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The Muchmobile Gets Healthy

July 28, 2011

By Jennifer Chaky

Peter Genovese’s famous New Jersey installation of the Munchmobile, a hot dog shaped-vehicle, is well known for traveling around the state looking for the best food.  Usually the critics frequent pizza joints, hot dogs stands, and pig roasts, but recently they ventured on the healthier (and cruelty-free) side of the street and checked out some vegan food establishments, including my own vegan ice cream bar at Go Lightly.

Did this team of road foodies like what they found? It was a lot more than bland tofu and brown rice. Read on to see how vegans really can eat a delightful, diverse array of plant-based foods in endless (and I do mean endless) combinations and concoctions:

This is my 13th year on the Munchmobile, and after 1,100 stops (plus 350-some pizzerias on the Pizza Patrol in 2009 and 87 hot dog stands on the S.W.A.T. Dog team in 2006), I don’t look like I should go on a crash diet.

I’m on the Munchmobile Diet, and it’s working for me!

All kidding aside, we all can afford to lose a few pounds. The Munchmobile doesn’t dwell on grease-stained, cholesterol-raising, artery-clogging food, but Munchers, being true Jerseyans, like food — and talking about it.

Every year, we go on an all-healthy-food trip, and good luck to any Muncher who tries sneaking fried calamari or a dozen wings to the table.

I could tell stories. Maybe that’s “Jersey Eats,” part two.

You’d think a steady diet of tofu, seitan, sprouts, raw cheese, celery juice, no-dairy cupcakes and gado-gado (an Indonesian mixed salad) might have had our all-female Munch crew jonesing for a big, fat, juicy T-bone.

Not quite.

“I never knew being a vegetarian could be so much fun!” said Muncher Phyllis Schwartz of Summit.

The Big Dog — changing the world, one stomach at a time.

Full-spectrum feast

Our five stops ended up all over the map, and the health food spectrum. From the outside, Tom the Green Grocer in Scotch Plains looks like a nursery, with plants seeming ready to swallow up the cars in the parking lot. But inside there’s a deli, and shelves stocked with sweet pickled watermelon rind, dark chocolate lemon truffles, organic lip balm, and other products you may not find at your local supermarket.

Monica Luby called the arugula salad “zippy,” an apt description for her happy-go-lucky fellow Munchers. Samantha Trella found the apples on one sandwich “browning already,” and overall found “quality ingredients but not an interesting or unique variety.”

Shellece Jeannette-Earles disagreed, describing the food as “fresh, flavorful and exciting.”

There was no dispute over the best dish. The No. 13 sandwich, havarti, cucumber, apple, watercress and a lemon artichoke pesto on whole-wheat bread, managed to be healthy, fresh and filling.

Let’s be honest; when most people hear the word “vegan,” they think bland and tasteless. But the vegan ice cream at Go Lightly in Montclair turned out to be tasty and near-addictive. It was also a bit ice-crystally; we’ll blame it on being in the freezer too long.


The owner is 38-year-old Jennifer Chaky, who attended Montclair High School and has been a vegan for 22 years. Go Lightly opened as an eco-store, with sustainably crafted merchandise made from recycled or repurposed materials. Ice cream was added this April. After sampling various vegan ice creams, Chaky settled on Maze’s Creamery, on Staten Island.

The ice cream is from milk made with hemp seed; Chaky says hemp “has the cleanest flavor and is the most tolerated” of all vegan ice creams, including those made with cashew, almond and soy milk.

Trella admired “the very distinct flavor profiles.” Her favorite — and the Munchmobile driver’s — was the dark chocolate. Trella’s least favorite: the strawberry balsamic. Luby loved the “true peanut flavor” of the peanut butter fudge.

“I didn’t miss that I wasn’t eating a regular cream or milk-based frozen treat,” Earles said.

Global Gourmand

He’s been everywhere, man, he’s been everywhere.

The song could have been written for Vasantha Perera, the Sri Lankan-born owner of Andrew’s Project in Bayonne.

“I’ve been a chef all over the world,” says the ebullient Perera. “Saudi Arabia. United Arab Emirates. Switzerland. Spain. Monaco. Paris. Rome. Greece. Miami. Australia. Hamburg.”

Later, he served as executive chef on cruise ships bound for the Caribbean, South America and elsewhere.

“Then I became tired,” Perera says, smiling.

Which accounts for the opening of Andrew’s Project — named after his son — 18 months ago.

“All natural, all healthy stuff,” Perera says of his globe-trotting, eclectic menu, with sandwiches boasting Cuban, Vietnamese, Mexican, Jamaican, Russian, Middle Eastern and other influences. Soups include arugula, spinach, green lentil and watercress.

He’s a one-man show, taking our orders, cooking the food, delivering extra dishes and forks without being asked, even clearing the tables.

The papaya/mango/banana smoothie is creamy and pulpy — not your standard smoothie, but it’s refreshing. Ditto the mixed-fruit smoothie. Laidlaw called the cold avocado and veggie soup “delicious, not heavy but almost whipped and frothy, delicate in flavor with red pepper and other fresh spices.”

The Greek salad is not a classic Greek — where’s the feta? — but there are kalamata olives and cucumbers, and the greens are fresh. We all liked the veggie burger, made with 20-some vegetables, including chick peas, corn and broccoli. The Indian sandwich, with chicken, pineapple, curry, corn and organic veggies in a rice wrap, seemed to be trying too hard to be liked.

Another hit: the vegetarian ravioli, with a fresh tomato sauce; the cheese is made from soy. Perera, who uses fennel and other plants and herbs from his garden, makes his own pasta.

A one-man show, indeed.

Gluten-free Ganache

How can a bakery with the decadent name of Papa Ganache possibly be organic and vegan, with many gluten-free options? By using no eggs, no dairy, no trans fats, no hydrogenated oil and no high-fructose corn syrup, that’s how.

Owner Lisa Siroti is a psychotherapist who uses her kitchen as a “classroom” to teach conflict resolution, coping, and other skills to children with behavioral challenges. She leaves the actual baking to her pastry chefs. Good luck narrowing down your choices: The cupcakes, cakes, pies, tarts and cookies fairly glisten under the glass display case.

Start with the key lime raspberry cheesecake cup; Trella called it “decadent deliciousness.” Earles raved about the coconut cream tarts — “not overly sweet, but creamy and delectable.” Laidlaw liked the green tea cupcake, “with its smooth, moist consistency,” but Trella didn’t like its “awkward taste, with spice and almond.” Luby was partial to the Almond Joyous: a chocolate cupcake “topped with a mound of soy ‘butter cream’ blended with coconut and coated with a drizzle of chocolate ganache.”

Sounds good, tastes even better.

The Munchmobile driver’s fave? The apple galette, a rustic tart with a near-perfect blend of crust, crumb and fruit. The peach galette, meanwhile, tasted of canned peaches.

Schwartz, in her first visit to a “mostly organic” bakery, came away impressed.

“All in all, if I am going to die, let it be in a bakery,” she said.

Karmic cuisine

Good Karma nicely describes the look and feel of the Red Bank restaurant/cafe. Ten tables, hardwood floors and some psychedelic artwork — one features what looks like a giant lopsided grinning red apple — round out the casual, friendly atmosphere.

Good Karma’s menu is a model of clarity and conciseness. Ingredients are listed for each dish, and “GF” and “WF” indicate gluten-free and wheat-free dishes. “Live” — as in live lasagna, live pizza and live spaghetti — means not cooked. The live pizza is made with raw crackers topped with sundried tomato marinara, cashew nut cheese, marinated dark greens and shredded zucchini.

The live spaghetti — angel hair zucchini noodles topped with sundried tomato sauce, nut and veggie “meatballs” and Parmesan-style cashew cheese, was a hit among the crew. Laidlaw singled out the “wonderfully nutty” meatballs.

The Cajun Seitan, a tortilla filed with Cajun-spiced seitan (wheat gluten), sautéed leafy greens, caramelized onions, carrots, cabbage and sweet mustard sauce, didn’t even whisper Cajun. Luby found the tofu in the Macro Plate, with brown rice, black beans, pickled vegetables, sautéed greens and seaweed salad, a “little tough.”

But the Munchmobile driver dug the beer-battered tofu sticks, which had absolutely nothing to do with his love of suds.

Tasty little dressings included apple vinegar, lemon caesar and sweet mustard.

In the battle of veggie burgers, Andrew’s Project’s veggie burger beat Good Karma’s Earth Burger, made with tofu, sunflower seeds and a brown rice patty.

“We laughed and ate and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly,” Laidlaw said. “I think we all had good karma after that.’’

Where We Munched

Andrew’s Project: 737 Broadway, Bayonne; (201) 339-0033. Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Website:

Go Lightly: 4 S. Fullerton Ave., Montclair; (973) 744-7889. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. Website:

Good Karma Cafe: 17 E. Front St., Red Bank; (732) 450-8344. Hours: noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Closed Sunday. Website:

Papa Ganache: 25 Church St., Keyport; (732) 217-1750. Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Website:

Tom the Green Grocer: 2305 South Ave., Scotch Plains; (908) 232-9216. Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. Website:

TOP DOG: Loved the chocolate vegan ice cream at Go Lightly, the havarti and watercress sandwich at Tom the Green Grocer, the Almond Joyous and other treats at Papa Ganache, and the tofu sticks and live spaghetti at Good Karma Cafe. But one stop stood out with its eclectic, healthy, top-flight food. Give Top Dog honors this week to Andrew’s Project in Bayonne.

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