photos by Elijah Hasan

Things I saw on my visits to Virtuous Pie, the new vegan pizza place on Southeast Division: a white lady with unicorn-colored dreadlocks. A full shin tattoo of Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams. A $35 T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “That Plant Life.” And a pair of teens wearing matching flannels and performing copious PDA who waited 20 minutes to order, then left just before it was their turn.

And of course I was heckled by the couple seated next to me after telling them I wasn’t vegan.

Virtuous Pie is exhausting. I’m glad it’s here.

I’ll never be a vegan, but the introduction of a fast-casual pizza, ice cream, and coffee spot on the city’s most popular restaurant street—with its decor of tropical monstera plants and splashes of Millennial pink—is a welcome advancement for the cause.

By its model, Virtuous Pie is not gourmet—its 10-inch pies run $10-$14, similar to Heart Pizza or other national quick-fire chains. Everything is vegan, from the house-made cashew cheese to the nut-cream based ice creams, also made on site.

Considering a big part of most pizzas is the cheese, Virtuous Pie handles the challenge fairly well. I was most skeptical about the margherita, which subs in cashew mozzarella, but keeps a robust San Marzano tomato sauce and a smattering of fresh basil. There’s not a lot of room to hide on a three-ingredient pizza, but it was my favorite, even if the cheese didn’t string like its dairy muse.

Interestingly, after working my way through the better part of the menu, the issue with Virtuous Pie’s plant-based creations doesn’t lie in flavor, but texture. Done simply, like the margherita, there’s not much to be missed if you’re comparing it to a non-vegan pizza from the same price range.

But when the crust, which tastes good but isn’t at all crispy, gets loaded down with the fake meats and cheeses, all of which maintain a uniform mushy texture, it’s a bit harder to enjoy. This is particularly apparent with the Meatball + Chevre, topped with Baerlic Brewing chorizo “meatballs,” creamed spinach, lemon herb “chevre,” basil, and fresh “parm.” The flavor is lovely: the chorizo is savory, the lemon pops, and the non-parm parmesan is far better (and way more natural) than that stuff that comes out of a green can. I thought it was the best thing on the menu, until I got halfway through a slice—there’s no chew to the “meat,” no crunch from the veg, and no real give to the crust. No thanks.

Other pizzas abandon fake cheese altogether, becoming more like flatbreads. This flopped on the Stranger Wings, with a too-sparse application of not-so-spicy buffalo cauliflower and a drizzling of “blue cheese” sauce.

The biggest surprise? I really enjoyed a gluten-free AND vegan pizza, and I’m the type of person who visibly recoils at the thought. We ordered the Curry Mile with a gluten-free crust ($3 extra) just to see what the hell would happen. Virtuous Pie’s take is cracker-thin and crisp, and along with the roasted cashews on this Indian-inspired pie, there was finally some textural relief. Meanwhile, the chickpea curry was well-spiced and the mint raita was refreshing.

The side salads claim to be seasonally inspired, but the ingredients—kale, quinoa, cabbage, and avocado among them—don’t reflect that it’s late summer. I’d love to see a gorgeous celebration of local produce on a pizza or in a salad—that margherita would have been a wonder with thick-sliced heirlooms right now. But again, this is not gourmet. It’s fast casual.

The ice creams, available to go by the pint, or by the scoop or flight in-house, are better than the pizzas. The “charcoal + banana + coconut” is the visual scene stealer, pitch black and ready to join the goth food craze, but both the “double chocolate + salted caramel” and the “lavender + lemon” provided more payoff in taste. I didn’t get a chance to try the vegan ice cream and kombucha float, but here’s me letting you know it’s a thing that exists.

The continued expansion of this mini-Canadian empire (it has three locations between Vancouver and Toronto), and the eager crowds here—its first US location—show there’s an appetite for vegan pizza. Fortunately, it seems Virtuous Pie also has the aptitude to provide it.