By now, you've probably heard that the iconic veggie eatery Quiet Storm will close in October. While owner Jill MacDowell arranges a new partnership with Shadow Lounge/AVA's Justin Strong, the turnover raises an important question: What's the current state of vegetarian dining in Pittsburgh?
"It's a huge loss," says Niki Penberg, founding organizer of the Vegan Pittsburgh restaurant outreach project. "The Quiet Storm's been a really important part of the veg-dining scene."
Last week, MacDowell told City Paper that when she begins managing the kitchen in AVA's new North Oakland location next month, the menu will include meat dishes. She's pledged that when she finds a new, permanent home for Quiet Storm, the menu will again be meatless. For now, though, strictly vegetarian local eateries hover in the single digits, including upscale Eden, Zenith (for brunch) and vegan chain The Loving Hut. Compare that to Washington, D.C., whose population is twice the size of Pittsburgh, but which boasts eight times as many vegetarian- and vegan-dining options.
To be sure, top local restaurants — such as Legume, Root 174 and Avenue B — feature at least one veg-friendly entrée nightly. Casual establishments in this meat-and-potatoes-town also cater to the vegetarian population. Places like Spak Brothers, Franktuary, Double Wide Grill, D's Six Pax and Dogz, OTB Bicycle Café and Station Street hold true to Pittsburgh dining traditions (you want fries on that?) while still offering veggie options.
Still, vegetarians and vegans want for eateries where they can order literally anything off the menu. "These restaurants aren't just places to eat," says Penberg. "They're like sanctuaries for our values."
Penberg, a vegan for five-and-a-half years, has been frequenting Quiet Storm since the days when it offered live music. "I left the city and came back," she says. "I was glad to see it was still around ... like seeing an old friend."
Many hope for their "old friend" to succeed — meat-free — in its new circumstances. But whatever the future holds for the Quiet Storm, Penberg postulates, "I don't think it'd be a gamble for more all-veg restaurants to start up here."