I covet a New York slice, covered in browned mozzarella. I want it served to me over a counter on a paper plate, grease seeping through. I imagine taking it to a cheap red Formica table and shaking on granulated garlic and crushed red pepper. It’s the taste of summer afternoons, or of Friday nights during Lent (when we remembered not to eat meat). It’s a food so synonymous with where I come from that it feels more blasphemous not to eat it than to have had burgers on all those Lenten Fridays.
So why do I covet something I can go get on almost any street corner? Because I’m vegan now, and this deal I’ve made with the animals has been at the expense of grabbing a hot, delicious slice and chowing down on it with a fountain Coke.
Blessedly, it’s not too hard to find an edible pie. When we go out for pizza now, it tends to be to one of the city’s many Neapolitan places—a pizza fit for one (if you’re me), covered in good sauce and a smattering of vegetables. Paulie Gee’s in Greenpoint has been offering a more extensive vegan menu with cashew creams and ricotta, as well as jackfruit meatballs, for years, but there tends to be a wait to get seated. 00+Co. in the East Village opened earlier this year serving fancier, healthier pies with nut-based cheeses—they just don’t satisfy the same urge. Screamer’s in Greenpoint is the latest addition, housed in the space where Champs Junior once was. Their mix of housemade nut cheeses and Daiya has proven a hit with many; I just don’t dig on the packaged stuff.
It was all starting to get very frustrating, this search for a really good, easily accessible pizza, until I noticed a restaurant popping up repeatedly in my Instagram feed. Every vegan in food or obsessed with food was posting from Adelina’s, a spot I’d walked past many times but had never thought to enter. Neighborhood Italian spots don’t really scream “vegan-friendly”—yet this one, secretly, is.
Owner Toby Buggiani opened Adelina’s in 2012. The Italian-born vegetarian—like many others—stopped eating meat under the influence of the New York hardcore scene and has always wanted to have options for vegans (his twin brother included), to whom he feels much more of a kinship than he does to meat-eaters. Initially, they were doing no-cheese pies, like the Roman staple pizza rossa. “I wasn’t very happy with the options for vegan mozzarella,” he tells me, and for good reason: They’ve been notoriously rubbery, starchy, and bland. Now, though, he’s making a cultured cashew mozzarella that has the best stretch and tang of any I’ve tried.
The experimentation began as part of the restaurant’s Meatless Monday events, when he brought in wunderkind vegan chef Jay Astafa, who’s developed a cashew mozzarella to use at his Long Island restaurants. It’s his recipe that Buggiani has been tweaking with the help of chef Timothy Pakron, who goes by the moniker Mississippi Vegan. This openness to collaboration with the stars of vegan cooking has gotten the restaurant cult status among New York City’s meatless eaters. And though he’s never advertised the restaurant as being especially friendly to non-omnivores, it was built into the menu’s design.
“There are two threads that really pulled this place together,” he says, “and the first is my love of wine.” This is obvious: The bar is lined with barrels of natural wines. “The second was a love of vegan, vegetarian food based on an Italian foundation,” he adds. “When I converted to vegetarian, it was super-easy, because the crux of Italian cooking is the vegetables. With my dad, it was always, ‘Oh my God, look at these artichokes. Look at these tomatoes.’”
This Italian foundation informs the restaurant’s much more natural approach to its vegan dishes. “I try to look at Adelina’s as the opposite of what happens when you go to a restaurant as a vegan or vegetarian, where you have one option,” he tells me. Where another chef might think that one option is enough, from the appetizers through the main dishes to the pizzas to even dessert, you can eat an entire meal here—a rarity unless you’re at a specifically vegan restaurant. A fluffy gnocchi in pesto is as thoughtful as the mushroom-studded The Woodland pie, making you feel cared for and at home, no matter your diet.
The pizza is what you come for, though—because the cheese is truly cheesy, the crust is crisp and the toppings are fresh and varied. It’s not a New York slice, but it hits all the notes that bring me back to my dairy-eating days. If you too dream of a perfect vegan pie, it’s waiting for you in Greenpoint.