Vegan restaurant review: Charlie was a sinner.

As part of Teagan Goes Vegan, I’m taking a little step outside my normal public health topics to tell you about my experience at the new vegan bar/restaurant in Philadelphia called Charlie was a sinner.  

Pros: delicious food, impeccable service.

Cons: dimly lit, loud music.

Charlie was a sinner

When I heard that a new vegan bar opened last week, I recruited my foodie friend for a visit. The bar/restaurant is at 13th street and Sansom and is called Charlie was a sinner. (yep, that’s the correct capitalization and the period is supposed to be there). It’s owned by the mastermind behind HipCityVeg, Nicole Marquis, and the kitchen is headed up by Mike Santoro.


When I got there at 5:45pm the dining room was mostly empty. My server came to my table immediately. He asked if I preferred still or sparkling water, and brought me a carafe of fizzy water stuffed with fresh mint leaves. It’s a really lovely touch that will only be more appealing as the summer heats up. I got a Unibroue Ephemere Apple, one of my favorite beers, which was not only on tap but very reasonably priced. The cocktails, though they looked delicious, were out of a grad student’s price range at $12 each.


I caught the tail end of happy hour, so I ordered some half-price toasts: Our Ricotta and Wild Mushrooms & Barley. The Our Ricotta toasts have a tofu-based ricotta spread drizzled with sweet jam and served alongside tender, crisp bread. Very tasty—most people would have trouble identifying it as non-dairy. The Wild Mushrooms & Barley toasts were by far the best dish we had. The ale sauce was rich and savory, the mushrooms were tender and earthy, and the barley provided chewy texture.


My friend ordered the Potato Croquettes. She declared that they were more like tater tots than croquettes because they were made of shredded rather than pureed potatoes. She’s right, and a simple menu change would fix that misleading name. The smoked paprika aioli rivaled any mayo-based sauce, and was perfectly spiced.


We finished up with the Chickpea Fries. They were disappointing. They looked and smelled like frozen French toast sticks, and tasted oddly sweet. The spring garlic aioli was bland, almost like a dollop of plain Vegenaise.


The service was even better than the food. Our server not only kept our glasses full and our plates cleared, but he took a few minutes to tell me about the history of the building—it was a brothel, and then a seedy hotel—and to talk with me about veganism. He recommended books and a podcast to help me in my vegan experiment. After my friend arrived, he was attentive but knew to hang back and not interrupt our conversation too much (a part of service often lacking in Philadelphia's restaurants).


The restaurant was unnecessarily dark. The music was also turned up a little too high, especially as tables filled up and patrons talked loudly. These are both simple fixes that could be quickly addressed, and certainly shouldn’t dissuade you from going.


Though it’s only been open a few days, by the time we left, every table was full. I suggest trying Charlie was a sinner. as soon as you can, because as more people hear about it, it’s going to be tough to get a table after 6pm. I will definitely be back.


You can check out their menu here.