Pizza has its virtues, but the merits assigned to pizza typically don’t reflect any moral high ground. Virtuous Pie is changing that dialogue, though, by bringing their Canadian-born pies to another gray city in the PNW.
Spearheaded by Persian Canadian Jim Vesal, director of culinary and business development, the Portland location marks the second Virtuous Pie to open in the past seven months, with the 1,900 square foot SE Division location being their first restaurant in the U.S. A completely plant-based restaurant, the bright and casual pizza and ice cream shop is inclusive by design.
“We think of [Virtuous Pie] as pizza first, or ice cream first… that just happens to be vegan, which is awesome,” says Vesal. “We want to change the way people eat, not just in Portland or Vancouver, but across the continent. People are becoming increasingly conscientious about their eating habits and how it affects the environment, and we want to be a part of the movement towards more mindful eating.”
The menu consists of eight “incidentally-vegan” pies, including two Portland-exclusives, and uses a variety of house-made nut cheeses, including cashew mozzarella, almond ricotta and non-GMO tofu feta. Our favorite is the Stranger Wings, a pizza Bianca topped with spicy buffalo cauliflower, crisp fried shallots and a blue-cheese drizzle. The Portland exclusives include the Meatball + Chèvre, with San Marzano tomato sauce, Baerlic Brewing chorizo meatballs, creamed spinach, lemon herb chèvre, basil and fresh parm, and The Catalan, with smoky romesco, patatas bravas, tarragon requeson, charred scallion, asparagus and saffron aioli. The cult-favorite ice cream will also gain some new accessories at the Portland locale, with gluten-free waffle cones, affogatos, ice cream sandwiches and kombucha floats being added to the offerings.
Virtuous Pie will adopt the café by a.m./pizza by p.m. model through partnership with Heart Coffee Roasters, implementing a drip coffee and espresso program centered around rotating house-made dairy-free milks and pastries by Shoofly Vegan Bakery. With a second floor mezzanine perfect for co-working, the open-concept space feels more inspired than some of its contemporaries, projecting a minimalist feel while still tapping in to trends that are just gaining traction in 2017 (hand-drawn gingham wallpaper, anyone?). Conceived by Portland-based, Brightlabs Design, the space pays respect to the PNW picnic, using natural materials to achieve a modern-yet-humanized space.
“We want our spaces to feel authentic to the city and community we are joining,” says Lia Loukas, director of marketing and business development. “We embrace transparency through an open kitchen concept, playing on the theatre of the space while highlighting our Woodstone oven, as well as community, through a mix of communal-type seating that fosters conversations and new connections. Plants bring life to our space and are the finishing touch to drive home the idea of #ThatPlantLife.”
Despite the tongue-and-cheek approach to virtuousness at Virtuous Pie, it’s important to note that the restaurant is doing more than stacking capital — it’s promoting veganism in an approachable manner.
“We consider ourselves advocates, not activists,” says Vesal, driving home their message of inclusivity. However, the partners at Virtuous Pie are focused heavily on the sustainability and animal welfare through active giving in their communities; their Vancouver, B.C., location provides meal programs, food donations and cooking education for local charities and organizations such as Sheway, Vancouver Humane Society, Growing Chefs and the Pivot Foundation, and will be rolling out a like-minded program in Portland in the coming months.
Also coming soon: brunch. Their inaugural location introduced Portland’s favorite meal shortly after launching in 2016, and are expected to test the same program at their Division location in the next few months. Fingers crossed it’s a success, so we can eat pizza for every meal (while still retaining some dignity).