza base with vegetables loaded on top. To all pizza makers out there, let me make an announcement, for I daresay on behalf of all vegetarians/vegans: this does not taste very nice. It is perhaps very nutritious, but intensely bland. So when I do stumble upon an eatery that defies convention and re-creates traditional meat centered cuisine, and not only adapts it to a vegetarian/vegan world but totally recreates the dish, I become overjoyed and find an urge to share it with everyone.
Despite its humble exteriors, for vegetarians and omnivores alike, this is a place well worth paying a visit. Based in New York, this little pizza shop has cultivated its own version of vegetarian pizzas by forming its own rules, producing its own style of pizza. The result? The best pizza, meat or no meat, I have ever experienced. Being a New York pizza place, Viva's pizzas are enormous. In fact, the pizzas we had that night lasted us for another three meals. You can either purchase a slice or go all out and order a pizza which they make on the spot.
Now forget about all the traditional pizza varieties you may have grown up eating such as Hawaiian, BBQ etc. At Viva, the pizzas are either The Zen or something along those lines with ingredients equally as exotic, such as hempseed and green tea fused tofu. One of the aspects I was particularly impressed with was the topping sauce. Now, conventionally, the topping for pizza is cheese. But obviously, this is a no-no for vegans. Now most pizza shops would probably go for soy cheese, but soy cheese doesn't melt like real cheese. Instead of having to deal with the dilemma of cheese, Viva has decided to instead make their own topping. The result was a pizza topped with a tomato-based miso sauce that was unique and delicious. It had the creaminess of cheese but it made no secret that it wasn't trying to be cheese. it was it's own unique topping that defied what 'should be' on pizza.
Due to its name, I had to put it in. This is 'The Zen' pizza. Although I preferred my Cajun over The Zen, the sheer healthiness of this pizza is worthy of a mention. It boasts not just one, but two types of mushrooms: shittake and maitake, the latter of which I've never heard of, green tea tofu and green tea pesto all on a spelt-crust pizza base. Taste-wise it was more subtle than my Cajun, with the green tea complimenting the mushroom's earthly taste very well. My friend found it a bit bland but I quite enjoyed it's nuanced flavour and the creamy texture of the tofu.
Apart from pizza, Viva also do pastas, salads, sandwiches, soups and calzones. I ordered a vegan lasagna and although it was quite tasty, it did not bring the same amount of enjoyment as the pizzas. For one the sauce was a bit too thick and rich, which overpowered the rest of the dish. Secondly, the creativity and passion evident in the pizzas were not evident in the pastas. I suppose I was expecting something left-field, like perhaps a miso-based pasta? Or a green tea pesto pasta bake? The same could be said about the presentation of the shop. Perhaps I'm being naive and simple-minded, but I would've thought given that there was such creativity in the food, then surely that same spur of creativity would be used in the store's presentation. It's not derelict by any means, just quite plain and ordinary.
As far as prices, it is $2 USD a slice to approximately $20 for a New York style large pizza. For those not accustomed to a New York large, an Australian Pizza Hut's large is probably equivalent to a small New York pizza. And after our meal, we didn't feel too 'heavy.' You know that feeling when you've gorged out on a dinner high in cholesterol and fat? We were full, content and more than satisfied, but we could run to catch the next subway if we had to. Which is what we had to do to get to East Village of Manhattan. As a trio of backpackers, we found the prices were very agreeable and it is a place sorely missed back here in Melbourne. From shittake mushrooms to baked tofu, Viva Herbals Pizzeria aligns health, ethics and taste into an experience hard to surpass.