Dozens of Baltimore's vegan cooks are preparing to bring their cheesiest eats to an upcoming macaroni and cheese cook-off — without real cheese, of course — as part of an upcoming weekend dedicated to all things vegan.
Pep Foods Inc. and Baltimore Vegan Drinks are bringing back the Vegan Mac 'n Cheese Smackdown for a second year. And this time, they're expanding the event to an entire weekend celebrating vegan cuisine.
Baltimore Vegan Weekend will run Feb. 17-19. The Vegan Mac 'n Cheese Smackdown is at the heart of the weekend's events. More than 1,000 people turned out for last year's competition — double the expected attendance — so organizers decided to expand the event this year.
"We're just trying to spread vegan love around Baltimore," said Nathaniel Corn, owner of Baltimore Vegan Drinks.
On Feb. 17, more than 25 restaurants across the city will participate in an informal vegan restaurant crawl. Eateries including Joe Squared, Grind House Juice Bar and Cafe, Tabor, Golden West Cafe and Ekiben will offer their regular vegan dishes and some specials. A full list of participating restaurants is available here.
"There’s a lot of great options in Baltimore — we’re kind of spoiled," Corn said of the proliferation of vegan cuisine.
The Feb. 18 Vegan Mac 'n Cheese Smackdown is growing, too. Last year's inaugural event included 32 contestants, but there's space for 40 this year. The cookoff is being held at Baltimore City Community College athletics building (2901 Liberty Heights Ave.) from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Tickets are $10 in advance, available through Timely, or $15 at the door. All proceeds will go towards supporting community outreach and education projects of Better Health, Better Life and Thrive Baltimore, Pep Foods Inc.'s new event space and community resource center.
Following the smackdown, Pep Foods will host an after party at Thrive Baltimore (8 E. Lafayette Ave.) featuring vegan food, drinks and music.
On Feb. 19, five restaurants — Harmony Bakery and Cafe, Land of Kush, NuBohemia Cafe, One World Cafe and Red Emma's Coffeehouse and Bookstore — will host vegan brunches.
Paulie Gee's Pizzeria and Bar will also host a vegan pizza fest from noon to 4 p.m. on Feb. 19. The Hampden restaurant will serve at least 12 specialty vegan pizzas, plus appetizers and desserts.
"There’s a lot of movement in the restaurant industry and the food industry in general toward veganism," Corn said. "Not necessarily going vegan but eating healthier, caring more about what they put in their bodies... I think that it’s like a ripple effect — all the restaurants see the popularity of vegan food around them."