“We don’t have time to take baby steps, “ says Adam Sobel, the head chef and founder of The Cinnamon Snail—the country’s first all-organic and vegan food truck and now restaurant located at The Pennsy in New York City. Sobel is referring to the crisis that the earth finds itself in due to animal agriculture, human overpopulation, pollution and our wanton disregard for planet Earth.
So Sobel did something profound—a favor to humankind: He learned how to cook unbelievably good vegan food. Scientists everywhere agree: Cutting out meat from our diets is the single best thing we can do for the planet, animals and our health.
But a lot of people still need to be convinced that it’s a delicious way to live. Genius is one of those words—like “awesome”—that shouldn’t be thrown around with abandon. It should mean something. But Adam Sobel—thousands of his fans will back me up on this—is a culinary genius.
He understands the alchemy of fresh herbs, spices and ingredients from the plant kingdom. What he creates is, without a trace of hyperbole, magic.
There’s a reason Friends of Animals asked Sobel to cater its 60th anniversary party in July—because the food is, well, awesome. Cinnamon Snail was launched on the holiday of love—Valentine’s Day—in 2010, as an expression of love for all animals. Sobel had been working in vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants for a dozen years prior to launching Cinnamon Snail, but he felt like the clientele was already vegan or vegan friendly. Sobel wanted the challenge of making people who weren’t living a plant-based lifestyle fall in love with vegan cuisine.
He had the idea that healthy, crave-worthy vegan food needed to be taken to the streets, so people could, as Sobel puts it, “connect the dots for themselves.” Sobel knew that the key to converting the masses was making it easy for them to experience delicious food.
“Once you eat vegan food that is in fact even yummier, and leaves you feeling better than non-vegan food, it becomes very hard to justify continuing to consume animals,” he said. Countless people have opened a vegan restaurant, with varying degrees of success. No doubt there are now world-class vegan restaurants all over the world.
But what makes Cinnamon Snail stand out and triumph is its bold flavors and hybrid menu that is comfort-cuisine-meets-good-for-you. Inspired by Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and other traditional cuisines from around the world, items on the menu fill you up while nourishing the body. There are things like miso teriyaki grilled tofu with roasted Brussels sprouts, black sesame gomasio, arugula, and wasabi mayo on a toasted pretzel bun and Thanksgiving Sandoo (porcini mushroom seitan and parsnip sage bread pudding, with cranberry orange relish, marinated kale, and roasted garlic aioli on toasted baguette). And so much more.
And then there are the desserts, which no one claims are good for you (unless you count emotionally good for you in which case unbridled joy is an immediate result), that include delicate pastries, moist cakes and the doughnuts Cinnamon Snail are known for throughout New York City.
Never, ever go to New York City without getting a doughnut from Cinnamon Snail.
Sobel published a cookbook in 2015 called Street Vegan, which I naturally purchased the day it came out. Not only is it beautiful and full of inspirational recipes, but it does something very rare for a chef of increasing prominence: It gives away most of the Cinnamon Snail’s secrets.
So in your own kitchen you can recreate recipes for most of the food Sobel is known for—including the doughnuts. The most important thing I learned is that umboshi plum vinegar is a magic elixir that makes everything taste better.
I also learned that making doughnuts is time-consuming and tedious and that it’s much more fun to buy them rather than make them. But I live 694.8 miles from Cinnamon Snail, so, sometimes, I have to get in the kitchen, get dirty, make dough and do some tedious work, because—trust me on this—this food is worth it.
Cinnamon Snail at The Pennsy: On the corner of 33rd street & 7th avenue in Manhattan—convenient for folks visiting Madison Square Garden, and Amtrack, NJ Transit, and LIRR commuters.
Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. seven days a week. Visit their Facebook page for info about the food trucks.