Miss Rachel’s store
But you won’t find any menus to peruse or go to for takeout orders — the restaurant, which is only open a few nights a week, hosts five-course meals and a farm-style set menu that guests reserve weeks in advance. This is Miss Rachel’s Pantry, and besides fully living up to its tagline as a “cute little vegan restaurant,” it’s also one of the best in the country.
Miss Rachel’s store
How did it all start?
Chef Rachel Klein—Miss Rachel herself and the mastermind behind her meticulously curated weekly menus—began her culinary journey as a vegetarian who grew up in a decidedly non-vegan household. Between taking occasional cooking lessons and rotating front-of-house jobs at various restaurants, Klein’s passion for the culinary world blossomed. But it wasn’t until she started working as a private chef and wedding caterer, selling vegan food at Philly punk shows on the side, that the dream of opening her own location took hold.
In 2012, after running her catering business out of shared kitchens and her own small apartment, Miss Rachel’s Pantry (a name inspired by her grandparents’ 1950s luncheonette, The Pantry) opened its first boutique location in Philadelphia’s West Passyunk neighborhood. Just three years later, The Pantry expanded, moving five minutes away to a more spacious location in its current neighborhood home.
Everything about the space is charming, from the old refrigerator tucked in the corner to the warm glow from the hanging globe lights. But once you sit down at the white café-style tables, that’s when the comfort really begins. An elegant place card is placed in front of each guest informing them of the five courses for the evening. To ensure that no flavor overpowers another, Klein takes special care to balance salty, spicy or tangy flavors in her creations. Heat seekers and raw onion lovers may feel momentarily disappointed, but that will surely dissipate as the harmony of the meal begins to dawn on them.
The restaurant is BYOB, meaning diners can bring a bottle (or two) of wine, beer or cider to enjoy from the pre-selected menu. Servers circle the room in perfect sync to ensure everyone’s drinks are served before dinner begins, dropping small plates of flaky crackers with herbed butter to whet the appetite before the meal kicks into high gear.
Home cooking meets good food
Although no one dinner is ever the same, a cohesive meal that flows from start to finish is guaranteed, and at Miss Rachel’s Pantry that means the first course is always soup. Fresh corn soup with Heart of palm Crab meat (made from hearts of palm) topped with chive oil and fried garlic corn, or a local tomato bisque with golden fried squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and drizzled with lemon cream, habanada peppers (a pepper that tastes like habanero, minus the spice), agave honey, and basil will dispel any misguided belief that… Soup cannot be a standout dish. Especially if you’re lucky enough to have a bowl with meaty toppings like cider seitan and chestnut sausage served over a smooth celery-rutabaga soup with golden, sauce-glazed croutons.
Miss Rachel’s store
The second course shifts the focus to the salads, but don’t expect a watery mountain or a bland vinaigrette. Instead, the restaurant’s house-made cheeses are often the star of creations like the cold smoked fig and watermelon salad with fresh cashew milk mozzarella, drizzled with a rich maple black garlic sauce and topped with a crunchy cornmeal glaze. In another version, buttered cashew burrata is placed like a crown jewel on a bed of baby lettuce, thinly sliced fennel, and pink grapefruit slices before being dressed in an aromatic basil vinaigrette and sprinkled with warm toasted hazelnuts. . Occasionally, the salad is replaced with a vegetable frittata served alongside smoky pink radishes over tender romaine lettuce leaves, with a tart caper sauce, tangy-sweet caramelized onions and mustard jam.
Miss Rachel’s store
While the restaurant focuses heavily on home-cooked meals, there is a heavy leaning towards fine Italian dining, with a homemade pasta course always present. Chef Rodger Holst, resident pasta expert at Miss Rachel’s Pantry, masterfully transforms semolina flour into a variety of elegant pasta dishes. Think spring peas and capellaci stuffed with ricotta and lemon with a light lemon butter sauce and parsley caviar. Or cassonelli stuffed with fresh chevre, caramelized onions and kabocha squash in a velvety sage cream with apple sausage. The invention does not stop there. Rachel has also perfected a vegetarian version of squid ink-shaped capellaci stuffed with crab served in a traditional wine butter sauce with small amounts of plants. Scalloped oysters (Mediterranean scallops).
Miss Rachel’s store
Moving on to the fourth course, the plates are removed to make room for what would traditionally be a ‘meat dish’, but of course, at Miss Rachel’s Pantry, it’s an opportunity to show off the amazing transformation of vegetables in the kitchen. Shredded hearts of palm are transformed into palmetto piccata, fried and crispy, and served with seared maitake mushrooms over a bed of whipped kale and sautéed rapini. Whole roasted maitake mushrooms are crafted into a refined, heavy meatloaf that features a crunchy crust created by maillard — leftover from the sticky-sweet black garlic ketchup glaze — that locks in moisture, while infusing red wine broth with the mushrooms adds even more vicarious richness.
In another delicious main course, delicious slices of watermelon are topped with a generous crust of crushed pistachios and sesame seeds before being browned and placed atop a bed of creamy whipped eggplant with radish-lime tzatziki and a side of garlicky green beans. Each meat main course places a bright emphasis on plants, with everything lovingly made in-house with not a single meat substitute in sight. Even the most skeptical of vegetables will be hard-pressed to leave a few perfectly balanced sauces, whips, or glazes on their plates.
Don’t skip dessert
As stuffed diners lean back in their chairs, forks clink against plates, and low-key conversation takes place in the dimly lit space, tables are cleared to make room for a truly stunning dessert course. Miss Rachel’s Pantry allows pastry chef Carly Lebowitz to lead a sweet and indulgent finale without being cloying or heavy.
The course can go chocolatey – like a hazelnut and cocoa sponge cake topped with crunchy, candied hazelnut brittle and a scoop of light vanilla ice cream with a generous drizzle of salted caramel sauce. It can be Mexican inspired. Think wet Three milk Cake topped with brown sugar ice cream, spiced pears and candied almonds. Or maybe fruity – delicate lemon cake with thick vanilla cream frosting topped with local raspberry compote and lemon-leaf purple basil ice cream will win over even the staunchest chocoholic.
Each dessert is designed to leave satisfied guests with a sweet scent at the end of each meticulously crafted meal. Guests enjoy small cups of espresso or steaming cups of tea while chatting with Klein herself, who makes the rounds to thank each party for attending while the gentle hum of conversation fills the softly glowing restaurant. The small converted warehouse feels like a real community gathering for that golden moment in time, and everyone stays to enjoy it.
As guests rise from their tables and begin to slowly emerge from the cozy dining space and back into a bustling Saturday night in Philadelphia, they are left with the lingering tastes of an unforgettable meal and the warmth that comes from Miss Rachel and her cute little vegetarian friend in the diner.